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From Angry Birds to hooking kids on physics

Lightneer creative director Lauri Konttori talks about the future of education apps as Finnish students try out Big Bang Legends. Photo: Ina Fried / Axios

HELSINKI — A Finnish startup is aiming to get young kids as interested in the elements of the periodic table as they are about their favorite Pokémon characters. The key, according to Lightneer, is making chemistry and physics more approaching and emotional.The details: The company's first game, Big Bang Legends, imbues each of the 118 elements with their own personalities. It's the brainchild of a bunch of ex-Rovio executives, including former marketing chief Peter Vesterbacka and creative director Lauri Konttori. Konttori said that when he was in school he was a bad student, with little interest in the concepts of math and science. It's students like himself that Konttori and his colleagues hope to reach.What I saw: At a school in Helsinki on Wednesday, I watched a class of second graders get their first hands-on time with the game. After 15 minutes, Konttori had proved his point as he asked students to name their favorite characters. Several students raised their hand, shouting out names like helium, hydrogen and barium. Even more telling, several students were ignoring him entirely, instead asking to just keep playing.What's happening next: Lightneer wants to take its characters from Big Bang Legends and create a chemistry app where they can be combined to create molecules – all-new characters. Eventually they hope to take on an even larger segment of the $3 billion global education market. However, with just 20 people, the company's going to have to take things one subject at a time.Other programs: Education is a big focus of the Finnish tech scene in general.At the same elementary school I toured Tuesday, a group of third graders were testing out a program called Mightifier, which aims to teach kids emotional skills by offering positive feedback to their peers."If we have anxious and bullied children, they end up losing hope," says Mightifier's Kirsi Haapamäki. "That is probably the worst thing we can allow to happen as a society"Another Finnish startup, Fun Academy, is hosting a pop-up Kindergarten outside of Slush. A program it is showing there is one that uses virtual astronaut training to teach concepts like scientific thinking and the value of physical activity and healthy nutrition.

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