In calculus class, you’d never use the phrase “star student” to describe Chris Deyo. He was slow to complete assignments about strange-sounding concepts like solids of revolution and related rates, staying behind to get extra help as his classmates jeered that the subject just “sucks.” To them, all they needed to know was enough to pass the test. After several after-school sessions, Deyo learned upper-level math well enough to tutor his peers. But instead of teaching straight out of the thick textbook like many teachers do, he showed how the lessons related other subjects. “The same kids who were saying they hate math could do it and were good at it when taught in a method that they identified with,” he noticed, causing him to wonder, “Is it really math or the way we’re teaching?”

Feeling accomplished, Deyo headed to the University of Texas at Austin with the thought, “I love [teaching and math] so much, I should try to make a living out of it.” There, he signed up for UTeach, a national program training math and science majors to become high school instructors. After graduating from UTeach last spring, Deyo began teaching math at a charter school in Austin. Frequently seen wearing a bowtie, the 23-year-old Deyo doesn’t look much older than the seniors in his calculus class. But he hopes to get them interested by teaching in ways that suit them, rather than just lecturing to teens that have tuned him out already. “From a young age, I realized those are the teachers that are making a difference,” he says.

Bored and intimidated by math and science, American teenagers are disengaged from the classes that prepare them for today’s tech-driven labor force — making UTeach needed now more than ever. The United States ranks a disappointing 35^{th} in math and 27^{th} in science out of 65 countries. Recruiting STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors who often arrive at college with no intention of teaching, these undergraduates “represent the most promising pool from which to draw future teachers,” says Kimberly Hughes, director of UTeach Institute, who expanded the UTeach model from eight Texas colleges to 35 more partner universities nationwide.

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No high schooler is eager to do math problems without end, which is why UTeach trains its teachers to create hands-on, collaborative, real-world projects (a teaching method dubbed “project-based learning”) that are exciting to both educators and pupils. Recently, instead of solving systems of equations on the whiteboard, Deyo divided his class into groups and asked them to develop the problems themselves. Groups came up with equations that involved splitting pizza, controlling the amount of money spent on clothes and even comparing Spotify, TIDAL and other music-streaming services. “We try to be a student-led program, where students are taking initiative for their own learning,” Deyo says, speaking with a fast cadence, the enthusiasm about his students emanating in quick sentences. “They are coming up with the questions they want to answer.”

In response to the shortage of STEM professionals in our country, UTeach has already certified 2,676 instructors and is certifying 6,280 more in the next four years — just one of many ways it’s placing valuable 21^{st}-century skills at the center of today’s education.

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Case in point: Manor New Technology High School, a secondary magnet public school in Manor, Texas that employs only UTeach educators for math and science classes, is using project-based learning to instill a love of STEM in an unlikely student body. Unlike most STEM-focused magnet schools, Manor New Tech opened in 2007 to provide 21^{st}-century-learning skills to economically disadvantaged minority students. These teenagers are statistically expected to be behind their white peers in biology (26 points for blacks, 16 for Hispanics), as well as in algebra (13 points for blacks, four for Hispanics). Yet, Manor New Tech eradicates the achievement gap to match state test scores in math and far exceed them in science, despite comparatively lower scores in the surrounding district.

Impressive? Yes. But for schools nationwide to replicate those results, a huge influx of passionate STEM educators is desperately needed. UTeach-trained instructors staff at least 1,120 schools in 34 states, but 43 states and the District of Columbia are short math or science teachers. Filling that gap will only happen as UTeach expands, Hughes believes. “Leveraging the universities in our country as places from which to prepare excellent math and science teachers is key to addressing the shortage of teachers nationwide,” she explains.

Statistics tell the numerical story of UTeach’s impact. But Deyo’s ability to convince math- and science-loving young people to be teachers is how the program truly creates a lasting impression. Problem solving ignites a passion inside Deyo, but more than that, he loves “seeing other people appreciate and fall in love with math and see the value in it. That’s what makes me want to teach.”

“Math, as a whole, to me is one big puzzle,” Deyo says. There may be one final right answer most of the time, but there are so many ways to arrive at it. UTeach may not be the only way to improve STEM education in America, but it’s clearly one of those vital pieces.

*This article is part of the What’**s Possible** series produced by NationSwell and Comcast NBCUniversal, which shines a light on changemakers who are creating opportunities to help people and communities thrive in a 21 ^{st} century world. These social entrepreneurs and their future forward ideas represent what’s possible when people come together to create solutions that connect, educate and empower others and move America forward.*

# Tag: math

## The Controversial Math App That Can Solve Equations Using a Smartphone Camera

Math homework will never be the same again.

The hot, new smartphone app PhotoMath allows a user to point their camera at a math equation in a textbook and solves it instantly. It even shows all the work.

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The free app (which was downloaded 2 million times within the first 24 hours) can solve up to 10th grade math, which probably means there are high school students cheering all around the world; math teachers are invariably less than enthused.

However, the app’s creators (MicroBlink, a London-based text recognition technology company) say that it actually promotes learning. “PhotoMath can be really helpful to many children when they are stuck with their homework and there is no one around to help them to figure it out,” the team writes in a recent blog post. “If we can eliminate kids’ frustration at the point when they can’t do anything else but helplessly stare at the book, we’ll feel awesome. It’s as simple as that.”

**MORE:** To Help Young Girls, This MIT Student Brings Together Two Unlikely Disciplines

Not only that, but when solving a math equation is as easy as pointing and shooting, it also urges math teachers to revisit their way of teaching. The problem with the way math is taught in schools is that it stresses formulas and rote memorization — leaving scores of students with a hatred for math because they are forced to complete difficult and seemingly endless drills.

We’ve mentioned before that the struggle with math can put a pupil at a serious disadvantage as he or she seeks higher education. In fact, a whopping 70 percent of community college students never complete the remedial math courses that are required for a degree.

Math is beautiful and fascinating and helps us understand our complex universe. As Dan Meyer, a doctoral candidate at Stanford University in the field of math education says to the New York Daily News, “If [PhotoMath] could do everything it promised, it’d ideally mean teachers would assign fewer dull exercises and the more interesting problems that PhotoMath can’t solve — real-world problems, questions that require arguments, estimation questions, graphing questions, etc.”

Technology is developing at light speed and it isn’t going away. Perhaps teachers might want to keep up with it.

**DON’T MISS:** The Math Class That Could Cut the College Dropout Rate

## The Math Class That Could Cut the College Dropout Rate

Math has never been a popular subject in school. For every Einstein-like math whiz, there are countless more students who get frustrated with its long list of procedures and rules and wonder why it’s even necessary for everyday life.

This struggle with math can put a pupil at a serious disadvantage as he or she seeks higher education. In fact, a whopping 70 percent of community college students never complete the remedial math courses that are required for a degree. Unfortunately, this prompts many students to quit school because these classes can suck away time, money and drive. And as we previously reported, while 40 percent of the country’s undergrads choose the community college route, their odds of walking away with a degree is low; only a third of of them will graduate.

For those who are trying to climb out of poverty and into the middle class, dropping out of school is a heavy price to pay — those with associates degrees earn about $10,000 more annually than a college dropout.

To help reduce the startling dropout rate, several higher learning institutions are experimenting with a new approach to teaching math — the Pathways Project from the The Carnegie Foundation (a renowned education policy and research center).

The courses, called Quantway and Statway, are designed for students who might struggle with abstract equations and formulas. It’s math for students who might think, “I don’t want to be an engineer, why do I need to know algebra?” Instead, students learn real, practical applications of math — think: filing taxes, interest rates on credit cards, gas prices — to fulfill their college math credits.

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Remarkably, more than 50 percent of Pathways students achieved their math credits within a single year, whereas only 15 percent of students in the traditional sequence complete their math credits (and that’s in two years), NPR reports. Since the Pathways Project kicked off in Fall 2011, there are now 49 institutions are teaching the courses, including the California State University system and community colleges in 14 states.

What makes these Pathways classes different is that students learn how to use math to better understand the world around them. In a Quantway class, as Pathways Project director Karen Klipple illustrates in this video, students are asked if it makes sense for them to buy a hybrid car. They answer questions like, “How much money will you save in gas over a period of time?” or “What will the interest be if you take out a loan?”

If you watch the clip below, it looks like the Pathways model is not only helping students pass their math classes and put a college degree within reach, it’s also generating a real love for math.

There might be more Einsteins out there than we think.

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**DON’T MISS:** The Surprising Secret to Improving Math Skills

## To Help Young Girls, This MIT Student Brings Together Two Unlikely Disciplines

The words “don’t” and “can’t” mean two drastically different things.

Yet, when Kirin Sinha, a senior at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), tutored younger students, she noticed that boys often used one word, while girls used another in the same scenario.

Boys said that they don’t understand fractions, whereas the girls said they can’t.

That subtle discernment combined with Sinha’s love for dance led to an idea that’s rethinking the way in which we approach STEM (that’s science, technology, engineering, and math to the uninitiated) learning among females. About a year and a half ago, the theoretical math and computer science and electrical engineering major founded SHINE, an eight-week-long after-school program for middle school girls combining dance classes with a tailored math curriculum.

Sinha, who began taking tap, ballet, and jazz at age three, realized that her self-confidence and discipline came not from her love of math — but from her years of dance training.

“You’re taught to work really hard and work through the sheer sweat and grit,” Sinha, now also a professional dancer, told the *Boston Globe*. “That stuck with me through math.”

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Struck by the thought that perhaps it was dancing that built certain skills that were left out of math curriculums, she launched the after-school program in hopes to encourage more young females to be confident and interested in math.

The Boston and Cambridge-area program begins with dance class followed by time spent solving math problems. Sinha also designed the program to convey math through games — using movement and dancing to work out a problem that typically is reasoned in silence in the classroom.

“And when they go upstairs and they have a mental block about — ‘I don’t understand how to solve this equation,’ we can say, ‘Well, think about what you did at the dance studio downstairs,'” Sinha told *CBS*.

For example, the girls solve algebra problems by assigning dance moves to different parts of an equation or play a game of Simon Says to formulate a geometric shape.

The program, which is slated to expand to a selection of New York public schools next year, has not only encouraged more young females to be comfortable doing math but also to feel confident. Sinha has tested some of her students at the beginning and the end of the program to measure gains and has found up to a 273 percent improvement, *CBS* reports.

This summer Sinha is working toward expanding the program nationally and plans to attend the University of Cambridge in the fall on a Marshall scholarship, where she hopes to launch an international version.

While she’s aiming to attract more female STEM students, Sinha’s hope is to teach young women that they shouldn’t feel boxed in by a stereotype.

“What we really want to teach these girls is that those boxes that they feel they might be in are completely imaginary,” she added.

## Today’s Classrooms Are Now Teaching Tomorrow’s Techies

Remember the days when you were better at explaining the internal workings of an iPhone app than your 12-year-old niece was? Well, take note: Your superiority in that department is headed the way of the VCR.

As the New York Times reports, across the country, public school systems in major cities are shifting their thinking on computer programming classes, bumping them up from elective-only status to full-fledged requirements for all students.

Take Chicago. Within five years, the Windy City’s public schools plan to make computer science a prerequisite for graduation. Additionally, the district plans to offer coding classes in a quarter of its elementary and middle schools by that time as well. In New York City, the coming school year will bring 60 newly-trained teachers (across 40 schools) to impart computer programming on students.

And this tech movement doesn’t stop with just major metropolitan areas. In nine states, students can earn now core math and science credits when they sign up for computer classes.

A nonprofit called Code.org is doing its part to push the mainstreaming of basic coding classes in schools by offering free curriculums for teachers’ use. These programs game-ify the arduous task of young children learning to code by using, for example, the popular app Angry Birds in an effort to make lessons fun. To do this, the curriculums developed by Code.org — which is funded in part by big tech names like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg — borrow from a visual programming language called Scratch, which was developed within MIT’s Media Lab in 2007.

So what can you learn from all this? Well, it sounds like now’s a good time to start spoiling your niece. After all, she’s going to be the one you’ll be calling for tweaks to your website in just a few short years.

## 7 Summer Supercamps You’ll Wish Were Around When You Were a Kid

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## Why We Should Teach Algebra to Kindergartners

Coefficient. Distributive property. Independent variable. If you get flustered by these terms — or for that matter, any others from high school algebra class — you might want to ask a kindergartner for tips.

Say what?!

In a somewhat shocking study from Johns Hopkins University, researchers found that young children have a natural instinct for math. To test the algebraic skills of a group of 5-year-old children who were barely able to count (much less solve for X or Y), the researchers introduced the concept of variables using toys — fuzzy puppets named Gator and Cheetah, colorful cups, and buttons. Results showed that many of the children were able to tap into their intuitive mathematical skills and solve questions for missing quantities — a basic concept of algebra (More details of the study can be seen in the YouTube video above or read here.)

**MORE:** The Surprising Secret to Improving Math Skills

“What was in the cup was the X and Y variable, and children nailed it,” said Lisa Feigenson, director of Johns Hopkins Laboratory for Child Development, in a press release. “Gator’s cup was the X variable and Cheetah’s cup was the Y variable. We found out that young children are very, very good at this. It appears that they are harnessing their gut level number sense to solve this task.”

When you strip away the fancy formulas and rote memorization and add colorful toys, the basics of algebra simply boil down to problem solving. And while these 5-year-old kids aren’t exactly solving complex formal equations, the results suggest that we could introduce these more “advanced” mathematical skills in early education so kids don’t get discouraged with learning math as they get older.

“So one of the exciting future directions for this research is to ask whether telling teachers that children have this gut level ability — long before they master the symbols — might help in encouraging students to harness these skills,” Feigenson said. “Teachers may be able to help children master these kind of computations earlier, and more easily, giving them a wedge into the system.”

Sounds like adding this to an elementary-school curriculum could help reduce the number of math haters.

## The Surprising Secret to Improving Math Skills

With the emphasis on preparing our youth for careers in science, technology, engineering and math, it seems like reading and writing have fallen by the wayside. But according to the *Hechinger Report*, there’s hope for lovers of the written word. In a new paper from Stanford University and University of Virginia, “Learning that Lasts: Unpacking Variation in Teachers’ Effects on Students’ Long-Term Knowledge,” researchers studied 700,000 third-through-eighth graders over eight years and found that students with good English teachers had better math skills in the long term. Interestingly, having a good math teacher did not have the same long term benefits on a student’s English skills, the report said. It’s unclear why English helps boost math scores, but it’s suggested that English is necessary for other subjects (word problems in math, for example) whereas you don’t need math to write essays or read books. This news comes shortly after a promising report from the Association of American Colleges and Universities finding that liberal arts majors close the salary and unemployment gap compared with their STEM peers over time. So to educators and policy makers everywhere—if we want a brighter future, let’s have our kids read great books, too.

MORE: Is This the Pinterest of Math and Science Education?

## Is This the Pinterest of Math and Science Education?

In early January, roughly 100 Duke students did something most college students never want to do: They came back from winter break early. But they had a very good reason. Twelve undergraduate teams competed in a 48-hour challenge at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business to come up with innovative ways to improve science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in both the U.S. and India. Their final proposals were full of inventive ideas, including a program where students would repair bicycles and a tutorial program where older students would teach younger students via video. But the first-place team went the extra mile, designing an online platform similar to Pinterest, called “STEM Pals,” which could help students gain STEM problem-solving skills while providing resources to teachers. STEM Pals would feature “lessons in a box,” kits with materials to create water filters, lamps or latrines, which could then be used to help needy neighborhoods near the schools. “We use these kits to spark an interest in project-based learning,” first-place team member Andrew De Donato told *The Herald Sun*. As its name suggests, the platform would also feature a pen-pal component, connecting schools in the U.S. with schools in India. De Donato and another winning-team member, Jenna Karp, said they would like to see STEM Pals come to life. The $1,500 in prize money awarded by Duke may help them do just that.