Technical Conference, WiT

A new way to teach math

What if math were taught differently to middle-school aged kids? How did you learn algebra?  Do you remember?  Wasn’t it something like this: “Find the common factors of 4x + x^2  and then solve it for y?”  How about your kids?  Are they learning the same way? Are they enjoying it?

Now imagine something like this: “Take a look at this drawing of your city and tell me how much it would cost for gasoline in the car for your mom to drive you to school and then herself to work for one month.  Also, tell me how she might pay less money to get you to school and herself to work, i.e. by taking the train, carpooling.

Yes, experience-based algebra.  Math in, from and for the real world.  Is this some kind of dream?

Well, I used to think so, then, much to my delight, I happened on this type of math education in Bangalore, India at a new start-up called BrainStars.

BrainStars India
BrainStars India

During my recent speaking trip there, I wanted to connect with local, open-source developers.  I have discovered through my travels, that visiting a co-working space or two is a great place to connect.  To that end, I located in Bangalore and noted a launch event for a new, educational startup called BrainStars there. - a co-working space in Bangalore – a co-working space in Bangalore

I contacted the organizers and asked if I could visit their offices in order to understand what they were launching at the event. At the offices, I got introduced to their first product.  It’s called Number Nagar.

In the heart of ‘old Bangalore’ I spent a day with the founder of BrainStars and his team.  Ravi Shankar Ramalingaiah explained the theoretical concepts behind BrainStars, then he spent some time taking me through the model classroom on site for Number Nagar.


Welcome to the world of 'Number Nagar' with founder Ravi
Welcome to the world of ‘Number Nagar’ with founder Ravi

He led me through many of the core activities that he and his team have developed to teach math to children in grades 3 to 8.

Here’s what I learned….

Ravi is creating courseware that is hyper-local – ‘Nagar’ means city in the local dialect (Kannada) and one of his many activities starts with a cool map of ‘mathematical’ Bangalore, from a child’s perspective.

Nagar means 'city'
Nagar means ‘city’

The classroom space is a filled with an activity areas with items, such as a history wall, with the zero suitcase and more.  These items are designed to spark experiential mathematic conversations and activities.  Here are some pictures of the classroom.  First up is the city map.

Mathematical city map of Bangalore - as a basis for hyper-local mathematical thinking
Mathematical city map of Bangalore – as a basis for hyper-local mathematical thinking

Here’s the Pi pillar – used for teaching / understanding how the concept of Pi has evolved over time.

Pi pillar - to explain the evolution of understanding of the value of Pi
Pi pillar – to explain the evolution of understanding of the value of Pi

The teaching tree extends into 3D space – even using the ceiling to teach!

The teaching tree uses 3D space - including the ceiling!
The teaching tree uses 3D space – including the ceiling!

In addition to spending time with Ravi and his team, Llewellyn and I also did attend the Number Nagar launch event at the co-working space later in the week.  It was enlightening to be led through activities with other interested adults and kids by BrainStars-trained teachers.  I found all of the teachers to be engaging and well-qualified.  The audience responded with delight too!

Learning from the BrainStar teachers at the Number Nagar launch event in Bangalore
Learning from the BrainStar teachers at the Number Nagar launch event in Bangalore

Ravi’s model is for-profit and Number Nagar is the first set of curriculum, teacher-training and classroom environments that his start-up (BrainStars) will offer to schools, after-school programs and homeschooling parents.  Ravi advised me that his team is already at work on applying this experience-based approach to teaching and learning to other domains – next up is science.  I can’t wait to see what they will build next.

Probably the strongest endorsement of BrainStars that I can give is that I am working to bring it my daughter’s own school.  If successful, we will be the first school in the US to use this innovate approach.  I’ll keep you posted.

If you’d like to learn more here is the main BrainStars site and here is the contact information.

I’ll close with a bit of fun – in additional to innovation and excellence, NumberNagar also has a theme song – it’s cool and catchy and local (mostly in the Kannada language – the local Indian dialect of Bangalore).

The NumberNagar Song

Nodu baa NumberNagar| Aadu baa NumberNagar
Auto hatkond, meter haakond, Archimedes circleninda
Pythagoras Palyag hogi, Full meals hodeyoNa.
Guass galeeli toorikonDu, Ramanujan series kanDu
Gandhi Bazaar dose tindu lekka haakona
Nodu baa NumberNagar| Aadu baa NumberNagar
Chakradalli circles yella |gaalipatadal angles yella
Paani puri gaadiyalli Quadrilateral haaduthaithe
Beralal saavra gatle number| Zero story on a paper
Clocksnalli centuries and millennia haaduthaithe
Nodu baa NumberNagar| Aadu baa NumberNagar
Mathadi math aadi Everybody

Here’s a link to the song – enjoy!


2 thoughts on “A new way to teach math

  1. Thanks, Lynn for the super-enthusiastic words… Look forward to the children “everywhere” learning mathematics the way we are envisaging to teach.

    best wishes,

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