Practical solution for analytical math
SPECIAL TO THE EXAMINER
Nov. 21, 1999
©1999 San Francisco Examiner
Two million visit this dad's Web site with its 2,500 brain-teasers
SANTA CLARA - In a few short months, what started out as a father tutoring his two daughters in their Santa Clara home evolved into a learning tool used by thousands of kids, parents and teachers across the country.
Ashok Bansal thought his children weren't getting enough exposure to the analytical math problems they would face in today's workplace. So he started writing his own word problems - the dreaded questions that force students to apply math to real world scenarios - and geared them toward his children's elementary school sensibilities by combining the problems with stories from children's books and other kid-friendly topics.
His children enjoyed working the problems while improving their math skills, and Bansal was inspired to share his labor of love with others. In March, he posted a free Web site called Mathstories.com. So far, he has created 2,500 brain teasers for elementary and middle school students.
Since its launch, Bansal's site has received close to 2 million visitors, and teachers as far away as Brooklyn are using the
Mathstories.com as part of their curriculum.
More than ever, employers are looking for problem-solving and analytical skills, Bansal says. Standardized tests reflect the trend, but schools and textbooks have been slow to catch up, he says. "Like most kids, my children were doing a lot of mechanical computation in school, but not the kind of problems that tests their critical thinking, and I know how important those skills are in the real world," said Bansal, who has worked for high-tech companies in Santa Clara area, where his first- and fifth-grade daughters attend public school.
Bansal, who has a master's degree in physics and electrical engineering and has done some college teaching, bought
software, found an Internet service provider and started crafting his homemade word problems. He has spent hundreds of hours of his free time writing and posting problems.
Educators attest that Mathstories.com is different from most sites because it is categorized for use by all ages, with word
problems featuring nursery rhymes to stories appropriate for middle school students. And the material is frequently updated.
"There are fewer of these kinds of questions in textbooks because they take up more page space than basic equations," said Nedra Shunk, coordinator of the pre-teaching programs at Santa Clara University. "Most Web sites are aimed at teachers and parents. I have not seen one especially for kids to practice problems at any level they want."
The site quickly reached students as far away as New York. "Literacy is a buzzword in all areas of our curriculum so Math Stories is great for us," said Sebastian Mondrone, School District 17 technology staff director, who happened upon the site the day after it opened. "Our district site has alink to MathStories because everyone liked it so much." Mathstories.com also appears to be popular among parents whohome-school their children.
Charmi O'Conner, who lives in the tiny town of Kneeland near Arcata in Humboldt County, says that in just a few months
her 11-year-old son Greg went from testing at his fifth-grade level to an eighth-grade score after practicing the site's word
exercises. "The great thing is that we can download the problems so he does not have to be working on the computer the whole time," O'Connor said.
Bansal says he initially posted only grade-school problems, but after receiving numerous requests from middle school
parents, he added more difficult questions.Bansal says he spends about 30 hours a week coming up with new puzzles that integrate literature, geography, history andscience with math.
He says that the site costs about $30 a month to operate, but that the high volume of visitors will soon require him to increase its bandwidth, which will cost more.Regular users are encouraged to make a donations to maintain and expand Mathstories.com, but Bansal has declined to seekadvertisers and manages the site as a public service.
He has diversified its use by sponsoring book drives. Recently, he brokered a book donation from Berkeley's Berkwood Hedge School to Francisco Middle School in The City.
"I get e-mails all the time from teachers who say they can not afford books for their classrooms, so I hope to be able to
connect those schools with people who have books to give," Bansal says.