Published Tuesday, August 10, 1999, in the San Jose Mercury News
Santa Clara man's goal is to make math practical, thoughtful, fun for children
BY MICHAEL BAZELEY
Mercury News Staff Writer
Sometime tonight, as he does most evenings, Ashok Bansal will pull
himself up to his home computer and spend hours chipping away at
his crusade to make math fun.
Bansal swears it's possible. To prove it, he's created a Web site for
parents, children and teachers called MathStories.com. Online since
December, the free site consists of page after page of word problems,
those mind-bending teasers that actually force you to think about
how to use math.
Bansal says the site is devoted to the idea that math should be more
engaging than memorizing times tables or computing square roots.
``I'm trying to bring more practicality to math,'' said Bansal, ``I'm making it more exciting.''
The Web site -- dubbed ``Math for Internet Generation'' -- has been
a big hit with parents and teachers. Mostly by word-of-mouth and
through Internet search engines, Bansal has generated a loyal
following. He says he gets 250,000 hits a month, and e-mail comes
from all over the country. ``Teachers, home-schooling parents. A lot
of schools have started using it,'' he said.
Oregon mom's addition
Oregon parent Julie Liggins found her way to the site after a teacher
said her third-grade son, Reggie, needed help with word problems.
Liggins found MathStories.com through an Internet search. Now she
prints math problems every day on her home computer and has them
waiting for three of her kids when they get home from school. Reggie
has responded well to the extra work, the Beaverton, Ore., mom
``After about a week of using it, he went from one extreme to the
other,'' Liggins said. ``He went from not being able to do (word
problems) at all to being real good at them. . . . Even his teacher has
been amazed with the difference.''
Dave Irving of Santa Clara found out about the site through his
daughter, who attends school with Bansal's children at Carden El
Encanto School in Santa Clara.
``I printed out all these pages, and she just ate it up,'' Irving said.
His daughter's teacher, Shelli Dorf, said she uses the problems as
extra credit for her students.
``I thought it was an excellent idea,'' said Dorf, who teaches
third-grade at Carden. ``I had been using the same old math problems
from workbooks. This was different. I just keep downloading them.''
Bansal's site is a labor of love. He spends 25 to 30 hours a week
after work and on weekends brainstorming math problems,
categorizing them by type and difficulty, and posting them on the site.
He has put up more than 2,000 problems on hundreds of pages.
Number of lessons
Children and teachers can choose from dozens of categories, such as
time and rate problems and prime numbers. One fifth- and sixth-grade
problem asks students to balance a checkbook. Another asks
children to calculate electricity usage and the cost of running a TV for
The Santa Clara dad knows he probably will never make a dime off
the site. And for now, that's OK, he says.
The idea for the Web site came to Bansal while helping his two
daughters, 6 and 10, with their schoolwork. Bansal concluded that
children weren't exposed to enough word problems. That's a serious
problem, he says, because word problems teach critical-thinking
skills, and being able to solve problems is a basic requirement in
today's job market.
``We are in an industry that requires a lot of computer literacy, and
for that, you need to know how to solve problems,'' he said. ``Math is
going to play a key role in that.''
The project marries two of Bansal's interests. His master's degrees --
electrical engineering and physics -- require strong math backgrounds.
And for a time, he flirted with becoming a teacher.
Recently, Bansal branched out beyond math problems. Bansal met
through his site a teacher who works in Lancaster, S.C. After an
exchange of messages, he learned she worked in a low-income
school that needed books for its students. Bansal organized a book
drive at his daughter's school and shipped the school 200 books.
Emboldened by that success, Bansal decided to use his Web site to
host book drives for needy schools. He has helped donate books to
two South Bay schools: Sherman Oaks Elementary in San Jose and
East Palo Alto Charter School.