Why math ed sucks (not just in India)

August 22, 2014 § 2 Comments


My friend Hartosh Bal (author of A Certain Ambiguity, a mathematical novel) has a piece in Caravan Magazine titled “Why Fields medalists are unlikely to emerge from the Indian educational system.” He mentions the fact that of the three winners of the Field’s medal (the highest accolade in mathematics) are Brazilian, Iranian and Canadian respectively. The Canadian, Manjul Bhargava, however is of Indian origin and, it appears that the Indian media have “rushed to claim him as India’s own.” As the title of his article suggests, Hartosh uses the fact that Bharghava was not educated in India, as a starting point for a broader discussion of how the manner in which mathematics is taught in India. He makes some wonderful points and I would recommend reading his entire piece.

The only quibble I have with his argument is that (as indicated by the title of my post) is that the problems he identifies with mathematics education are not limited to just India. Similar issues (such as an instrumental approach towards learning mathematics, focus on rote memorization of rules etc.) exist right here in the US as well. As Hartosh writes:

We believe students learn only at one pace, and even more damagingly in the case of mathematics, in only one way. Far too many parents in this country have told me about their children being penalised in tests for solving a mathematics problem by a method other than the one taught in the class. It should be quite the contrary, a student who correctly solves a problem by innovatively thinking her way to a solution deserves more marks rather than less. 

I love that last sentence.

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Discrimination in Academia, an experiment with a personal connection

May 9, 2014 § Leave a Comment


Try as we might to be open-minded the truth is that we all have biases. These biases can be subtle and insidious and it is rare that we get to confront them head on. A recent story that has been making the rounds on  NPR, InsideHigherEd, and The Washington Post about racial and gender bias in higher education, forced me to face this issue, and though, as it turns out, I turned out OK in the end, it did raise some important questions about us academics.

It is a longish story, mainly because I have to provide some context for the study. So bear with me…

In a study titled “What Happens Before? A Field Experiment Exploring How Pay and Representation Differentially Shape Bias on the Pathway into Organizations,” the researchers (Milkman, Akinola, and Chugh) sent identical email messages to 6,500 professors across a range of disciplines in 250 of the top universities in the US. Each message indicated that the “student” was impressed with the professor’s work and requested a meeting. These messages were identical in every respect except in one crucial way: the names of the fictitious students.  These were the names used in the study,

Brad Anderson, Steven Smith, Meredith Roberts, Claire Smith, Lamar Washington, Terell Jones, Keisha Thomas, Latoya Brown, Carlos Lopez, Juan Gonzalez, Gabriella Rodriguez, Juanita Martinez, Raj Singh, Deepak Patel, Sonali Desai, Indira Shah, Chang Huang, Dong Lin, Mei Chen, Ling Wong

As you can see the only thing that distinguishes them is that they varied along two key dimensions Gender (male v.s. female) and Race (white, Latino/a, black, Indian or Chinese). What the researchers were looking at was how often professors wrote back agreeing to meet with the students. From this they could infer whether the gender/race of the person writing to the faculty member made a difference to the response rates?

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Of math and ambigrams: Exploring Symmetry

March 26, 2014 § Leave a Comment

01-symmetryAmbigram for Symmetry displaying rotational symmetry

I have been writing a series of articles for At Right Angles (a mathematics education magazine) with my friend Gaurav Bhatnagar on the art and mathematics of ambigrams. The first article in the series (Of Art and Math: Introducing Ambigrams) was published back in December. It is now time for the second column: Of Art & Math: Introducing Symmetry.


I had a lot of fun working on this with Gaurav. He challenged me to come up with some new designs… and there are couple in there that I am truly proud of. So click the link (or image) above and enjoy.


Research to practice : 3 articles

February 3, 2014 § Leave a Comment

Matt Koehler and I are co-editors for an ongoing series of articles “From Research to Practice” for Education Matters, an educational magazine published by Educational Technology & Management Academy (ETMA). ETMA is non-profit organization based in New Delhi dedicated to pioneering innovations through research and development. Three of these articles are now available online. I had posted about the first a while ago and as I wrote then, this series has been great fun to write, allow us to work closely with graduate students in writing for a popular audience. I am quite proud of how our students have managed to take complex research and present it in a manner that is simple and accessible, but never simplistic.

26 years ago… My first publication!

August 22, 2013 § Leave a Comment

AllfalldownBack in 1986, Anand Narasimhan and I wrote a short story titled “We all fall down,” that was published the popular-science magazine Science Today. Science Today, edited by Mukul Sharma who wrote science fiction himself, was maybe the only outlet where you could publish science fiction. Anyway, the story was published in the August 1987 issue of the magazine.

I had forgotten about it completely but I know I had scanned it years ago – so I wouldn’t have to hang on to the paper version. Of course I didn’t have a clue as to where the pdf was, what I had named it etc. etc. An hour or so of digging around on my computer I did locate it… reading through it after so many years was kinda fun. And then I discovered something interesting.

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New edited series on Research to Practice

May 19, 2013 § 1 Comment


A few months ago I was invited (by the Educational Technology & Management Academy, an Indian educational organization) to write a series of short practitioner-oriented articles for a new educational e-magazine they were starting. The idea was to introduce to a wider audience of educators current research findings in the fields of educational psychology and educational technology research as well as their relevance to practice. « Read the rest of this entry »

4 new ambigrams (STEM, STEAM, Research & Gandhi)

April 25, 2013 § 4 Comments

Here are four new ambigrams I have created over the past few days. All related in some ways to things I have been thinking about. The first two are for STEM (an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Mathematics). The next two are for Research and Gandhi. Why I have been thinking of Gandhi is a long and complex story that I shall leave for a later date. Anyway, here are the new ambigrams.

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A published poet! Yes!

April 21, 2013 § 2 Comments

I am now, officially, a published poet!

imaginary-i           atrightangles-cover

My poem on imaginary numbers (The Mathematical “i”) was published in the March 2013 issue of At Right Angles, a school mathematics journal.  You can read my poem on my website here: The Mathematical “i”

You can download the entire issue here (it is a large download) or view the magazine in sections here.

Bollywood meets Guitar Hero

March 11, 2012 § 2 Comments

Over the Christmas break my daughter and three of her friends got together to make a music video. The idea was simple, what if there were a version of Guita Hero (Sitar Hero anyone?) for Bollywood songs. Out of this idea emerged a 5+ minute long music video – with a story-line about 4 bored Indian kids, deciding to have a good time. Shot over two days in our basement, the music video was recently screened at the annual cultural program of the Indian Cultural Society of Greater Lansing. The video was great fun to make. Here it is. Enjoy.


Video on MSU/Azim Premji University collaboration

November 3, 2011 § Leave a Comment

Over the past year I have been involved in an exciting new initiative – a partnership between the College of Education at Michigan State University and the newly set up Azim Premji University in Bangalore, India. (A previous post about our ongoing work can be found here). The International Studies and Programs at MSU recently released a video about this work, featuring yours truly. You can see it here…

YouTube Preview Image

There is also an article in their magazine – but that’s not online at this time.

Ganapati Festival Photographs, 2011

September 6, 2011 § 1 Comment

The Hindu god Ganesh (the elephant-headed one) is celebrated across India, and the world, around this time of the year. The Hindu community in Lansing is no exception. A couple of days ago I was asked to take pictures of a music program at the local temple. « Read the rest of this entry »

April 2, 2011… O frabjous day!

April 3, 2011 § 2 Comments

To understand the significance of April 2, 2011, I have to go back 28 years, back to the summer of 1983.

I had just finished 10th grade, and that summer I took a trip to the hills of North India, as a part of a social work volunteer effort. I remember sleeping on the floor in this little unfurnished hut up in the hills, spending the days digging what would be the foundation of a village school. We had no electricity, no TV, the our toilet was to go out in the woods.

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Indipix Gallery, cool photographs

February 8, 2011 § 3 Comments

The International Conference on Indian Education: The Positive Turmoil. is being held at the India Habitat Center in New Delhi. This Habitat center is a rather cool building and, apart from academic conferences (I saw two different conferences going on at the same time), it also hosts open-air sculpture and art galleries. One of the galleries right near where the IEPT conference was being held was a photography exhibit by Sanjay Nanda. Sanjay is a graphic designer by profession and a passionate photographer in his spare time. He also runs IndiPix Gallery, what he described as “a space for contemporary art photography.” I can’t find an easy way to embed any of his photos here, so you will have to visit their website to check out Sanjay’s work. Trust me, it is will be worth your time.

Oh, Shi(f)t! Only in India…

February 6, 2011 § 5 Comments

I just came across this sign on a wall in Bhubaneswar. Check it out, nothing less than “Tension free shiting!” All you have to do is dial a number!

Here is the sign cropped close

Here is the complete sign.

It is part of an advertisement for a packing and moving company. The painter droped the “f” in the word “shift!” I love the fact that this service is available through dialing a single phone number, from anywhere in the country and you can use any mode that you like to dial it in!

Off to India

January 30, 2011 § 1 Comment

I am heading off to India tomorrow and will be gone for approximately two weeks. The main reason for this trip is to attend the International Conference on Indian Education: The Positive Turmoil in New Delhi. I am scheduled to present and act as a resource person for a Round Table on Reforms in Teacher Education. I think this will be an extremely interesting conference and I look forward to learning a lot, as well as getting to meet some interesting people.

I will also be going to  Bangalore to meet with people at the Azim Premji Foundation (I had blogged about a recent visit by the CEO’s the Foundation here, and you can find out more about what they do in this news story). We are putting the final touches on a collaboration between the College of Education at Michigan State with the upcoming Azim Premji University. This is an exciting new initiative for the Foundation and I am glad that we (here at MSU) can be a part of it.

Education in India & the role of the Azim Premji Foundation

November 28, 2010 § 5 Comments

Just before the Thanksgiving break, the College of Education and Michigan State University had the opportunity to host Dilleep Ranjekar and Anurag Behar, Co-CEO’s of the Azim Premji Foundation.  The Azim Premji Foundation is a not-for-profit organization with a vision to “significantly contribute to achieve quality universal education that facilitates a just, equitable and humane society.”  Operational since 2001, the APF employs over 200 professionals and 1000 paid volunteers in realizing this vision for elementary education in India. APF is currently engaged with over 2.5 million children, in 20,000 schools in partnership with 13 Indian States. The work of the foundation has been characterized by a strong emphasis on systemic reform of Indian education at all levels.

Dileep Ranjekar
Anurag Behar Dileep Ranjekar

I met Dileep (and other members of the foundation) a couple of years ago, when I was in Bangalore for a conference (see here). Ever since then, I have been working on developing a partnership between MSU and the foundation. There have been visits by people from the foundation to East Lansing, as well as visits by us to the foundation offices in Bangalore. The recent visit by Ranjekar and Behar coincides with an important new initiative started by the foundation.

As a critical component of the Foundation’s strategy, Azim Premji University has emerged as an institution for learning and research in education and relevant development domains. Its focus is to develop education capacity and foster the development of professionals who are committed to social change. Working closely with the Foundation’s other education and development programs, the University seeks to significantly strengthen the connection between theory and practice. Key foci include: (a) Preparing a large number of committed education and development professionals who can significantly contribute to meeting the needs of the country; and (b) Building new knowledge in the areas of education and development through establishing a very strong link between theory and practice.

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Happy Diwali

November 4, 2010 § Leave a Comment


Happy Diwali  2010


Readers of this blog know that every year I provide a link to the same
interactive Diwali eCard. Why change anything this year? So follow the link below,
turn your volume way up,  and remember to click on the sky
above the Taj Mahal for some fantastic yet
environmentally friendly fireworks

Take me to the
Interactive Diwali Card …

On breaking the rules (and words)

July 11, 2010 § 2 Comments

My daughter on her blog has a new poem / haiku called Sweat, a haiku with one glich. She is in India right now where the temperatures are easily in the 90′s – which I guess explains the genesis of the poem. What was more interesting, to me however, was the manner in which she, quite instinctively, breaks up a word in the poem. Interestingly, she regards that as a “glich!” :-)

Here is the poem.

Sticky, icky, ew!
I wipe it off, and it trick-
les, right back again!
See the neat little trick of breaking up the word “trickles” so that it actually



down the page. Reminds me of one of my favorite poets, e.e.cummings and how he plays with words. For instance here is a poem by him


It takes a bit of effort to read but it is worth it. With some thought you will see that in the parenthesis is the phrase “a leaf falls,” broken up so that it runs down the page, rather than across it. So instead of “a leaf falls” you read


Of course breaking it all up forces you (the reader) to read the lines in slow-motion, with pauses as it were. Also the shape of the letters comes through now as do the alliterative / symmetric “le” “ll” and “af” “fa” sounds. There is a visual and audio pattern here… a verbo-visual pun maybe. Sort of what Shreya did with the word “trickles.”

But there is more…

Outside the parenthesis is the word “loneliness” broken up so that you can see the words “one” sandwiched between two “L’s.” The “L” is written in lower-case, which again makes it look like the number “1″ or capital “I.”


So the repetition of the idea of “one” or “I” (once as “one” and twice as the number or the “I”) emphasizes the solitary nature of this experience. It could be 1 leaf falling, or one person watching one leaf fall… And all the pieces come together to set up a sad mood of one lonely person watching one leaf fall

How clever of mr. cummings. And how cool that Shreya, discovered something similar in breaking up “trickles” into two parts, showing how the sweat actually

“trick -

- les”


To me it is an indication of her increasing comfort with language. It is only when we are comfortable with the rules that we start to break them, and it is there that true creativity and one’s one “writerly” voice emerges. So I would argue, despite Shreya’s thinking that it is a glitch, that it is not. It actually her noticing a pattern, imposed on her by the syllable count required by the Haiku structure itself, and then using that constraint for a creative purpose.

As for the mis-spelling of “glich” – I hope she doesn’t correct it. Because the poem now does have one glitch, the mis-spelling of the word “glitch.” How self-referential!!

All in all, what a wonderful way to begin a Sunday, reflecting on creativity and writing, inspired by a poem written by 11 year old Shreya. How very cool!!

Indian creative genius

June 23, 2010 § Leave a Comment

A great article titled the: The Subtle Technology of Indian Artisanship: From saris to hand-painted signs, design thinking is an unacknowledged force in Indian craft by Ken Botnick & Ira Raja. I have written about ideas such as these earlier, particularly in the context of Jugaad  (aka situational creativity). (Thanks Babitha George for the link). This is of course connected to the idea of Everyday Creativity (that Lawrence Bruce had shared in a comment on a previous post).

For instance see these posts:

There are lots of cool examples in this article but the one that stood out was this one:

This underwear sign presents an example of innovative thinking about space. Finding a drain
opening in the path of his endeavors, the artist spontaneously incorporated a navel (and home for a mynah bird)

How wonderful is that!! Read the entire article for more…

The opposite of truth

February 7, 2010 § Leave a Comment

Niels Bohr, the 1922 Nobel Laureate in Physics once said:

The opposite of a correct statement is an incorrect statement. The opposite of a profound truth is another profound truth.

I was reminded of this when I saw this TED video. Check it out…

(h/t Andrew Sullivan)

Poetry, Science & Math, OR why I love the web

January 12, 2010 § 8 Comments

A 5th grade science assignment, transformed. A rant about Mother Goose. A math poetry challenge!  How did that come to be? And what does that have to do with loving the Interwebs? Read on…

I had written earlier about how my 10 year-old daughter had been writing poems on science (Scientific Poems or Sci-Po’s for short). It all started with an extra-credit assignment she needed to do for her science class, and a need, I perceived, to keep her blog (Uniquely Mine) up-to-date. She has quite a few written now. For instance here is one about a news item about scientists finding dinosaur eggs (and other dino-stuff) in India (Cluster of dinosaur eggs found in southern India), and here’s the poem:

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Wikipedia minor fail

January 2, 2010 § Leave a Comment

I recently received the following email:

Sir, I was reading the article in Wikipedia on ‘Samarangana Sutradhara’ (King Bhoja’s treatise on Architecture). I was of the impression that there is no translation of the work in English. Though the article says that there is a translation by you of the work, the list of your works and publications on your webpage does not include any such work. Kindly let me know if you have indeed translated the treatise. If so kindly let me know how I can access a copy.

The fact that I had translated this ancient Sanskrit treatise came as a surprise to me.

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Number (non)sense & flatulence!

December 16, 2009 § Leave a Comment

Numbers are a gas! (Image credit: Phillie Casablanca)

Numbers are seen as being critical to developing our understanding of a subject. As Lord Kelvin, (1824-1907) said:

… when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind.

More succintly he said, “To measure is to know.” Numbers provide us (particularly academics) with credibility.

Of course this dependence on mathematics and numbers can often be misplaced. I am always impressed how we use numbers mindlessly – sometimes to levels of accuracy that don’t really convey much. I was reminded of this while reading a recent NYTimes article A Deluge of Data Shapes a New Era in Computing.

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Keep TPACK clean :-)

November 9, 2009 § 1 Comment

I came across this sign when I was in India recently and I just HAD to take a picture of it.

Keep TPACK Clean
Click on the picture for a larger version

Of course, much of the effect comes from the inadvertent yet appropriate peeling of the paint from the letter “R.” But fun nonetheless.

Diwali 09 Photos

October 19, 2009 § 1 Comment

The Lansing temple recently organized a special Diwali program. My daughter Shreya participated in a dance and I, as always, took photographs of the event. Click here or the image below to see all 161 of the photographs I took.

Diwali 09


You can also read a poem written by Shreya on Diwali on her blog Uniquely Mine.

Happy Diwali

October 16, 2009 § 2 Comments


Happy Diwali


For an interactive card click here … .
Remember to turn your volume way up, and click anywhere in the sky
above the Taj Mahal for some environmentally friendly, fireworks.

New ambigram: Nihal

October 9, 2009 § 4 Comments

My friend, Hartosh (I had written previously about his mathematical novel here) and his wife Pam, recently had a baby boy. This ambigram is of his name: Nihal

Nihal ambigram


Jugaad, educational toys from Junk (TPACK at work)

September 14, 2009 § 2 Comments


I had written earlier about the idea of Jugaad, the quintessential Indian idea of situational creativity. One of the masters at this is Arvind Gupta. Check out his website for tons of wonderful science toys and experiments that can be made from stuff we typically throw away. Very cool and a critical part of the kind of repurposing of artifacts we need for creative teaching.

Throwaway Technology, playful Pedagogy and powerful Content… who says TPACK needs hi-tech!

Via Major Fun (aka Bernie DeKoven) comes Arvind Gupta, winner of the Defender of the Playful Award.


March 16, 2009 § Leave a Comment

I took photographs at the Milap 2009, the annual cultural program organized by the Indian Cultural Society of Greater Lansing. Click on the photo below to view the photos (hosted on Flickr).

Bangalore symposium, now on YouTube

February 26, 2009 § Leave a Comment

This past August I was in India for a Symposium on Education Technology in Schools: Converging for Innovation & Creativity. The meeting was organized by the Quest Alliance, USAID and International Youth Foundation and was “designed to bring together education and education technology practitioners, scholars and experts, academicians and students for an exchange of ideas aimed towards creative approaches and solutions for technology use in teaching and learning.” I blogged about this quite a bit, details here and here, here, and here.

I just received a beautifully designed Summary Report and a link to an Youtube video that I am including below: « Read the rest of this entry »

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