Dear NSF community,
As we gear up for the 2016 season of regional competitions, the NSF newsletter team hopes you are having a healthy and prosperous 2016 so far. In this issue, you can read about a student who took NSF’s Dollar-a-Square program to new heights and a high school junior who embraces his love of math and shares how younger NSF students can as well. We also explore how NSF is playing an active role in encouraging young girls to become involved in STEM disciplines through the Math and Science contests it offers. Finally, we have some specific advice to offer high school students, especially sophomores, a review of an exciting book by Maya Thiagarajan on parenting techniques, and some information on a new book released by an NSF student himself. We hope you enjoy, and good luck to all in the regional contests!
NSF’s Dollar-a-Square program is simple in its mission: collect $100 for India scholarships by collecting one hundred $1 donations. One high school student in Massachusetts went about this task earnestly and ended up collecting more than $1000.
My name is Ashwini Allada and I am a junior at Westborough High School in Westborough, MA. As I entered high school, I found that I really enjoyed working with young children. I liked helping them with homework, teaching them new crafts, and playing games with them. A temple near my house was conducting Telugu classes for children and they needed a volunteer to assist the teacher. Having adequate skills in reading and writing Telugu, I decided this would be the perfect place for me to do what I love most while also improving my language skills. In the following year, I was on the lookout for more ways to get involved in my community and joined YMCA. However, during summer vacation, I wanted to do something different.
As I was browsing the Internet, I came across the North South Foundation website. I remembered that as an elementary school student, I used to participate in the spelling and math bees conducted by this organization. The Dollar-A-Square program caught my attention. As I continued to read about it, I was really happy to find that it incorporated both fundraising and volunteering. Furthermore, the funds I would collect would go to underprivileged children in India. I immediately decided to join and set my goal to $1000.
Throughout the fundraising process, I found myself interacting with people from diverse backgrounds. Though most were eager to donate, some hesitated because they weren’t sure whether their money would reach the right people. I was frequently exposed to such questions and had to answer them on the spot. I tried my best to clear their doubts; however, at times, I was unsuccessful. Many people asked me, "How do I know this is going to the right person?" or "Are you actually going to send all this money?” I found that carrying a laminated copy of the North South Foundation website helped a lot in reassuring them. On the other hand, some people pulled out their checkbooks without a single question. Overall, I spent a couple of hours every day -- about 30 hours in total -- and was able to raise $1008.
I would like to extend my gratitude to Dr. Ratnam Chitturi for creating this fantastic opportunity for me and so many others. This experience has definitely impacted me in a positive way!
Women in the United States continue to be disproportionately represented in scientific and technical fields, especially in the engineering (13% female) and computer and mathematical science workforces (25% female). The disparity begins to appear not at the K-12 education level, but at the higher education level, and the disparity is especially evident for minority women. In 2015, the National Science Foundation reported that although the proportion of women earning degrees in physics or computer science has increased in the past 20 years, women only make up about 20% of this field. Similarly, in engineering, the proportion of women earning bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degrees remains around 20%.
One of the most important ways to combat this inequality is by continuing to expose young girls to these technical fields at a young age and encourage their participation in them. North South Foundation’s Math and Science Bees, offered in three levels each for grades 2 through 9, are a great way for girls to engage in these subjects in a competitive manner. The statistics show that girls are enthusiastic about participating in these contests – a consistent 40% of participants of math and science bees at the regional level are girls. Thus, NSF is giving these young women an opportunity to develop their skills in math and science, and figure out if it is something they would like to continue to explore later in life. Competitive experiences like the Math and Science Bee are essential to these girls since they encourage them to not only participate in similar contests in high school and beyond like the National Science Bowl or MATHCOUNTS, but to consider these fields as a college major and eventual career.
We on the NSF editorial team would like to encourage all young girls to explore their interests and get involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields if it engages them. Whether you choose to do so by participating in NSF’s math and science bees, participating in a science fair, or studying engineering in college, one day we hope the inequality of women in STEM will be a thing of the past.
NSF alumni Ankan Bhattacharya used his love of math to win American Mathematical Society’s “Who Wants to Be a Mathematician?” competition in January. This high school junior from Michigan has been competing in NSF math competitions since 2nd grade, and he feels passionately about the importance of teaching math as a form of creativity.
“Who Wants to Be a Mathematician?” is not Ankan’s first mathematical success. His roots and foundation in math came from participating in NSF from a young age. In second grade, Ankan won second place in the Math Bee. The next year, he won first place, propelling his lasting love of math.
“NSF prepared me by exposing me to this a friendly but competitive contest environment and I met new people, people who I could bond with and make friends with. It has prepared me from when I was in 3rd grade to where I am now,” Ankan says.
However, Ankan was made fun of for liking math in elementary school, which is an experience that he feels that many math-lovers, including other NSF participants, may face as well. “I realized that the most important thing is to make it known that you like math, and then you don’t let other people affect you,” he says.
Ankan says that meeting like-minded people helped foster his love of and confidence in math. He says, “I go to this math circle, and I’ve known one of the teachers since 3rd grade and he’s my biggest source of inspiration.”
But at school, not everyone sees math the same way Ankan does, and he believes that this is because math isn’t being taught the right way. According to Ankan, math is a lot like art. “At school, you’re taught to memorize formulas for the test [... but] math isn’t just applying formulas to contrived scenarios. People at school complain that math is useless, and when teachers try to come up with examples of how math can be used in real life, they sound artificial.”
Instead, Ankan strongly feels that math should be taught in a more creative way in order to stimulate more awareness and excitement about math. He likens it to the way art classes are taught, “If art class was all about paint by numbers, nobody would like it. In art class you paint, and you’re not told what to do. If you look at math in the right way it should be like that. You shouldn’t ‘paint by numbers’ by memorizing formulas. If you want to explore this new medium [of math], then you should.,” he says.
When asked how he would advise young mathematicians like him at NSF on embracing and developing their love for math, Ankan has two pieces of advice. Firstly, he recommends that students check out artofproblemsolving.com, a large math community providing resources and over 200,000 people willing to help.
Secondly, Ankan reminds students to see the beauty in the math that they are studying. “You only find that if you go and discover for yourself, you’re not going to find it at school. The easiest way to succeed is to keep your motivation for math alive. If you feel turned off for a little bit, take a break and don’t force it on yourself or you’ll start to hate it. Just stay motivated, and if you do that you’ll enjoy practicing and it won’t feel like work,” he says.
Beyond his success in math competitions, Ankan hopes to continue pursuing math his entire life. In college, he is undecided between pursuing a purely math major, or selecting a major like computer science or engineering, which he thinks still involve math but can be applied in the real world. Outside of school, Ankan enjoys computer programming.
Congratulations! You’ve made it through nearly half of high school. Good news: there’s only roughly two more years left. Bad news: these two years that await you are the hardest years. Amidst college applications, standardized testing, and anything-but-transient homework assignments, junior and senior years are notorious for transforming motivated students like you into sleep-deprived automatons. However, have no fear! This article is going to show you how you can survive the first semester of the first of these two forbidding years. This article has taken into consideration the input of not only myself, but also many of my peers and adult mentors. Thus, it has considered multiple perspectives to give you the best advice possible. This advice can be applied to other years as well, but some tips are specific to juniors. Read on!
Junior year is the year to tackle whatever you’ve been fearing in the past two years. 7 AP courses? 20 extracurricular activities? Should I do it? The answer is: it’s really your choice. You are the only person who knows your capabilities. If you think you can handle it, you can handle it. That being said, keep in mind that it won’t be easy. You’ll have to spend time and effort studying for 7 APs or balancing 20 extracurriculars. But a common mistake students (my peers and others) make is fulfilling their desire to make junior year “relaxing” or “easy” and not stretching themselves to make the most of their potential. So, you have to “know where you’re going to land,” or have a vague idea of whether what you are contemplating will help you achieve your goals.
One important tactic during junior year is to schedule everything. Plan standardized testing dates as soon as you can. Write down deadlines for everything. Even events that seem far away when you’re in August, like AP exams, are closer than you think. Plus, once you put a date and time to something, it becomes tangible and real. It is no longer just a thought that swims in your brain, but a solidified deadline or event that you can anticipate and prepare for.
The best resources you can use are free. Talking to students who took AP Chemistry last year about how difficult the exam was and how they studied is a great way to focus your studying and get tips. Asking your teachers to review non-school-related writing is a great way to get feedback. Practice standardized tests are free and online. The school or public library has book slots of them- for any subject.
One word that should not come to mind during your first semester is the word “bored.” Though you may be fatigued or fed up with the monotony of your daily routine, there should never be a moment where you feel “bored” or can’t think of anything to do. If you stay busy and actively pursue your interests and goals, you will never be bored. That being said, it is important to eat and sleep, so don’t forgo life-sustaining activities to study. But don’t squander time feeling “bored” and acting idle.
What do you want to achieve this year? A perfect report card? A perfect SAT score? Nationally qualify in an extracurricular activity? Whatever it is, write it down. Goals need to be concrete in order to be achieved. Once you write something down, it will stare at you in the face until you achieve it. And while that staring may be intimidating, you will ultimately be glad you had a constant reminder of what you need to achieve.
If you are disappointed with your performance in previous years, junior year has the potential to vindicate you. If you have done well in past years, junior year can build upon that. Regardless of your past, junior year can be your year to shine. However, you need to focus on your goals, whatever they may be. If you lose focus, you will feel disappointed in yourself. Whenever you are feeling unmotivated, remind yourself what you want to achieve and get to it!
It is my hope that you will take this advice and mold it to your liking. And to all you sophomores who dread the upcoming school year, have no fear. As long as you stay focused, keep track of your activities, and use your resources, you will do great. That being said, enjoy the rest of your sophomore year, make the most of your summer, and get ready to shine in August!
If you related to the experience above, you may want to read “Beyond the Tiger Mom: East-West Parenting for the Global age” by Maya Thiagarajan. Maya is a writer, educator, and above all, a parent. Born to an American mother and Indian fater, she grew up in both Chennai and the U.S. She went on to teach at a wide range of schools in the U.S. and later Singapore. She was struck by the differences in Asian and American parenting and educating styles, and struggled to find her own.
However, as she turned to parenting books for guidance, she realized all of them were biased to Americans. Why weren’t the Asians fairly represented? Ms. Thiagarajan initially felt tremendous pressure to abandon her Asian parenting style, and raise her kids through an American one. After all, these books were by the experts, weren’t they? Thankfully, she did not. Instead, Ms. Thiagarajan created her own philosophy - she wrote her own book. Beyond the Tiger Mom is for the global parent - it urges you to combine East and West parenting styles to create the perfect balance for you and your student.
“I became convinced that the superior performance of many Asian kids in math and science has less to do with Chinese number systems or Asian school curricula and more to do with the families and cultures in which these kids grow up” - Thiagarajan
“They are raised in mathematical homes, where math is woven into the fabric of their lives from the time they begin talking...they succeed because they value it.” - Thiagarajan
“When I talked with other moms in Singapore, I began to feel reading was not really about books and stories and making meaning; it seemed instead to be merely about sounding out words – Thiagarajan
“America has done an admirable job of creating a national reading culture...No country publishes as much for children and teens as the US does” - Thiagarajan
“The fact that parents feel obliged to read books out loud to their young children on a daily basis: that is what makes America a reading culture” - Thiagarajan
“If you want your child to enjoy a subject, you have to first help him or her become competent in it.” - Asian Parent
“The American fear of killing a child’s love of learning by drilling her too much does not exist in Singapore.” – Thiagarajan
“Play, play, play is all very good, but it won’t get my son good results.” - Asian Parent
“Freedom - both physical and mental - is also a prerequisite for creativity. Your children need time when they’re allowed to play freely indoors and outdoors, without adults constantly telling them what to do.” - Thiagarajan
“Whereas children in Asia often sleep with their parents or grandparents for many years, my American doctor and my American friends all advised me to put my infant son in a crib in a separate room so that he could begin learning to be independent” - Thiagarajan
“Encourage reading and math, find a balance between freedom and structure, encourage children to speak up and ask questions, but also remind them to be respectful for our elders.” - Thiagarajan
Are you up to the challenge? Do you think it’s possible to do it all? Try it out and let us know. Good luck and happy parenting.
6th grade NSF participant Avan Shah has recently published Walks with my Dada: A Collection of Short Stories from India. The NSF Newsletter Team caught up with this amazingly accomplished young student, who will be donating all of the proceeds from book sales to NSF. Here is some information from Avan himself about his book:
“I have been taking walks with my Dada (Grandfather) ever since I was 4 years old, and each time, he would tell me a new story. Many of these stories were told to him over 70 years ago and he still remembers them like it was yesterday. Often times, they included animals that have to solve a problem by finding a clever solution. At the end of the story, my grandfather would have me summarize it and find the moral of the story. These morals have taught me different types of lessons and have helped me learn what is right from what is wrong. During one of our walks last summer, we came up with the idea of writing a collection of these short stories that my grandfather had heard from his childhood as a children's book. We chose our favorite 14 stories to be included in "Walks With My Dada". After discussing each story with my Dada, I wrote each one in my own words as my Dada would joke that my writing would appeal to the new generation. Since I also have an interest in art, I drew illustrations for each story so it will be more colorful and enjoyable for our readers. The entire process of putting this book together took approximately 5 months. We hope that this collection of stories will be read by generations of children and have the same effect on them as it had on me.”