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Equitable Learning: Story-based Math Learning for Everyone

What if learning math was like reading a story? Equitable Learning addresses math anxiety through novel story-based teaching methods.

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Math Anxiety is real. It impacts 25% of university students and detours some from STEAM majors even before entering college. Equitable Learning address math anxiety through story-based quantitative coursework for all students in an online setting. This is especially valid today with limited classroom access and in-person interaction owing to the Covid-19 situation.    

Our approach is: 

1. story-based learning in student-preferred story settings/themes;

2. objective and career-oriented ;

3. conducive for test prep from the comfort of your home;

4. keeps you motivated and interested in a gamified learning experience. 

Story-based learning encourages learners to verbalize and represent mathematical operations within the context of immersive visual, sensory, and auditory experiences emerging from the narration of a story.  

For example, consider Amy, an aspiring head nurse of a major hospital in New York City. Tonight, is her ER shift. The city is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and she has been put in charge of assigning beds to patients. She has little knowledge of the virus but knows that patients with COVID19 need to be isolated and kept apart. How will Amy assign 4 new patients to available hospital beds?    

Her decision needs to consider:

  • patients with special needs
  • number of available beds (special and ordinary)
  • distance between each bed
  • number of doctors you need to call based on their shift availability and specialty

Assuming that ICU beds are ideal for such constraints, she has  4 available beds.  In how many ways can she allocate the 4 patients to the 4 beds? 

A problem like this one is centered around counting and probability theory.  Equitable Learning proposes the following example to Amy in her personalized learning dashboard that picks a story, Tuesday, by David Wiesner - a 1991 wordless picture book which has several interesting examples to relate counting and probability in the context of an imaginative story-line that Amy understands and appreciates.  Through a series of counting exercises focusing on frogs on lilypads, Amy identifies the probability of finding a frog holding a TV remote, standing on a clothes-line, etc. - and masters the idea of estimating probability from counting.  As such she eventually internalizes the idea of permutations and combinations as they relate to countable outcomes of events.  Through these learnings, she is able to understand that the first empty hospital bed of the 4 can be filled by any of the 4 sick incoming patients, while the remaining 3 beds can be filled only by the remaining 3 patients, the remaining 2 beds an allocate to the remaining two patients once the first two have been allocated, and so on,  until the final bed is only possible to allocate to the remaining one patient. As such this can be done in 4x3x2x1 ways, or 24 ways.  

In sum, Equitable Learning proposes personalized learning dashboards with AI-driven story-to-subject-area matching for the purpose of generating personalized story-based learning experiences for math subjects.  


What part(s) of the pre-COVID school system do you wish to leave in the past? Why?

Equitable Learning proposes to leave behind the dreaded symbology-based math learning that induces anxiety and drives talented student away from the STEAM. We instead contextualize math into real-life examples that play out in story-based settings in genres that are customized to a student's preferences. Mathematics is traditionally considered to be a subject in the liberal arts, instructed in an abstract manner that appeals more to the visual learners amongst us. Auditory and sensory learners that have a proclivity to relate to math better through examples and experiences are often found searching for a tutor or struggling through their curriculum. Equitable Learning proposes to meld visual, auditory and sensory learning by appealing to the student through simple stories and language that is (nearly) free from jargon.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to share this idea.

About us: 

Equitable Learning was born as a result of a collaborative effort in the Pittsburgh Civic Hackathon, the weekend of 15-17 May 2020.  

Banu Nallani - Computer Engineer who 'hated' math

Prahlad G. Menon, PhD is an engineering professor and data scientist, with cross-industry experience leading and successfully executing on data-science projects. He is leading the Carlow University Data Analytics Program and is Adjunct Faculty at Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Texas at San Antonio. 

Our Inspiration:  “Math Anxiety” causes students to avoid STEM majors, delays graduation due to time and expense spent in and on “remedial hell” and contributes to the low percentage of students who graduate with a four-year degree within four years of starting college (one study revealed only 43% first-year students in 2015 received a four-year degree in 2019). It is estimated that 25% of college students experience moderate or high levels of anxiety. Math Anxiety (MA) is the leading cause of more students graduating with degrees in psychology than mathematics, engineering, and statistics combined.  Averting MA at an early age can improve the odds of STEAM career and improve graduation rates in university. 

What region are you located in?

  • North America

Where are you located?

Pittsburgh, PA(USA) is a university town with the character of a steel city and one of the largest healthcare systems in the the US. The location and its merits (in terms of thought leaders in education and the sciences, in general) make it ideal to launch an educational program that is focused on math learning.


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