We need a robust curriculum for Elementary and Middle School. The curriculum must ensure a smooth transition from Elementary to Middle to High school. Many students leave STEM in Middle and an even higher percentage of students are reluctant in taking robust courses in STEM high school since they find themselves unprepared to deal with the complexities which is introduced in high school. Furthermore, the curriculum needs to be more flexible to allow students to advance to any extent provided they show potential and interest for the same. Finally, the students in Elementary and Middle school must be prepared to solve difficult problems.
Asa part of my interview series about the things that should be done to improve the US educational system I had the pleasure to interview Manish Mishra is Co-Founder and CEO of Random Math, Inc, a math-learning center that utilizes an integrated learning approach to encourage not only student excellence, but a lifelong passion for math and STEM.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory” behind what brought you to this particular career path?
Ialways enjoyed solving difficult problems and helping others do so. A teaching career specially at the High School Level, however, wasn’t looked upon favorably in India, my home country. Therefore, even though my mom was a high school teacher, I ended up with an undergrad in Engineering from an IIT followed by a career in corporate world. However, this passion came back to life when I started teaching counting to my two year old son. I wanted to do something big in the field of Math education. My MBA at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, followed by a 5 year long career in management consulting prepared me to fulfill my dreams of entrepreneurship and teaching. When my son, Nilay Mishra, was in grade 2, he already knew Math concepts 4 years ahead of his grade. Stuti, my wife, and I started looking for a Math program that could challenge and grow him and were unsuccessful in our search. So, out of both passion and the need, Stuti and I started to organize students with similar passion and volunteered to coach them on the art and craft of problem solving. This started at home and slowly grew up in size when we had to start renting a facility during weekends for this community work. In 2015, Stuti decided to start Random Math to focus full time on our students and I followed her after a couple of years.
Now, here we are!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
In 2013, we organized a contest and a lot of students, whose school didn’t organize the tournament participated in it. Few of the students scored zero out of five and many others scored very low. One of them, wrote me a passionate email and asking if he could still join for the practice at our place for this ongoing contest. His parents were very supportive of him and had a positive attitude towards education. So, we accepted him for our volunteer program. despite his scores. He learned from me for almost 4 years and soon became one of my favorite students. In fact, in 8th grade, he actually won a very prestigious middle school contest in math. I was very excited and had an immense sense of fulfillment when I heard about it.
Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
This was a great experience for us and a story that we like to share. I have learned through my life experiences that an interest and passion overrules existing knowledge or talent.
We have worked with more than 500 students over a period of last 4 years. More than half of our students who started at Random Math were in a similar situation. However, we have always been very confident about their success. We have seen that a student with positive attitude, hard work and discipline have always benefit from our program.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now?
Yes, we are working on creating a much bigger impact. We are expanding the programs, courses and workshops offered at Random Math, Inc. to enable us to work with even more students while continuously improving our processes and quality! We are based out of California but the students and parents across the United Stated have seen our success in AIME, Exeter Math Competition, Harvard MIT Math Tournament to name a few. They want us to work with their child. We have been receiving a lot of interest from people across the country asking if we have any online courses. There is a good news on this front. From 2020, we will start online classes at Random Math leveraging our existing system.
We are also going to expand our footprint in terms of physical centers in Texas and California. Furthermore, we are taking steps on expanding knowledge of our existing students in applications of Mathematics namely in Physics, Computing, Chemistry, Economics and Entrepreneurship.
Finally, our curriculum based on integrated Math is getting more robust with our experience and we would soon be able to offer modular courses. What makes our program unique is our focus on an integrated approach to teaching math. This is different than in most schools across the nation, where curricula tend to focus on sequential math. At Random Math, even 3rd graders start learning all concepts together, including algebra, geometry number theory and combinatorics. This helps them visualize the formulas, equations and concepts as an integrated concept.
How do you think that will help people?
This strategy has helped sustain an interest in math in these students. Many high school students find math to become too difficult at times and so they give it up. That’s because we typically teach math as separate and abstractly. Very rarely does it have any real-life applications. Our students, in comparison, end up loving it and many ultimately branch out into science and other careers and industries.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are authority in the education field?
I would let results of my students speak for me. I have always had a passion for math and now we have a program unlike any in the country. Over the past 3 years we have seen our elementary and middle school students skyrocket in terms of being ranked in the top percentile in math competitions around the country. And, our high school students are able to take university level and graduate level courses and excel. 21 of my students last year were invited to take “American Invitational Math Exam” aka AIME. Two of them were amongst the top 65 students in high school while still attending middle school.
None of the programs, that I am aware of, teaching geometry and probability to 3rd graders. What we are doing is working. I saw it work with my own son who won Math League national championship in Elementary and Middle school divisions 4 years in a row. He qualified for AIME in Grade 6, 7 and 8. Therefore, I decided to take my approach and teaching techniques to benefit many others as well.
I have also done extensive research on the integrated math approach. In India, I learned Geometry and Algebra as an integrated concepts. There are tons of articles on integrated approach and how it has benefited students in other countries. If our school system cannot incorporate it, we need to supplement this through our Math Program..
An engineering from IIT in India has prepared me academically in Mathematics, Science and Engineering while developing robust skills in problem solving and analytical thinking. While designing complex financial applications, I was able to connect the academic knowledge with real world needs. During my MBA and my experience as a consultant, I further gained deeper insights into how the mathematical concepts translate into real world business management be it developing Financial models, valuing a company, making informed decisions as a leader, product development, pricing and marketing to name a few. I thrived by bringing structure and predictability to randomness. With skills from both worlds: academia and corporate, I find myself well placed to prepare our next generation with new set of tools for a completely new set of jobs.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?
US education system is very robust when we talk about undergrad, masters, Ph.D. and research. At the school level, a lot more is desired.
Can you identify 5 areas of the US education system that are going really great?
Our schools does an exceptional job in training the students in language arts, sports, music, debates, teamwork and leadership.
Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement?
We need to do a better job teaching Math, Science, Engineering, Computers and Economics.
First, we need a robust curriculum for Elementary and Middle School. The curriculum must ensure a smooth transition from Elementary to Middle to High school. Many students leave STEM in Middle and an even higher percentage of students are reluctant in taking robust courses in STEM high school since they find themselves unprepared to deal with the complexities which is introduced in high school. Furthermore, the curriculum needs to be more flexible to allow students to advance to any extent provided they show potential and interest for the same. Finally, the students in Elementary and Middle school must be prepared to solve difficult problems.
Can you explain why those are so critical?
This will boost their confidence and improve their thinking skills. Also, high school STEM courses would not look out of their reach. The students who do fairly well in high school gets these exposure either at home or at private learning centers like ours. However, an overall change in the system would mean impacting students who do not have access to outside help.
In High school, the students generally have options to take STEM courses in community colleges so in my opinion the focus should be on Elementary and Middle school.
How is the US doing with regard to engaging young people in STEM? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?
We do a good job in language arts and social sciences and music and dance and leadership. I don’t think those areas need too much work.
STEM-related training, in comparison, isn’t incredibly lacking. The new generation depend more and more on STEM jobs so proper training and teaching is critical. It is an essential life skill because eventually computers and machines will take over most manufacturing work. However, this focus on STEM is missing in our educational system. Internationally, students in 3rd grade start to learn programming — our students need to, too. Here in Silicon Valley every leader I come in contact with is trying to teach their children programming as young as 7th and 8th. The US education system needs a complete overhaul for STEM. We must start an integrated approach to math providing flexibility to them at a young age. If they are far ahead in math, they shouldn’t be forced to attend classes that don’t challenge them. It’s not beneficial and, overall, the programs must be more flexible.
Can you articulate to our readers why it’s so important to engage girls and women in STEM subjects?
If you look at past mathematicians you will only find men. It has been dominated by men because of access to math education and who is able to take advantage of certain opportunities. Now, women are getting earlier and better access but we need this gap to close sooner than in 100 years — we must do it in 10. That means ending the stereotype that math is for boys and giving girls the same opportunities, confidence and access.
How is the US doing with regard to engaging girls and women in STEM subjects? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?
3 things we can provide:
- Confidence: We need to instill more confidence into girls across the nation that they can study and excel at math and science. We also have to show them more examples of women who are already doing s. We can bring female industry experts into the schools like we have done here at Random Math. Female students need to see role models, receive mentoring and opportunities to bolster their confidence.
- Guidance: By providing female students training and coaching in math-related subjects, we can offer them more guidance. There have been a few tournaments where the boys were winning more models but over the course of that year, we encouraged our female students and told them they could do as well as the boys. We found the results changed substantially in following tournaments.
- Flexibility: This helps every single student. By being flexible on the curricula you can teach students what they’re ready for. This boosts their confidence and helps them feel more secure as they learn the content.
As an education professional, where do you stand in the debate whether there should be a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math’s) or on STEAM (STEM plus the arts like humanities, language arts, dance, drama, music, visual arts, design and new media)? Can you explain why you feel the way you do?
We need both to give students the foundation they need to success. However, it’s inarguable that the future belongs to the young people who master STEM topics like computing, programming and Math. With students across the world learning these topics at an early age, the question isn’t about whether STEM is right area of focus or STEAM. The focus should be on our approach on how we can teach these topics better than we have been.
If you had the power to influence or change the entire US educational infrastructure what five things would you implement to improve and reform our education system? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I would add more flexibility so students can study what they’re ready for when they’re ready for it. We also need more of a focus on STEM-related topics at an early age. We also need better integration so students can understand how math topics are related and how they can be applied in a wide range of life examples. Math doesn’t have to be learned abstractly and by grounding it we can truly encourage a life-long passion. Finally, we need to empower young ladies by giving them the confidence to pursue math courses and, later, careers.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is Hindi and I’ve been telling it to my son since he was just two-years-old:
“karat karat abhyaas ke, jadmat hoth Sujaan
rasri aavat jaat hai, sir par hot nisaan”
I love that quote because of its origin from the field of education. During 15th century, a student, frustrated with his lack of academic talent, went to commit suicide by jumping into a well. There he saw the marks that the ropes had made on the rocks by rubbing against it for years. The student understood the message and went back to work even harder. He later became a renowned scholar in Sanskrit. This really shows that who are you isn’t just who you will be. You are in charge of your destiny and can push past whatever hurdles you’re facing by hard work. I learned it by my own life experiences where I saw one of my classmate who stuttered in Grade 6 but kept trying to participate in debates. He went ahead to become one of the best speaker first at the school and then at the same university that we attended in late 90s. This proved that with enough hard work you can be whatever you want!
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This is a tough question but I would say Chris Gardner. He’s an entrepreneur and motivational speaking who is famous for the movie depicting his life: Pursuit of Happyness, where he’s played by actor Will Smith. I would love to have someone like him come in to meet the kids. He was homeless, he struggled but he used education and his math ability to change his own life. This is such an inspirational message about the power of knowledge and in addition to meeting him myself, I’d love to have him come in.
How can our readers follow you on social media?