Education is often seen as an extremely rigid, by-the-book affair. Lessons are taught from a curriculum, with little flexibility for those who don’t benefit from that particular teaching style. This is especially true for the sciences and math, as certain formulas are to be used to get the answer- even if a student reaches the correct answer with a different method, it can still be considered wrong. It’s not intuitive, and it’s not adaptable.
That is what Po-Shen Loh is hoping to change with his education program Expii. A math professor at Carnegie Mellon University and coach for the US International Math Olympiad Team, Loh decided to change the way students are taught. He and his team created a program that teaches the same lessons seen in a classroom, but while showcasing the various methods one could use to get the correct answer. “Math and science, they get a bad rep for being hard, so people can be afraid,” he explained. “It would be wonderful to make learning more personal.”
Aside from highlighting the different solutions to each problem, Expii has the option to let users work through word problems using pop culture and even contribute their own questions. Loh said that allowing user contributions was a result of them stepping back and not assuming “that anyone will like any one thing.” He’s also very keen on the idea of using the arts to teach math and science, and is looking for Pittsburgh artists, musicians, and writers to collaborate with.
One of the biggest benefits of the program is how it could benefit those with special needs. Because it’s so personalized, it’s easier to “meet people exactly where they are,” as Loh puts it. He insists Expii is for everyone, however. He compared learning math to a chain- for example, you can’t perform long division without first mastering division, multiplication, and simple addition/subtraction. But if any one of those concepts is flawed or doesn’t “click” with the user, the entire foundation falls apart. Expii, due to its layout and structure, allows users to focus on those problem areas.
Granted, the system does not come without its own flaws. Most schools still use traditional, group education. Expii is still being developed and improved upon, keeping it from widespread use. Perry High School in the North Side has been in talks to use the program more this school year, as with some after school programs. Zach Nelkin, Manager of Business Development, likened it to beta testing. “We’re looking for a variety of kids to test it.”
They’re also looking for people to help expand Expii’s circle of education. While the program only teaches math and science at the moment, Loh hopes that one day they’ll be able “to build a platform for all subjects.” They’ve employed several people outside of those backgrounds, as well. A Fine Arts graduate was present at the office when I visited, and both Andrea Janov and Lauralei Kraski (Director of Operations and Operations Assistant, respectively) have backgrounds in writing.
It’s still fairly small, and in the middle of some major reworks of the website (at the time of this writing), but it’s evident that the Expii team cares deeply about their project. And why shouldn’t they be? The ability to change how the fundamentals of education work so more are able to comprehend these concepts is amazing and welcome. It could usher in a new age of interest in science and math for people of all ages, not just schoolkids.
That’s something well worth mastering long division for.