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UMBC Magazine Interviews Dr. Nagaraj Neerchal

Math Gym founder talks about the power of "working out"

July 28, 2014 10:52 AM
The Hrabowski Fund for Innovation – established in honor of UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, to help UMBC faculty pursue new approaches to teaching – made its inaugural awards in January. Among the recipients were Marie desJardins, a professor of computer science and electrical engineering, Nagaraj Neerchal, chair of the department of mathematics and statistics, and Leslie Morgan, a professor of sociology and anthropology.

Neerchal piloted a new “Math Gym” that allows students to exercise and improve specific mathematics skills. Morgan was the co-creator of a new “Wisdom Institute” that will harness the talents of UMBC’s emeritus professors.

What makes Math Gym innovative? The university already has programs for remediation for students who have trouble with mathematics.

Neerchal: You said the key word: “remediation.” When students don’t have the skills they are supposed to have we recommend that they take a remedial class. The word “remediation” has a negative tone to it, like “rehab.” In the Math Gym we substitute the negative terms with positive words such as “working out” and “building strength” instead of remediation, “coaches” instead of “helpers” or “assistants”. Students are not going there to work on a deficiency, but they are “working out” to build strength. It’s a paradigm change. If you want to be good at math, you have to work out.

There are a lot of parallels between sports and athletics. Like sports, Mathematics is also about skill. Just as you don’t build any muscles watching football, you don’t build any skills by just watching your teacher do mathematics.

So that’s why I called this project a “Math Gym.” Students will think of going there as a positive experience.

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