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How Engineering Supports Learning

By Christine Mason. Today’s interview is with Dr. Kevin Green, CEI Board member, engineer, and President/CEO of Akasha Learning.

CM:  Dr. Green, when and why did you become interested in engineering? Were there any teachers or classes during your K-12 years that pointed you in this direction?

KG:I have been interested in mathematics nearly all my life. I fell in love with learning math back in elementary school. I really wanting to learn the times table and asked my mom to work with me using Flash cards. I learned that I could learn math if I put in the necessary time. My early interest in math, and the support and encouragement of my parents and one of my math teachers, led me to major in electrical engineering in college and a career as a scientist, an engineer, and an educator.

CM:  You also taught math classes as a high school math and computer science teacher and to adult learners attending the Phoenix University’s online campuses.  Your classes included students with an array of needs and math talents/abilities. What insights did you gain regarding teaching and learning math?

KG: I learned early on that the #1  deterrent to becoming a confident and competent math student ‘“ no matter what your age ‘“ is fear. Unfortunately, mathematics has always been shrouded in a cloud of mystery and intrigue. Too many youth and adults have said they lack the ‘compute’ power to learn math. My personal experience helped me understand the crucial role that teachers can play in instilling mathematics confidence and competence in their students. For example, each class period, I would help students recognize their own ‘weeds’ of fear and negativity so that they can remove them and replace them with seeds of confidence and positivity. Then, when they begin to realize that they can learn and do math, this further propels them to work harder for greater academic success.

I also strived to instill in my students that they should never feel too proud to ask questions, and they should gradually adopt a consciousness that is not limiting but one that vibrates continually ‘“ ‘I can, I understand, and I am fearless.’ Some additional ‘best practices in teaching mathematics’ strategies that I recommend for students and teachers are: active participation, study, revision, formations of study groups, and question asking.

CM:  You have worked for over 23 years in engineering. Most of your experience has been as a Government contractor with various DoD, DOE and intelligence agencies. What has been most exciting about this work?

KG: After graduating with a master’s and a Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering, I accepted a position at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The main focus of my time at Sandia was on new business development for the DOE in bio-terrorism and hazardous waste removal, developing an improved automatic target recognition algorithm for the military, and developing a 3D-Imaging System for the FBI to be used as a forensic analysis tool. I had not realized how exciting technical careers could be for people with an interest in and aptitude for math and science.

CM:  I know you have a particular interest and concern in improving the math skills of all American youth, particularly African American and Hispanic youth.  What advice do you have for math teachers?

KG. 1. Overcoming Fear and Math Anxiety ‘“ I believe, communicate and teach students that anyone can learn math; that every student brings something to the table; and that learning can be automatic. The first step in automating math learning is to ask students to change their language by substituting the three forbidden mantras ‘“ (1) I can’t, (2) I don’t understand, and (3) I’m stupid ‘“ with the three empowering mantras (1) I can, (2) I will, and (3) I’m intelligent. By doing so, I am encouraging students to shift their mental vibration from a place of hopelessness and helplessness to a position of strength and empowerment. Throughout the course, I continually communicate to my math students that ‘Yes, you can learn math.’

2. Creating Math Glossaries ‘“ I discovered through my years of teaching that if students don’t understand the language of math, such as knowing certain terms and definitions, this knowledge gap affected their learning the lesson plan for the day.

3. Relieving Stress ‘“ There are some simple stress relieving techniques that do not involve having your students try to position their body into complex, yogic postures. Stand and roll your shoulders or do simple, easy and gentle neck rolls to help relieve stress. I also emphasize the importance of breathing from your abdomen with comfortable inhale/exhale combinations. Sitting in the ‘L’ position slows down ones brain processes after only 15 minutes. Outside the classroom, students should be aware of the adverse effects diet, exercise, and lifestyle might have on academic performance.

4. Improving Concentration Skills ‘“ Another area that needs to be addressed is the poor concentration skills of students. In one high school, from freshman year to their junior/senior year, the average concentration time only increased from 5 minutes to 15 minutes. Students at this age are going through a major developmental stage during which their focus can be easily distracted because of their greater priority for social interaction and desire for social esteem among their peers. To compensate for their poor concentration skills I spent no more than a few minutes on teaching a concept along with an application. Then, I would activate the classroom learning with hands-on-activities, pair-wise activities, and having them come up to the board.

5.Balancing Theory with Application ‘“ I strongly encourage math teachers to always discuss the math relevance in every class. Students want to know the relevance of math in their everyday life. I consider hands-on applications, with activities to stimulate kinesthetic, auditory, and visual learning. I have been able to show, for example, that physical exercises such as yoga, involves math (e.g., positioning your body in angles and triangles with specified degrees).

CM:  Dr. Green, Let’s continue this blog sometime soon so we can consider more of your advice for teaching math. In closing, you have recently established a business, Akasha Learning. I believe you may be as passionate about your company as your interest in math instruction.

KG:  Our current focus with Akasha Learning is debuting Formula Learn, which is a mobile app that runs on both iOS and Android mobile tables and smartphones. We use an anonymous social network for students to collaborate, teach, and learn together through working with images as well as words and phrases. Our app was designed to maximize online access for K-12 students, particularly students that may not have home Internet access. Formula Learn is now available for free download on both iTunes and Google Play (see website links below):

CM:  Thank you again.  Dr. Green, Formula Learn sounds like a simple, yet important 21st century innovation for education.  I hope your message will inspire CEI readers, teachers and administrators and that they will share this with students who may have an interest in or aptitude for engineering!

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