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Spreading the Love of Math Through Instagram

March 26/2021

by Françoise Makanda, Communications Officer at DLSPH

DLSPH Assoc. Prof. Rinku Sutradhar is spreading her love of math to kids through Instagram.

“Our children seem to enjoy practical math questions, and with more family time available during this pandemic, my husband and I started creating our own math word problems for the kids,”  said Sutradhar who is also a Senior Scientist-Biostatistician with the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences.

“Our friends would ask us ‘Have you come up with any interesting questions lately, and if so can you send them along?’ So we would send them our word problems, and this was even before our Instagram page was initiated.”

Rinku Sutradhar

Associate Prof. Rinku Sutradhar

Since December, she has shared practical math word problems for kids in grades four through twelve on her Instagram account @math_together. A few days after posting each question, with the help of her son, 9, and daughter, 11, she shares the video solution. Her enthusiasm for math is contagious—her kids are working with her to make their own math word problems on their Instagram account.

Part of making math fun is making it relatable, says Sutradhar. The other day, her husband, an avid mathematician as well, debated whether emptying the dishwasher should be a paid chore. The idea turned into a math problem for her children.

“Imagine if one child suggests getting paid $10 a day for 30 days. And another child suggests getting paid a penny one day, two pennies the second day, and so forth, doubling each day for the next 30 days. Which one would you choose?” says Sutradhar.

Her kids preferred the $10 a day scenario. Once they did the math, however, her kids realized that the latter netted them a cool $10 million at the end of the month. The lesson blends the concept of compound interest and geometric series. And while the emptying of the dishwasher is not a paid chore in the Sutradhar household, the goal was to get her children engaged by using real-world problems.

Sutradhar caught her love of math through her father, a statistics professor. Together, on their many car rides, they would work on math problems. “And for whatever reason, at the time I wasn’t sure how much I enjoyed it. But over time I feel like it really grew on me – I began to see the value in math,” she says.

“And it’s funny because I feel like I’m doing something similar with my kids. I’m initiating those discussions — they seem to enjoy them – no complaints so far.”

Now, as a biostatistician, she works in predictive modelling. In her recent project, she is working with datasets to predict, based on a patient’s profile and treatment plan, their probability of surviving cancer. She believes kids need to be aware of opportunities in STEM at an early age.

As the Instagram account continues to grow, Sutradhar wants to give parents and kids the tools they need to understand math and have her followers involved in sharing their math problems.