how yana uses her work to get people to do math

This week, I get to feature #mathematicalmodel Yana, who takes a spin on the "How do you use math in your work?" prompt. Instead, she writes about "How she uses her work to get people to do math." Yana began her career as an engineer, and then moved into teaching where she discovered her love of instilling curiosity and love for math in both children and adults. She continues to do this through the educational tool she has founded, Geometiles®, which was born from her desire to give students an enjoyable and tactile experience of fundamental math concepts. I LOVE the messaging and the mission of this company:

Math is all around us.  It is integral to our everyday lives, and it envelops all we do – from architecture to buying groceries.  But sometimes math gets a bad reputation. For some, it conjures up dreadful images of school days struggling over proofs and equations, and for others, it seems so beyond understanding that it’s difficult to think about it. But it isn’t just for the math wizards of the world; math is for everybody.

Yana has recently reached some huge milestones by selling Geometiles on Amazon and making her retail debut in educational toy stores. Here's Yana's math story:

 Photo by Jon Clark/ Del Mar times

Photo by Jon Clark/ Del Mar times

When I first heard the subject of this essay, I had the somewhat mischievous instinct to switch the words around.  It wasn’t just me being contrarian.  My current job is founder and designer of  an award winning math educational tool called Geometiles® , and I view it as taking all the work (including avocations) I’ve done so far— being a mom, engineering, customer support, math research, math teaching, and photography— and somehow “packaging”  it into a product that gets other people to do math. Given how many Americans feel about math, that’s no mean feat. Like the parents who secretly sneak vegetables into their kids’ dishes, I tried to fold in as many mathematical principles as I could into the 7 types of tiles that make up the Geometiles sets. The 30-60-90 triangles are there, as are the 45-45-90 ones. The golden ratio is tucked into the rectangles (shhh!) , and it turns out that you can reconstruct one of the proofs of the Pythagorean theorem. I wanted to make sure the tiles are so pleasant and satisfying to connect together, that both children and adults can easily assemble them to create positive and negative curvature surfaces (the first is roughly like a cabbage leaf, and the second like a kale leaf). 

But how do I make this a reality? This is where my engineering background comes in. It has given me an invaluable perspective into numerous decisions and tradeoffs that are part of bringing a design into physical reality. As a young college graduate, I had experienced the process of going from a design to an actual piece of hardware that had to work. This involved hours spent in the predominantly male world of instruments, technicians, and machine shops. It was not the most comfortable environment for a young woman in her early twenties, but it served me well.  Never did I imagine that many years later the experience help me oversee the birth of my first product.  When I found myself in the world of design and manufacturing the second time around, my gut reaction was “been there, done that”.  The awkward novelty of being the only woman in the room was gone, and I was able to focus on the important decisions in front of me.

 Geometiles in action!

Geometiles in action!

As the founder of a very small company, I cannot afford to hire professional photographers on a regular basis. So I often find myself behind the camera taking pictures of kids using Geometiles. When the children are young, I end up teaching them math while photographing them.  This somewhat bizarre multitasking is one of the most enjoyable parts of my job.  I will start a mathematical discussion with, say a first grader, about approximating circles with lines while snapping his pictures. I never know exactly what I am going to get—both in terms of mathematical responses or pictures. But I find the uncertainty exhilarating!

Learn more about my work, math and Geometiles from my blog at http://geometiles.com/about/blog/

Yana's passion for mathematics is truly contagious, and I'm so excited to see innovative educational tools that will get young kids excited about math! Follow Yana @geometiles on FacebookInstagramPinterest and Twitter.