When Mita Bhavsar was a kid her friend across the street had very cool toys. While Bhavsar found Transformers, GI Joe and Legos more interesting that some of those toys, one day she decided to pulled the ring on her friend’s Talking Barbie and heard …
“Math is hard. Let’s go make cookies for the boys.”
“I don’t know. I’m just a girl.”
“That not what our role model should be,” Bhavsar says. “Math isn’t hard. Perception goes a long way with young girls especially. So I made it my mission in life to make math easy, fun, innovative and creative. Perception is everything.”
Right she is, and she wants young girls to understand they don’t need make cookies for boys or don’t know an answer just because they’re girls. They can do math, and can do it well.
The Canadian-born math whiz, who works is a senior financial analyst at Dana Corp., has become involved in several programs, all geared at teaching you women about math. She’s figured out ways to help them not only understand the subject, but how to use it every day.
Bhavsar’s passion to teach young girls not to be afraid of math started when she was invited to Imagination Station at the Toledo’s Science Center for its Girl Power! event, which helps young girls explore STEM careers.
While women account for 47 percent of the workforce, they make up between 12 and 30 percent of the STEM careers, says Sloan Mann, director of STEM education at the Imagination Station.
Bhavsar decided to help fill that gap and took an active role in developing projects for the program.
Last year she created and ran Code Wars to show young girls coding is a lot easier than they think.
They divided into teams, each charged with building a robot out of Legos. Each teams had a model in front of them that used all different colors, shapes, and sizes of Lego pieces. Their task was to program a “robot,” played by one of the human volunteers, and build the model, one piece at a time.
To do this, they were given three commands. The PickUp function told the robot which type and color of piece to select. The Place function told the robot the xy-coordinates to place the Lego piece. Finally, the Execute command got the robot to move.
The team that placed the most pieces correctly in the time allotted was the winner.
The next Girl Power! event is Feb. 11. You can register by clicking here. Bhavsar says there are scholarships available for those in need.
“I’m planning to top the prior years with my activity,” she says.
Bhavsar also created and ran a Let’s Make a Deal-type game called Find the Minion at Imagination Station. The girls had three boxes to choose from and were given the option to “switch” boxes. The game was based on the old Monty Hall Let’s Make a Deal program.
What the math showed was always pick the other door. You have a 33 to 50 percent chance of winning.
Then there was the Deal or No Deal activity she did at University of Toledo for WISDOM (Women in STEM Day of Meetings). It is a day where about 200 at-risk 14- to 16-year-old young women are encouraged to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
Two of the highlights of the day were her activities that showed the math behind the Deal or No Deal gameshow and how to mitigate risk at casino games. The idea was to use math to figure out the probability of winning.
“It was literally the Howie Mandel hosted Deal or No Deal gameshow where you have 26 cases to choose from,” she says. “Each case contains a different amount of money, from $0.01 to $1,000,000. The goal is to win a million. To do this you pick a random case.”
Each round required the player to open a certain number of cases, revealing the contents in each case. At the end of the round, the banker made an offer to buy the case.
“The game taught the girls how to calculate the expected value of their case versus what the banker was offering to determine if they were going to make a good deal,” Bhavsar says.
The kids were also tried their luck at a “casino.” In the end there were more losers than winners.
“Gambling is wrong,” Bashar says. “It is best to bet on a good education.”
Getting that good education can begin with getting a jumpstart.
Bhavsar taught a fast-paced Algebra II curriculum to high school kids as part of the Drill Sergeant – Algebra II Boot camp. Every Saturday for ten weeks, she spent three hours teaching the kids Algebra II, the summer before they took the course in school.
And, yes, it was run military style with warm-up physical fitness drills.
As you can imagine the kids were pretty shy about participating in class and putting their work on the board. But, as soon as she offered Kit Kat bars everyone was ready to participate.
“It was fun to see the kids work through it,” she says. “It was good to make no one feel they couldn’t do it. The idea was not to make them experts overnight but to help them before they started the class. I wanted to give them hope.”
She also provided lunch and snacks for the students because “you can’t teach a starving mind.” She also gave them her teaching notes, sent food home with some of the kids and even picked up some students who couldn’t get a ride to the class.
“It was a small sacrifice to help a kid pass a class,” Bhavsar says.
Many did more than pass. For example, one of her former students is in his second year at Grand Valley State University studying engineering.
While helping young women understand math is her passion, Bhavsar has also used her skills to help other groups. She ran the GED math program for Empire Community Development Corporation in Southfield. As part of this program she taught women basic computer skills, which gave them administrative assistant work capabilities.
“I am no longer formally teaching a GED math class, but I still tutor it,” she says. “If there was a need at a local institution/church/center, I would certainly run the program again. I am always looking for ways to push math education.”
If you think all this is enough, think again.
Bhavsar also works with True North Detroit, a non-profit 501(c)3, an emergency food fund started to help single parents make ends meet. The group sells True North Detroit T-shirts, and 100% of the profits go into the fund. Single parents raising a family can submit a request voucher to a nearby grocery store where they can purchase groceries/formula only to feed their family when their budget is limited.
To date, they’ve given away more than $900.
“I have been fortunate enough to meet many people in my life, and inspiring young minds is one of my favorite things to do,” Bhavsar says. “I’m always happy to be part of things like these, because you never know what profound results can come of your actions.”