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High bar

Computer science co-op student wants all children to feel like 'they can do math'

Teaching and Learning

By Rebecca Newhook

Everyone knows that the butterfly’s favourite subject in school is moth-matics but birds prefer owl-gebra.

All jokes aside, it’s fair to say that math is not often a favourite subject among schoolchildren.

According to the people at Carnegie Learning, everyone is a math person — they just don’t know it yet!

Play-based learning

Mathstoria and Zorbit’s Math are math-based learning games for children in grades K-6, developed by Carnegie Learning, whose Canadian headquarters is in St. John’s, N.L.

The games are part of a suite of digital tools and hands-on resources for teachers and classrooms that aim to foster joy in math through play-based learning.

A sizeable number of Memorial University co-operative education students and alumni from computer science and other disciplines have made significant contributions to Carnegie Learning’s games and digital tools.

Kunal Sikka, a co-operative education student in the Department of Computer Science, started a work term with the back-end team at Carnegie Learning in May.

He is working on a variety of tasks and projects, which he says keeps the work both challenging and interesting.

“To begin with, I worked on some basic tasks like small bug fixes and then moved on to tasks that were more complex, like adding or improving a feature,” said Mr. Sikka. “For example, I created a feature for teachers to help connect Mathstoria’s reports to the students’ curricular outcomes. Currently, I am adding integration tests to the servers so that testing becomes much more robust, reliable and streamlined. This exposure to a wide array of challenges has enriched my skill set and allowed me to grow as a developer.”

Ben Parker is Mr. Sikka’s supervisor and day-to-day mentor.

“It’s great to think that my work is going to impact a child’s education.” — Kunal Sikka

He answers Mr. Sikka’s questions or helps him find solutions to tricky bugs or issues with the code.

“I was able to work on and complete all of my tasks very easily because of the constant support provided by my supervisor,” said Mr. Sikka. “Ben helps me in every situation, but I’m learning how to ask better questions and what to try on my own before seeking help.”

For his part, Mr. Parker says Mr. Sikka stands out for having a strong comprehension of the foundational tools and skills required for the job.

“His questions are about the idiosyncrasies or our code base, not the basics of the language,” he said. “He’s been very open to feedback, independently researches answers to problems and is quick to get things done. Kunal has set a high bar for those who follow him. We couldn’t ask for a better co-op student.”

‘Impact a child’s education’

The impact that his work has on schools and the children who play Zorbit’s Math and Mathstoria motivates Mr. Sikka to work hard and learn more technical skills.

“It’s great to think that my work is going to impact a child’s education. Math was always something that I enjoyed as a kid in school in India and it’s part of why I wanted to pursue computer science at Memorial University. I want all children to feel like they can do math and I’m so glad I can play a part in that!”

In the meantime, Mr. Sikka and everyone at Carnegie Learning are continuing to work hard on their programs and hatching new plans and products to make math stick in the classroom.

Speaking of hatching, what do you call a hen who counts her own eggs?

A mathema-chicken.

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