By Haripriya Mehta, Co-founder of MehtA+
When the CEO of Math Kangaroo USA, Ms. Joanna asked if MehtA+ would be interested in sponsoring 3000+ digital kits for the 2021 Math Kangaroo competition, without a moment of hesitation, I said yes.
My brother (and the other co-founder of MehtA+) and I had participated in Math Kangaroo since elementary school. I had placed in the top 10 nationally twice and my brother received 1st place internationally twice in high school with a perfect score besides placing top 10 nationally several other times! And while winning and receiving an award, a certificate and a medal were exciting, there was much greater joy in learning and strengthening our mathematical and logic skills as we prepared for and took the Math Kangaroo test. The skills we learned during Math Kangaroo preparation helped me succeed at MIT and my brother at Stanford where we majored in electrical engineering and computer science.
Even so, we wanted our digital kits to be special for the top 10 winners in grades 1–5, which they would be receiving in addition to a certificate from Math Kangaroo. After all, it had been a difficult year with the ongoing pandemic and we wanted to create something that students would be looking forward to. We didn’t have any budget because all of the instructors in our organization are current university students or recent alumni. But, inspired by Math Kangaroo’s volunteers such as Ms. Grazyna, a longtime volunteer of my hometown’s Math Kangaroo chapter, who have dedicated their lives to facilitating this math competition, MehtA+ instructors were absolutely ready to volunteer their time to design a memorable prize!
Designing a prize was definitely a challenging feat. MehtA+’s target demographic for camps, workshops, tutoring and consulting services are middle and high school students so we were not sure what elementary-aged students would like. We also did not want it to be a completely digital prize because it is often more exciting to play with a physical prize. More importantly, we had heard from a lot of grownups that they did not want their students to be looking at their computer screens any more than they needed to, since students had been looking at screens non-stop throughout the virtual school year.
Then, one fine morning, as I was cleaning my room, inspiration struck. A little kangaroo stuffed animal fell out of my bookshelf. This was a kangaroo I had won in Math Kangaroo as an elementary student. I remember how much I had cherished it and kept it ever since. This is what the elementary students would love. MehtA+ instructors could teach elementary school students how to create their own paper model of a kangaroo, while learning principles of mechanical engineering and design.
I enjoyed the MehtA+ Digital Kit. It was fun to assemble and is a great decoration for my study area!
I hurriedly called our Product Lead and instructor, Ms. Marwa who had completed her undergraduate studies in mechanical engineering at MIT, if she could design such a kit. She gladly agreed despite her busy schedule — she was reaching out to labs for her PhD program in Mechanical Engineering at MIT, which she was to begin a couple of months later. She was also fasting as it was Ramadan!
Ms. Marwa first took the Math Kangaroo logo and vectorized it. She exported the file to DXF format so she could create a 3-D model of the kangaroo by extruding the image in CAD software. She then created the unfolded pattern of the 3-D model. However, it turned out that the design of the 3-D model was larger than A4 paper (normal printer paper)! A design larger than A4 paper would mess with the integrity of the paper structure because there would be individual cutouts split between multiple papers rather than having one continuous pattern. Ms. Marwa spent several more hours trying to modify the structure so that it would fit on an A4 paper and it was easy for students to assemble.
It was important for us that the students could create the kangaroo using materials easily accessible to them. The kit was designed in such a way that students could print out the design on printer paper or cardstock and only needed household items to create it — scissors, Q-tips, and glue/tape was sufficient.
Ms. Marwa also recorded videos that taught students how to fold the kangaroo cutout as well as how to create similar cutouts using software that mechanical engineers use — TinkerCad and Pepakura. We figured that this was a great opportunity for younger students to strengthen their motor skills and practice cutting and coloring. For older students, this was a great way to understand the applications of mathematical concepts that they had learned in preparation for the Math Kangaroo.
Growing up, none of our instructors had this kind of exposure to the applications of the theory we learned in school. While there were many 3-D cutouts of different animals found on the web, no one explained to the students how these cutouts were made using mechanical engineering software. We always strive to introduce new concepts to students, while they are having fun!
The kit was a huge success. 2nd grader Gideon B. from RSM Winchester created, colored and sent us a picture of his beautiful 3-D paper kangaroo. One 4th grade student remarked, “I enjoyed the MehtA+ Digital Kit. It was fun to assemble and is a great decoration for my study area!”
We are excited to announce that we will be sponsoring Math Kangaroo USA again in 2022. For students in grades 1–12, please don’t forget to register for Math Kangaroo by December 15, 2021. Who knows, you might be receiving one of our prizes next year!