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USM Graduate Student Creating New Math Teaching Methods for Students in U.S., India

Wed, 03/04/2020 - 16:32pm | By: Van Arnold

Vinay Kanth Rao KodipellyMany students find math challenging. Some find math exhilarating. Others use math as a foot ladder toward lofty aspirations. And then there are those rare disciples like Vinay Kanth Rao Kodipelly, who view math through a unique prism.

Subtract math from the life of this University of Southern Mississippi doctoral student and you may as well be denying him oxygen. It is no stretch to suggest that few people have nourished a greater love for mathematics than Vinay has in his 28 years.

Cases in point:

  • At USM, Vinay teaches calculus and college algebra for the mathematics department as a graduate teaching assistant.
  • He has created a number of 3D animated, interactive math games to be used in classrooms.
  • He created, from scratch, a non-profit Active Learning Institute in his hometown of Warangal, India.
  • He has organized workshops in India to teach new, active-learning math concepts.
  • He has developed videos of teacher workshops and student events to share with USM stakeholders.
  • He created visualizations to enhance the grueling Real Analysis course taught by esteemed USM mathematics Professor Jiu Ding.
  • In preparation for a grant proposal submitted last November to the National Science Foundation, he learned how to use Unreal Engine software to create a virtual reality environment of the Pascagoula Watershed. The project took more than four months to learn the software and create a photo-realistic environment.
  • He has plans to develop a program/software for high school math teachers across the globe that helps in creating lecture notes/worksheets without having to learn typesetting or designing or graphing software.

When he’s not teaching, he’s learning. And vice-versa.

“Mathematics and its teaching have been a substantial part of my life,” said Vinay, who expects to earn his doctorate in May. “I have always enjoyed mathematics and its beautiful applications. Ever since I can think of, I have wanted to be a teacher, but growing up in India, I was not aware that there are specialized doctoral programs in mathematics education.”

Vinay earned his undergraduate degree in mathematics, statistics and computer science from Chaitanya Degree College, Warangal, India. He earned a master’s degree in applied mathematics from the National Institute of Technology in Warangal. Soon thereafter, he gained admission to the doctoral program at the University of Colorado before ultimately transferring to USM in 2016.

Professor Emeritus Sherry Herron, former director of USM’s Center for Science and Mathematics Education (CSME), served as Kodipelly’s faculty mentor from his arrival on the Hattiesburg campus until her retirement last summer. She continues to provide tutelage to a student she deems among the more talented to ever cross her path during a lengthy teaching career.

“In my 15 years as director of the Center for Science and Mathematics Education (CSME) and 44 years as a science educator, I have never seen a student with such motivation, creativity, intelligence, and work ethic, and who can produce so much and so many diverse products,” said Herron.

To put it simply, Sherron notes: “His dedication to helping students understand mathematics is far greater than I have ever seen.”

The pride and joy of Vinay’s math research would be the impressive Active Learning Institute (https://www.facebook.com/activelearningmath/). In the summer of 2018, he conceived the idea to incorporate the effective teaching methods used in the United States into the rigorous mathematics curriculum in India.

“It is a difficult task as most of the Indian education system is strictly based on chalk-talk and memorization,” said Vinay.

Through the CSME, Vinay initiated a fundraiser to help launch the institute, which accumulated $15,000. He spent last summer in India setting the Active Learning Institute into motion. The institute employs a small number of math educators from the Department of Mathematics at the National Institute of Technology in Warangal who share in his mission to bring active learning to students in India. Every few months Vinay visits Warangal to conduct research, implement news ideas and check on the institute’s progress.

“Technology for its own sake it worthless; the knowledge of how to use it effectively is priceless,” said Vinay. “I have been introduced to cognitive and educational research at our CSME that has shown me, in simple terms, that active learning through guided inquiry is the most effective teaching strategy.”

Earlier this year several small schools across the Warangal district contacted Vinay to arrange a series of workshops. School representatives requested that Vinay and his colleague develop a year-long curriculum based on the active-learning approaches. While visiting the area in December, Vinay met with some Indian government officials who were working on similar initiatives. Those officials ask him to form a team and design an active learning-based curriculum for 7th-10th grade students in schools supervised by them. The goal is to implement the usage of 3D printing, game, visualization and virtual reality concepts in teaching.

Dr. Julie Cwikla, Director of Creativity & Innovation in STEM and Interim Director of the Center for Science and Mathematics Education at USM, notes that Vinay’s revolutionary research in mathematics animation will have far-reaching implications.

“The opportunity to work with and a provide mathematics curriculum to schools in his native country is incredible,” said Cwikla. “Vinay's animations will help thousands of students understand mathematical concepts in applied, visual settings. Innovative work and research that benefits public education around the world is the mission and the history of the Center of Science and Mathematics Education. The center has supported nearly 1,500 master's and doctoral students since 1964. Vinay and this terrific success are now part of that rich fabric.”

As a further illustration of her full support, Cwikla developed a Memorandum of Understanding to show the help/collaboration the Active Learning Institute in India is receiving from CSME.  

In collaboration with CSME, Vinay plans to offer a two-month course for local teachers in Warangal this summer. He will be developing the course according to the curriculum in India but will incorporate teaching techniques from the United States. A major part of the course will be training teachers in how to use visualization in effective instruction.

In addition to helping Indian students learn math through innovative techniques, Vinay also hopes to open their worlds to different career options. He notes that most educational platforms in Warangal and the surrounding region focus only on engineering and medicine.

One of his primary objectives is to encourage students to be creative and self-employable.

“Many young children unwillingly apply to engineering and medical schools in order to please their parents,” he said. “Parents, on the other hand, are not as aware of the benefits of choosing better careers in other fields. To them, engineering and medicine are tried and true. Since the inception of our institute, we have been fighting against such norms, trying to enlighten both students and their parents with possible alternative career options.”

Vinay is understandably proud of the research being conducted at USM’s Center for Science and Mathematics Education, which he deems ground-breaking and transformative. He credits the support from faculty mentors like Herron and Cwikla for enabling him to pursue higher math initiatives. Though retired since July of last year, Herron remains Vinay’s doctoral adviser.

“The amount of trust Dr. Herron has shown in me is unthinkable,” he said. “This whole achievement would have been impossible without her believing in my ideas. Also, Dr. Cwikla has been quite helpful, as she gave me several new ideas that will hopefully take the institute further. I owe them both so much.”

Herron notes one significant characteristic that immediately separated Vinay from the average graduate student. “He wanted a math education, rather than a math degree,” she said. “I am confident that Vinay will continue to impact the world of math education across the globe.”

While he continues to fit more research, more concepts, more productivity into a 24-hour day, Vinay keeps his long-range goals grounded.

“I want to keep learning to become a better mathematics educator and continue to develop effective instructional tools that can be used both in the United States and India,” he said.

To learn more about USM’s Center for Science and Mathematics Education, call 601.266.4739 or visit: https://www.usm.edu/science-math-education/welcome.php