Math, Creativity, and Making an Impact

In January 2022, Dr. Po-Shen Loh offered a free virtual event to GEFN parents and 5th-8th graders on “How to Use Math to Invent.” Dr. Loh is a math professor at Carnegie Mellon University, coach of the U.S. team for the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO), and founder of the free personalized learning platform

As an IMO coach, Dr. Loh works with the top high school math students in the United States. His advice for adults? Don’t just show highly capable kids how to do something new because you’ll bore them. Instead, get them thinking and you’ll get them engaged. He explained, “A problem that doesn’t fight back is not worth solving.”

To demonstrate, Dr. Loh gave the kids a challenge. He drew six lines and asked how many triangles they could find. The kids counted and entered their answers. He then approached the problem differently, asking how many unique combinations of the six lines could make a triangle. Rethinking the problem made it possible to find the answer mathematically.

Dr. Loh encouraged the kids to approach problems from a different perspective, and advised them to pick up lots of different skills to use later in life. Impact comes from being able to innovate, he said, and that comes from having a broad base of skills.

His final message for the adults: look for ways to help kids maximize their impact. Highly capable people can have “multiplicative” impact when their work makes others’ work more efficient. He encouraged the kids to use their abilities to make life better for others. We are grateful to Dr. Loh for his engaging and inspiring talk, and to our event sponsor: Techie Factory.

Write up by: Anna Aberle, GEFN Programs Coordinator

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