Math professor teaches street fighting at MIT

street fighting student boxing
When in doubt, applying street fighting tactics in the classroom can help students learn, says Dr. Sanjoy Mahajan.

Street fighting and self-defense require quick thinking and an ability to “shoot first and ask questions later.” These ninja skills also apply to students in Dr. Sanjoy Mahajan’s class based on his book, “Street-Fighting Mathematics.”

For his class, available to MIT and Massive Open Online Courses students with basic physics and algebra comprehension, Mahajan says he doesn’t want his students to “wait for the perfect kick to come” — he encourages them to just go for it.

The lessons seek to rid students of math anxieties by emphasizing the art of problem-solving without doing an exact, lengthy calculation. “They think, ‘If I don’t get this one right answer, I have nothing,’” he says. The answer itself isn’t the end-all, be-all though. That’s because in his class, a grade is not based on correct or incorrect answers; instead, it’s all about whether they’ve made a decent effort to find the answer.

By showing students an equation as they stare at various symbols in fear, he tells them not to worry, since the answer will be found differently from how they expect it to be anyhow. “The paranoia will freeze them up and just like in a street fight, they’ll get slaughtered.” In order to become liberated, he focuses on action in doing something reasonable and reacting without overthinking a solution — in other words, estimating.

The class challenges the idea that math is supposed to be exact, as students toss away the notion of perfection and right and wrong. To drive home the ninja math technique, he often uses Navier-Stokes equations, considered some of the most complex math equations out there. He says it literally takes years to solve these problems, but “to hell with that, that’s not a street-fighting approach.” With a long, arduous approach, he says problems will not be solved and suggests the street-fighting approach as a way to make progress.

Students inevitably apply the ninja method to other classes as well, Mahajan points out. Approximating helps them simplify, he explains: “When the going gets tough, lower your standards.”

Mahajan used the technique to learn German, for example. The language has endings with seven different forms of the word “the.” Instead of figuring out the proper word endings, the professor went with the most common one. “I was willing to approximate and not get ‘paralysis by analysis,’” he says. Coupled with approximating by slurring the ends of words, locals understood Mahajan based on what their ear was trained to hear. It turns out that the street fighting technique works in German, too.

To learn more about Dr. Mahajan’s street fighting techniques, check out his TED talk below:



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Gunther from 'Friends' talks Central Perk

We spoke with Gunther (James Michael Tyler) at the preview for new pop-up Central Perk, based on the cafe in "Friends."

Local

Central Perk opens in SoHo

Central Perk, of "Friends" fame, is giving out free coffee in SoHo through Oct. 18.

National

Beer sponsor Anheuser-Busch reproaches NFL over domestic abuse

Anheuser-Busch chastised the NFL for its handling of domestic violence cases, making it the first major advertiser to put pressure on the league.

Local

Sen. Krueger dishes on prospect of legal marijuana…

New Yorkers may see the legalization of recreational marijuana use as early as 2015 if State Senator Liz Krueger (D) gets her way. The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act will…

Music

FREEMAN makes Freeman a free man from Ween

For nearly 30 years, Aaron Freeman was known endearingly to his listeners as Gene Ween. But with "FREEMAN," he makes it clear that he's gone somewhere else.

Television

'Outlander' recap: Season 1, Episode 6: 'The Garrison…

Whipping, punching, kicking and a marriage contract. "Outlander" is not for the faint of heart this week with "The Garrison Commander."

The Word

The Word: Hey girl, it's a girl for…

It's a girl for Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes, who reportedly welcomed a daughter last Friday, according to Us Weekly. The super-private couple managed to…

Television

TV watch list, Tuesday, Sept. 16: 'New Girl,'…

Check out the season premiere of "New Girl," as Jess competes with Jessica Biel for a guy's attentions.

MLB

5 top contenders for NL Rookie of the…

The outing rekindled award talk for deGrom, who appears to hold the top spot for NL Rookie of the Year honors. Metro breaks down a few other contenders.

College

College football Top 25 poll (AP rankings)

College football Top 25 poll (AP rankings)

NFL

Tom Coughlin says Giants 'beat themselves' against Cardinals

Head coach Tom Coughlin, who had a day to cool off and reflect, still sounded like he had a gnawing feeling in his gut.

NFL

Marty Mornhinweg accepts blame for Jets timeout fiasco

Jets fans looking for a scapegoat for Sunday’s timeout fiasco found a willing party on Monday: Marty Mornhinweg.

Style

Rachel Zoe: New York Fashion Week Spring 15

Rachel Zoe goes 'Glam bohemia' for Spring.

Food

Where to find SweeTango apples

Introduced in 2009, SweeTango — a hybrid of Honeycrisp and Zestar — is a sweet apple with plenty of crunch.

Style

London Fashion Week recap

London Fashion week gets in on the action with politics, heritage and summertime living.

Food

Padma Lakshmi's recipe for green mango curry

Padma Lakshmi shares her recipe for green mango curry in UNICEF's new book, "UNICHEF."