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
National

Mutant worms stay sober, even on alcohol

U.S. researchers have developed "mutant worms" that do not get drunk by alcohol, a breakthrough that could lead to new treatment for people trying to quit drinking

Local

K-9 nose helps capture $150K in cocaine at…

A furry, four-legged security agent helped authorities stop an illegal cocaine shipment from sneaking past JFK customs.

National

Minnesota man asked to leave Southwest flight after…

A man and his two sons were asked to leave a Southwest Airlines flight after the man sent a tweet complaining about being treated rudely by a gate agent.

National

Man sues hospital after surprise penis amputation

An Alabama man who went in to a hospital last month for a circumcision awoke after surgery to find his penis had been amputated, his lawyer said on Thursday.

Movies

Review: Brett Ratner's big 'Hercules' movie is small…

The latest "Hercules," starring Dwayne Johnson as the half-god beefcake of Greek myth, strips its hero and tale of most of its fantastical elements.

Arts

Scientists recreate world's smallest Monet copy

Scientists have reproduced a famous Impressionist painting using nano-printing, to create what has been described as the world's smallest work of art. Reworked at the…

Television

Jerry Seinfeld is ambidextrous, and other Reddit AMA…

See some of the weirder highlights of Jerry Seinfeld's recent Reddit AMA.

Going Out

Grab a pedestrian and start dancing at What…

As a New Yorker, I’ve mastered the art of focusing my gaze straight ahead. Though it occasionally piques my interest, the absurdities that play out…

U.S. Soccer

Orlando City takes shot at NYCFC over Frank…

Orlando City reminded the world how big a signing Brazilian star Kaka earlier this month with a photo of Kaka mobbed by fans juxtaposed against Lampard.

NBA

Jeremy Lin says 'Linsanity' is over as he…

Jeremy Lin lit up the NBA two years ago with his play for the Knicks but he has no desire to recreate "Linsanity" in his new career with the Lakers.

NFL

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player…

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player rankings

U.S. Soccer

NYCFC announce signing of Frank Lampard

The tease of a big signing Thursday by new MLS side NYCFC ended up being one rumored for weeks. England midfielder Frank Lampard agreed to…

Tech

Forget Wi-Fi: Li-Fi could be the future

Li-Fi technology – developed by Mexican company Sisoft – is wireless internet connectivity using specialized LED light.

Tech

Weather app Climendo might be the most accurate…

The wait for a truly accurate weather forecast could finally be over thanks to a nifty new app called Climendo.

Tech

Napkin Table puts focus off the phone and…

Michael Jan, a design student at Tunghai University in Taiwan, has invented a serviette-picnic blanket hybrid called the Napkin Table.

Style

Essie's new Color Boutique

Essie launches high-tech kiosks at major airports and malls across the country.