Math History and Badges: How Buzzmath Was Ahead Of Its Time

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It’s almost a year since I left Buzzmath, a great little platform that has its laboratory of creation located in Anthony Bourdain’s favorite city in Canada — Montreal. I spent a formative 5 years with the company learning everything there from content development to sales/marketing. I now work as an Advisor for Amplify and Content Creator at Mathigon, using my passion/experience with math history and storytelling in helping them build creative, engaging, and equitable content.

As I see the world of math education evolve and be affected by the maturation of our pedagogical discussions of the last decade — and the current pandemic — two pillars of truth seem to be emerging.

One. History matters. Period. To braid the factual, procedural, and conceptual fluencies with strength and color, you need historical fluency(thematic development) of mathematics. You need to show where math came from. You need to show that being mathematician was not predicated on race, culture, or gender. Buzzmath not only created an immersive and gamified activity called Missions to show this, they did this over 10 years ago — when nobody was talking about math history.

What is also important to note, that the first Mission that all students encounter is not a white mathematician. The first one they encounter is the Indian mathematician Aryabhata.

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I think it is important for students to see that the roots of mathematics come from countries and regions like India and the Middle East, and that is underscored by having their first official introduction to math history be a POC.

Affirmation for the technological creativity of the company happened in 2013, when they won an award for their Badge System in a competition sponsored by MacArthur Foundation and Mozilla Firefox — Badges for Lifelong Learning Competition).

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As we move out of 2020, it feels like less and less emphasis is being put on marks/grades, which are not only impersonal and sterile, but they are flawed both mathematically and pedagogically. And, through the stresses of remote learning, teachers are using more reflective, valuable, and human forms of formative assessment — personal feedback, notes, portfolios, etc.

And, the the idea which is now becoming more relevant and popular are, you guessed it, Badges.

The very popular Khan Academy now has a detailed Badge system in their platform.

If you had not noticed, but the visuals/illustrations in the Missions and Badges are lush and alluring. That was intentional. The environment for learning has to playful and engaging. That is helped along by having a strong attention to detail with avatars, color, and landscape.

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As a Canadian, I am always proud when companies that reside in my home country do extraordinary things. That pride goes up a couple of notches when it is in the domain of math education — gleefully witnessing much of the of the creativity and passion that has been documented here.

The world has caught up to you, Buzzmath. Well done, mes ami. Well done.

Author of Pi of Life: The Hidden Happiness of Mathematics and Co-Author of Math Recess: Playful Learning in the Age of Disruption. Speaker. Amplify and Mathigon

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