This week, the eyes of the media were glued to 12-year-old Paloma Noyola Bueno, a grade school student from the town of Matamoros, Mexico. The girl became a national sensation last year when she attained the highest math score in the country.
The Wired magazine revisited the girl’s alma mater this year, just weeks before the math contest organized by Monterrey Institute of Technology in which Paloma were to take part.
Although Ms. Noyola Bueno did not win this year, she caused another wave of media interest thanks to her distinguished math talents.
The secret behind Paloma’s success appears to be in the teaching methods used by her school teacher, the 31-year-old Sergio Juárez Correa.
When he started working, the young teacher decided to implement the SOLE (self organized learning environments) teaching method by TED Prize winner Sugata Mitra.
The method was a success and resulted in excellent achievements of the entire Sergio Juárez Correa’s class, of which Paloma Noyola was the brightest.
From the Think Mexican Tumblr blog:
As Mr. Juárez implemented more of Mitra’s teachings in his classroom, Paloma continued to stand out as an exceptionally gifted student:
Juárez Correa was impressed. But he was even more intrigued by Paloma. During these experiments, he noticed that she almost always came up with the answer immediately. Sometimes she explained things to her tablemates, other times she kept the answer to herself. Nobody had told him that she had an unusual gift. Yet even when he gave the class difficult questions, she quickly jotted down the answers. To test her limits, he challenged the class with a problem he was sure would stump her. He told the story of Carl Friedrich Gauss, the famous German mathematician, who was born in 1777.
When Gauss was a schoolboy, one of his teachers asked the class to add up every number between 1 and 100. It was supposed to take an hour, but Gauss had the answer almost instantly.
“Does anyone know how he did this?” Juárez Correa asked.
A few students started trying to add up the numbers and soon realized it would take a long time. Paloma, working with her group, carefully wrote out a few sequences and looked at them for a moment. Then she raised her hand.
“The answer is 5,050,” she said. “There are 50 pairs of 101.”
Juárez Correa felt a chill. He’d never encountered a student with so much innate ability. He squatted next to her and asked why she hadn’t expressed much interest in math in the past, since she was clearly good at it.
“Because no one made it this interesting,” she said.