Passing on a Passion for Math

Rashi's multigenerational programming helps students dive deeper into pivotal mathematical concepts.
How do you commemorate the 90th birthday of a mathematician? Cindy Carter's 8th Grade students decided to do it with a birthday card featuring an array of math problems, proofs, expressions, and messages: all of which featured the number 90.

The 90-year-old mathematician is Eli Botkin, a retired aerospace engineer and NewBridge resident, who comes to Rashi twice a week to assist in Cindy Carter's Grade 7 and 8 math classes. He humbly downplays his impressive credentials: undergraduate and graduate degrees in physics and engineering from NYU and Cal-tech and a career that has included work on the lunar lander. "A lot of my work has been in aerospace, aerodynamics, spacecraft," he explained and then added the charming understatement, "and how they go from here to there."

Eli has been volunteering in Cindy's classes for two years. "I enjoy math and physics, it's always been my forte, and I still do a lot of it myself at home, so I thought I would give Rashi a try, and I love it...the kids are very nice to talk to and very bright, too!" Eli helps in the classroom in a variety of ways: answering students' questions, working with them one-on-one, and giving presentations on a variety of topics. His first presentation was on time, "a difficult subject, because it is relativity theory" he said, "but I found a way to present it in a PowerPoint presentation without equations, describing why time isn't what you think it is." Cindy recalls how the presentation connected with the students, and how she heard them discussing it in the halls afterwards. "Having Eli around raises the discussion level," she explained.

"I think it's very interesting to see how different teachers teach. Eli's teaching abilities are really effective. We always learn new things when he comes to our class" observed eighth grader, Sonya P. Yael B. from Grade 7 echoed the sentiment saying, "I've enjoyed getting a different view of each problem and different views of how Ms. Carter teaches it versus how Eli teaches it." Cindy expressed that it's often Eli's perspective that provides the students with the boost they need to make intuitive leaps. "He prompts the students to ask new questions," she explained, describing how Eli has helped take students' understanding of algebraic concepts to a higher level, giving them a springboard to dive deeper into pivotal mathematical concepts.

As the students presented the card to Eli, their appreciation of him and his appreciation of them was clear. Even at 90, well into his retirement, Eli is still hard at work, passing on his passion for math and physics to the next generation and helping stretch students' ideas of the universe from here to there.