We had to log in, but it wasn’t a typed password. Our passwords were pictures. We chose every image for our three-image password. To this day I still remember my password was rhino, rainbow and sailboat. I have enough trouble remembering passwords now; therefore it’s astounding I can remember that password at all. Then the fun began. We called it fun and not math because that’s what it was for us kids. We would load up our computers and off we went. We would race each other to see who could finish first.
“Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.”
Other than the sound of our clicking, it was all laughter. We would give each other tips and tricks to pass all the games. But among the rapid succession of mouse clicks and auditory feedback, we were learning. We were all diving down into our problems as JiJi the penguin ran a marathon across our screens. Symmetry was done in our Ice Caves, counting and multiplying was done through holes in the road. Our math curriculum was presented in a way that we weren’t doing it for the answer but for JiJi. JiJi was teaching us math. I don’t think that we saw them as one-step problems but more as multi-step obstacles. As kids we were pushed to think outside of the math and use our eyes and brains to flip, turn and rotate JiJi. We got so wrapped up in the obstacles that before we knew it our 45 minutes were up and back to class we marched. But on the walk back we would all gossip about getting stuck or finally solving that Ice Caves game.
Later that week we would pick up where we left off. Again it was rhino, rainbow and sailboat. Then off JiJi went racing across our screens. As kids, we didn’t know it but we were little sponges for JiJi. Math was slowly making its way into our minds. For tests I would start to think in terms of JiJi. I could start to see the blocks from multiplication and symmetry became instinctual.
All the way up through fifth grade JiJi and I raced through the program together and my mind would move at the speed of light. Then at the end of fifth grade we had to separate. As I went through middle and then high school, I experienced JiJi nostalgia. The white boards and markers were no substitute for JiJi. Even in Calculus AB I yearned for ST Math. On my problem sets, the integrals and revolutions were waiting for JiJi. Regardless I was using those same elementary school skills to see the conic sections and sine curves in my head.
As I wrap up my internship at JiJi headquarters in Irvine, California, I can really appreciate how this little penguin opened my mind from a closet to a giant cavernous art studio of math visualization.
That’s how it happened, with pure joy and wonder.
Thank you, JiJi, for teaching me math.
Enrique Granados is a second year student at Georgetown University, and a summer intern at MIND Research Institute.