A dumb genius
"As I was growing up, my teachers did not like that I thought differently," said Mike Byster, founder of Brainetics. "Teachers would do stuff one way and I would do it another way."
The self-described math nerd, who enjoys teaching kids how to multiply five-digit numbers in their head, came to the Equal Access Sign Language TV at the Deaf Welcome Foundation in Lehighton recently to demonstrate his techniques in Carbon County during a video recording of the program.
Through the Hometown Video Award-wining show, with simultaneous American Sign Language translation by host Theressa DuBois, mathemagician Byster's Brainetics program was accessible to a hearing impaired audience.
"Brainetics is a workout for your mind combining two different areas of your brain working simultaneously yet independently of each other," Byster explained. "One area of your brain memorizes information, the other area of your brain processes new information.
"It teaches you how to memorize anything, and empowers your brain to focus better, concentrate better, think outside the box, and improve organizational skills. The key to why everything works so well is that everything is done in a fun cool way. If it wasn't fun, people wouldn't learn."
"I'm thinking we can learn some little tricks to do math in my head," said Brenda Snyder who attended with her son, Jacob.
"I like math but it's not my favorite subject," Jacob noted. "It would be cool to do math tricks in my head."
In one example of Byster's teaching, he asked the audience to shout out two numbers of the form-one hundred and a digit. The audience called for 106 and 104. Byster was ready to respond immediately, but waited for an audience member to run the numbers on a calculator. Both agreed on 11,024.
Here's Byster's technique.
1. Multiply the left digit of the first number-the 1 in 106, by the left digit of the second number, the 1 in 104. This gives the result: 1x1 = 1. This becomes the first or left number in the answer 1xxxx.
2. Add the right digit of the first number-the 6 in 106, by the right digit of the second number, the 4 in 104. Thus 6+4 = 10. This becomes the middle two digits in the answer x10xx.
3. Multiply the right digit of the first number-the 6 in 106, by the right digit of the second number, the 4 in 104. This gives the result: 6x4 = 24. This becomes the right number in the answer xxx24.
4. Combine steps: 1, 2 and three to get 1xxx, x10xx. and xxx24 to get 11024.
With practice, the technique, which is derived from algebraic binomial multiplication, provides a quick answer.
"The smiles and excitement on the children's faces as they figured out the mathematical computations was priceless," DuBois said.
From the age of seven, Byster found himself doing algebra in his head.
"I didn't know how to explain it," he said. "Teachers thought of me as a genius that didn't do well in school. When I was in fourth grade, my mom showed me how to memorize grocery lists and the U.S. state capitals by making up a song. She took me to the grocery store and showed me how she memorized grocery lists. I took that to other areas beyond what my mother could do.
"As I was growing up, my teachers did not like that I thought differently," he said. "Teachers would do stuff one way and I would do it another way. They would frown upon it. Teachers would mark off, and if I didn't do it their way, the teachers were furious at me.
"There would be parent conferences," he continued. "To my parent's credit, they said they didn't care if I got Bs, or Cs, or Ds ... and I got a lot of them. I had an occasional teacher here and there that thought it was the greatest thing that I could take their material, switch it around, and do it a whole different way."
By the time Byster went to college, he said he had the fastest mathematical mind in the world.
"People see what I can do and they think 'Rain Man,' or the guy was just born this way. I was just an average student growing up and it was the way I trained," he said. "My ability is not doing these complex mathematical problems, it is finding different ways of looking at things and thinking outside the box, enabling average people to do the same things that I do."
For over 20 years, Byster worked as a trader at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, all the time taking long lunches, and walking around talking to kids and showing them his math techniques. He began speaking at schools and was invited to appear on the ABC Television show '20/20'.
Following his appearance, he received 50,000 emails and 1,000 business proposals.
"The guy that invented OxiClean saw this, sold his business and we became partners," Byster said.
They started Brainetics.
How does Byster feel about being a mathemagician?
"I can be a cool person to the kids without being a movie star, a great athlete or a rock star," he said.
So, what is Byster's message?
"I want them to believe in themselves more than anything," he said. "I've seen kids and adults hate math their whole lives. The only kids that I've ever had trouble helping are the ones that say, 'I can't do it.'"