Sep. 7, 2007 -- "My name's Mike Byster, and according to psychologists … I have one of the fastest mathematical minds in the world."
This is what Mike Byster told students at his "Mike's Math" seminars, and he wasn't exaggerating.
Mike Byster is a math teacher, but he's also a human calculator. He can answer complex math problems in front of his students instantaneously:
Miss Lewis: "999 divides by 56?" Byster: "That equals 17.83928571"
Byster created a system for solving complex math problems he calls "Mike's Math." The system uses a series of patterns and shortcuts that demystify how numbers work.
He shows students how to solve complex math problems in their heads, by teaching them math games, and different ways to categorize information. "Mike's Math" is changing how these students organize information, and is helping them improve in all areas of academics. Click here to visit Mike's Web site.
His Wonder Years
Byster started developing his system and methods at a young age. "I was always able to find patterns in things when I was a little kid. When I was 3 or 4, I was able to memorize all the presidents of the United States," Byster said. "Kids have such a tremendous amount of mental capacity if they push themselves and use it."
At a young age Byster applied his unusual talents for memorization to math problems, but he always wanted to do more than just party tricks with his special gift — he didn't always intend to become a teacher.
Today Byster lives with his wife, Robin, and 8-year-old son, Joshua, in a suburb of Chicago.
"When I first met him he was working at the mercantile exchange and he wasn't so happy. He always knew he wanted to do more," Robin Byster said. "And I have to say that I think the most rewarding or heartwarming thing about being married to him is that he is doing what he loves, and he's doing what he was born to do," she said.
A New Calling
Byster changed careers after a cousin called in a favor. "I knew I had a system, but I thought I was the only one that could do my system," he recalled, "and one day my cousin who was a math teacher asked me to come and speak to her class, and the kids loved it."
After working with the kids, Byster decided to devote himself to teaching "Mike's Math" full-time. He gave presentations in Chicago-area schools, from the poorest to the most affluent, teaching everyone from gifted students to the learning disabled. Byster gets requests to speak at schools all across the country, and around the world -- and he does this all as a volunteer.
Teaching Kids to Think Differently
The Byster family hopes that by spreading "Mike's Math," they can teach kids everywhere the benefits of thinking in a new way. "It's very easy to get caught up in keeping up with the Joneses kind of a thing, but it goes back to your choices," said Robin Byster.
"We live in a certain area where we have what we need. We share certain values that life is more than just what you have and the material things," she said.
Mike's students love the lessons they have learned, and they're using the new skills in their everyday lives. Some of the techniques Mike uses are not new, like mnemonics, for example. He asked our class in New Jersey to memorize 10 random words. On average the students were able to recall half the list. Then, Mike used a simple mnemonic device -- he told a story using the same words, and the retention rate went up 94 percent.
The kids gain confidence from the tricks:
"One of the biggest things we do is, we've empowered your brain in math. Now take that to words and letters," Mike explains. "Everyone spells "television" the same way: T-E-L-E-V-I-S-I-O-N. I will spell it E-E-I-I-L-N-O-S-T-V. I can take the letters and put them in alphabetical order."
Melanie, now in 11th grade, was one of Byster's first students.
"I think learning how to do these different types of math things helped me to become more confident," she says, "and it helped me believe that I could do anything if I tried to do it."
Byster's wife agrees about just how much confidence can do for kids.
"I think what we are seeing now is the people that get all the fame and the riches, are the good athletes and the good singers, which is fine," she said, "but the smart kids -- they grow up to cure cancer and to do things that will change the world, and that's cool."
"20/20" first reported on Mike Byster in December 2006. He was volunteering at Chicago area schools, teaching students "Mike's Math" and looking for an investor to help him put "Mike's Math" on the Internet and on DVDs so kids around the world could benefit from his system.
After the show aired, Byster was flooded with more than 20,000 e-mails from more than 30 different countries inquiring about his program. Byster found an investor, and now "Mike's Math" is "Brainetics" -- what he calls "a revolutionary math and memory system."
Though the Brainetics Web site is still in production, you can visit the Mike's Math Web site (http://www.mikesmath.com) to stay up to date on his progress. Byster is currently in the middle of production with a series of seven DVDs and workbooks due out this November.