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Math wizard
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Most students don't think math is a very exciting subject - but when Mike Byster works a problem, kids laugh and shout.

Byster, once a Chicago commodities broker, is sort of a human calculator or walking encyclopedia. His cousin who works at a high school invited him to his school to show the students his talent; now he tours the country demonstrating his mind and memory skills free of charge in schools and turning students and teachers onto his Brainetics brain-training program.

He visited Cousins and Clements middle schools Thursday, showing the students how he can quickly compute multiple line addition problems as well as showing them a few tricks they could use in the class room.

"Lot's of people ask me how I can do this," Byster said, "and the number one reason is I constantly push my brain to get better and better and faster and faster."

And fast he is. Byster asked Clements math teacher Sandie Albritton to read a list of numbers for him to add as quickly as she could.

"We're going to see how fast Mrs. A can talk," Byster said.

"Oh, I got this," Albritton said.

Almost immediately after Albritton supplied the last number, Byster gave the correct answer.

He impressed students the most by asking them to pick any number off of a long list, leave it out when reading him the numbers, then give him the answer and he would tell them the number they skipped.

Even the teachers' mouths hit the floor when Byster told the audience what the seventh number on the list was.

"A lot of people see what I can do and say I was just born this way," Byster said. "I wasn't born this way."

Byster told the students he was a solid C student who earned an occasional A, B, D or F.

He said his third grade teacher changed his life by telling her students an easy way to remember the order of the planets from closest to farthest from the sun: My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto).

After discovering the beauty of mnemonic devices, Byster looked for easy ways to remember every thing from his mother's entire grocery list to the birth and death dates of United States presidents.

Byster explained to the students that practicing memory boosting exercises for a few minutes everyday will help them in every subject in school. He also encouraged them to find their own ways of remembering things.

Near the beginning of his program he read a list of ten words and then asked the students to write the words. A majority of the crowd could only remember five of the words.

At the end of the program he used the same words in a brief story holding up a finger when he used a word on the list. After the story, most students remembered nine or all of the ten words.

Byster told the students to persevere through challenges.

"The only kids I've ever, ever had trouble teaching are the ones who give up automatically," Byster said.

He said he really wanted students to see that learning can be fun.

"If you start liking a subject you will do well in it," Byster said.

Byster receives tens of thousands of emails on his Web site and has received letters from 30 different countries requesting a school visit.

He said he obliges the teachers who write the best letters and convey a sense of true passion about their work.

Albritton's letter ensured a stop in Newton County on Byster's rounds through the metro Atlanta area.

She said she plans to purchase the Brainetics DVD set with her own money and use those and the Web site in the classroom for 10 minutes twice a week.

"It is absolutely the most amazing thing I've ever seen and I've been teaching for 16 years," Albritton said.

According to Albritton, students who normally struggle with the simplest of operations or shy away from answering questions had their hands in the air and correct answers on their tongues.

She thinks Brainetics can boost her students' scores on the Georgia Criterion Referenced Competency Tests taken in the spring. Newton County eighth graders scored lower on the math portion of the test than neighboring Rockdale County eighth graders and lower than the state average in 2007.

"I think this might be one of the tickets that helps us to change," Albritton said.