From sketches to stamps

Instead of wasting precious time drawing algebraic figures, students can now focus on doing the math.

If you asked Keren Or Lalo why the high school students she taught a few years ago complained so much about tracing geometric figures, she might have told you that the problem was rooted in sheer indolence. But after making the transition from teacher to student, the true difficulty of making precise drawings for mathematics courses became apparent. "I really thought that the high-school students I was teaching just didn't like math or were too lazy to do the sketches right," she says. "But when I started taking courses in management and economics at the Open University and was asked to draw these figures myself, it suddenly dawned on me how hard it really is to trace the same shapes over and over again and to get them exactly right." Once she realized how tough tracing parallelograms, circles and parabolas with perfect precision can be and how disruptive it is to devote precious classroom time to sketching rather than learning, she began searching for a solution on the market. In today's ultra convenient, hassle-free world, a product was certain to exist that would aid students with these mathematical sketches. "I searched all of the stores in Israel first, and the only thing I found was the old plastic rulers, circles and triangles that have been around for years," she says. Surprised by the lack of a solution to such a rudimentary and widespread problem, she continued her search on Google. "I thought I could find something abroad and perhaps import it, so I looked for a product that would help me for months. It was only when I couldn't find a single thing, either here or abroad, that I decided to start trying to solve the problem myself." Undaunted by challenging problems, Or Lalo describes herself as a math lover with an inventive nature. For as long as she can remember, she has been finding ways to make life easier. "I liked music a lot as a child, so I invented a pulley system to bring me cassette tapes from one side of the room to the other, and when my older sister started breast-feeding and complained about how uncomfortable it was, I created a special pillow for her that would help her back pain." But the solution Or Lalo eventually came up with for the sketches - like so many of the best inventions - was inspired by children. One afternoon as her two young daughters were playing with a stamp set of Hebrew letters, she joined them. "I was only half paying attention because I got a phone call, but my younger daughter interrupted my conversation to tell me to stop using all of her ink. At that moment, I realized two things. The first was that the act of stamping is great fun, and the second was that this could provide the answer to the problem I had been looking for. I thought why not make stamps for all those cumbersome mathematical sketches?" After that eureka moment last year, Or Lalo designed a three-dimensional set of stamps on her computer that eventually became the first prototype. She completed her market research by asking fellow university students about the potential for the stamps, raised the first round of funding and flew to a factory in China to oversee productions. "I went to China myself and actually made a set of stamps in the factory to be sure they were being made exactly the way I want them. The factory manager thought I was crazy when I donned an apron and rolled up my sleeves, but he let me do it." Born and raised in Ashdod, Or Lalo is the fourth child of French immigrants and a strong Zionist who wanted to produce the stamps here to keep the money in her home country. Unfortunately, it was impossible to do that and to keep the prices low enough for every student to be able to afford a set. Today, three Sealset stamp sets exist: algebra, geometry and a set for university students. Each kit comes with a set of six pre-inked rubber stamps designed to make at least 500 imprints and costs NIS 55. Although Or Lalo says the manufacturing process required endless changes in colors, sizes and styles to suit her demands, the first Sealset shipment of stamps arrived here at the beginning of February. They are currently available on-line through her Web site, but should be on sale in stores across Israel, Europe and the US by April. "I think the beauty of this is in its simplicity and how useful it is for both students and teachers," she says. "With the Sealset stamps, students can focus on doing math instead of getting sketches right, and teachers don't have to waste valuable time in the classroom while their pupils draw." For more information, visit