Pi Day Dance: On Mathematics – Fun or Frustrating?


Pi-Pie-69299 the fun of mathematicsMy grandfather was a mathematician. He was actually one of the first computer programmers, working on MIT's Differential Analyzer with Dr. Vannevar Bush. His name was Samuel H. Caldwell. Look him up. Me? Not so much. I never got past college algebra and the sorts of statistics classes you need to take for any Master's program. I remember vividly Heinlein's opinions about mathematics and blush to remember that his most beloved characters would not consider me wholly human.

All that said, I find math geekery fun, and I will search until I understand the jokes my friends (at least one of which is a bonafide rocket scientist) make about math. I enjoy refreshing my brain with math games and will look for opportunities to use them to build relationship during therapy sessions with bright kids. I enjoy visual math humor like pi pies.

Kitchen math has sometimes been my downfall, largely because I often hurry through it and get careless. Embarrassing mistakes result, and recipes can be badly done because I was mistaking a TBSP for a TSP. Keep your units in mind. They matter.

Pi_PieI grew up in a place and time where, once girls started approaching puberty, everything in the culture worked to steer them away from mathematics and science. I fought the re-steering of my love for science longer than I did for math, in part because math was quite literally the only subject at school I found challenging, and I was lazy and would rather read.

I was then, of course, cursed with an oldest son that not only apparently inherited my (bypassed) gene for mathematical prowess, but also his grandfather's on his father's side (another professional mathematician and rocket scientist), testing off the charts on mathematics achievement tests. Whom I couldn't assist with his mathematics homework after his sophomore year in high school. (Sorry, Cave Dweller). He's on his way to a bachelor's degree in some sort of computer science, despite my inability to assist.

Younger son, Overthinker, is not quite the mathematical genius his brother is, but still moseys through advanced placement mathematics classes with no problems that aren't caused by 'forgetting' to do his homework. It might sound like I'm bragging. If so, you have good hearing.

Love it or hate it, math is important. I sometimes deeply regret my refusal to take more advanced mathematics back when my mind was young and flexible, because now I'm having to 'remedialize' my math piecemeal in my middle age. Math helps to teach critical thinking, attention to detail, and the relationships between things. Math illuminates nearly everything we know about the physical world and the forces that work within and on it.

Someone who understands math is more difficult to fool with bad statistics, with bogus pseudo-science, and with memes on Facebook that are easily debunked by Snopes.com. Mathematics is in some senses the root of all civilization. Today's dance, in honor of 3.14 (pi) day, explores your relationship to math, both positive and negative, and how math has affected your life.

  • Do you find math easy or difficult? Does it depend on which branch of mathematics? Does the degree of difficulty impact your enjoyment of math? In which direction (do you enjoy the challenge or shy away from it?)
  • When you were a child, were you encouraged to learn math generally? At some point did that change? Did you hear a lot about how 'hard' math was and get the message you couldn't do it?
  • Did you ever run into gender based assumptions about ability to do math? Were you an observer, participant, affected person, or all of the above?
  • Do you enjoy doing math puzzles, or participating in math puns, or making other math jokes?
  • When you meet someone whose level of understanding of math is much lower or higher than yours, how does it affect discussions you have where mathematics are a factor?
  • Are there any forms of mathematics that you love? Ones you just can't stand? Which are they?
  • If you were to make one change to the way mathematics are taught in your country, what would it be? Why?

As always, share and discuss and enjoy the dance.

Bonus question: I just found out that Google Reader is going away this summer. I would like recommendations for a new RSS reader that is similarly formatted and not all glossy and magazine-y. Help please?

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About odanu

Maureen O'Danu is the webmistress of Am I the Only One Dancing? where there is a new discussion every day on any one of dozens of topics and ideas, as well as reviews, geekery, family, fun, and enough politics to season the pot.
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  • Andreas Schaefer

    Do you find math easy or difficult?
    Back in school I was good at - possibly even very good. At university physics students were expected to do the 'full math' course and there I was sitting among several hundred who were at least as good as I. Turning point and decision that I was not cut out for full mathematics was in 3rd week when we set out to prove that the prime factor division of any gioven number was unique. Something that I had regarded as obvious and not in need of proof. I was very obviously not having the right attitude.
    When you were a child, were you encouraged to learn math generally? At some point did that change? Did you hear a lot about how ‘hard’ math was and get the message you couldn’t do it?
    Yes, never, other found it hard, I didn't .
    Did you ever run into gender based assumptions about ability to do math? Were you an observer, participant, affected person, or all of the above?
    Yes. Observer. It is my political conviction that there is no difference in potential between men and women. That the observed differences are socila constructs. I say political because I have no hard facts for this. I do observe that there is a bias in Math and Physics.[1]
    Do you enjoy doing math puzzles, or participating in math puns, or making other math jokes?
    These days when I find a math joke I mail it to a friend who teaches math.
    When you meet someone whose level of understanding of math is much lower or higher than yours, how does it affect discussions you have where mathematics are a factor?
    There are some basics without which people are either educated trained halfapes or handicapped[3]. Neither should operate machinery or measure stuff that can endanger others ( unfortunately this seems to include about half of all drivers [2])

    Are there any forms of mathematics that you love? Ones you just can’t stand? Which are they?
    I have had problems with differential equations, integrals, Fourier Transformation - also anything in a "field" that is not real to the nth power.
    merely imaginary numbers in the plane are ok I DO prefer e to the i times phi over complicated sums of sin and cos .
    It is possible that I lack/have lacked the necessary discipline to really learn and understand the above. Certainly the change from effortless passing at school to sweatty work at university was a shock.

    If you were to make one change to the way mathematics are taught in your country, what would it be? Why?
    The aim should be to provide good solid tools for everyday life for all those not becoming mathematicians or scientists - basic arithmetic tricks and shortcuts ( instead of seeing 3 x 18 as 3 x 10 + 3 x 8 go for 3 x 20 - 3 x 2 - most people do the latter faster AND it gives you a rough upper limit 60 ) - Appoximation and estimates.

    Footnotes:
    I raise you a professor of physics as father [ german wiki http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clemens_Schaefer ]
    1. the bias seems to disappear slowly over the lat 40 years - where a physics lecture in '74 there was a number of women countable on one hand these days there will be mayny more [ still less than half but more ]
    2. simple stuff like brake-distance raises with the SQARE of the speed are outside of the intuition and understanding in practce ( even though this IS taught in driving school ) - my personal theory is that our intuition works well enough to the top of 'unassisted' speed [ 100 m in 10 seconds ] where the parabola CAN be approximated by a simple straight line where double speed double distance. And greater speed where double speed = 4 times distance need assistance. roller skates, bicycle, car, horse, ..... fass outside the preprogrammed 'intiition'.

    3. it is proper to help handycapped and give them assistance. I have much less regard for people to lazy to learn.

    • http://amnottheonlyone.com odanu

      Thanks for your reply. I probably qualify as 'too lazy to learn' rather than math handicapped, or perhaps 'interests in a different direction'. I'm hoping that the forces that drove me out of math classes in junior high and high school are mostly gone, but my experiences with young girls don't give me much faith in that direction.

  • Andreas Schaefer

    Didn't I leave a nice long comment ? - btw most of the ads were American - not quite geared to me ( lingerie ? ) the top one though has been / well geared to me ( was on their website last night - furniture local business )

    • http://amnottheonlyone.com odanu

      The Adsense ads should adapt to your location, but several of my ads are from a different ad network. Since over 90% of my readership is USAian, it makes sense to gear most to US, but I'll try to be more aware.