Noodlings

Pi Day Dance: On Mathematics – Fun or Frustrating?

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My 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.

I 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?

  • Adults struggling with basic maths, with one-in-five requiring a calculator for even the most simple sums (independent.co.uk)
  • Discovery Ed expands Techbooks to include math (eschoolnews.com)
  • How To Help Students With Math Anxiety (howtolearn.com)
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