13 thoughts on “why do we learn mathematics

  1. Mordanicus says:

    Though Math isn’t my strongest subject, I really like it. But this is really an excellent video.


  2. mixedupmeme says:

    Fun to watch. I wish I could start math all over.


  3. tildeb says:

    My father was a math teacher and was asked all the time why the subject was important. His one sentence answer was, “Math teaches you how to think.”

    Because he took sabbaticals and taught overseas when I was but a wee lad, I ended up going to school on four different continents. I would enter a class and be expected to know how they did math. Well, different countries use different algorithms and so I had to quickly teach myself how to translate the same mathematical ideas into the local format in order to keep up with others.

    When I became a teacher later in life, I used this understanding very effectively to teach math – the most feared and hated subject on the planet. When I taught adults what we call ‘numeracy’ my promise to them was that if they would dedicate 100 hours to my course, they would have all the math knowledge they would ever need and be able to do it easily and effortlessly.

    Of course, I had to demonstrate this so I took the most troubling math component they had (and my classes were made up of people from all over the world who always voted semester after semester with the same result), which just so happened to be ‘fractions’. Within two hours, every student no matter how strong or weak their prior learning was, was was successfully getting 100% in every quiz I could throw their way… not just in fractions but – using this understanding as a springboard – a solid understanding of ratios, percentages, and long division, which translated easily and effortlessly into negotiating a good understanding of money exchange rates, mortgage rates, and portioned cooking recipes.

    Funny how when people can do really well in this subject, they don;t just like it, they feel empowered with a much higher intelligence!

    The most question I was asked: why didn’t we learn this way in primary school? My answer was just a comment: that’s a really good question to ask your children’s math teachers! But privately, I suspect most primary school math teachers may hate and fear the subject too but most likely don’t really understand why it teaches you how to think.

    Just as a quick aside, I seemed to be the only math teacher who welcomed calculators into the classroom. When asked why, I explained it allowed us to let the machine do the drudge work of calculating (you have to know how to do this to push the right buttons) while we got to do so much more math! Yahoo!

    When students went on to successfully complete entrance requirements in math for high school, colleges, and universities, they liked to attribute their success to me but I always insisted after handing back test results either perfect or nearly so to not ‘blame’ me for their grades. They earned it by learning how to think mathematically and successfully demonstrating their understanding (this is really the only part that requires instruction).

    We are pattern-seeking critters, so one would think math is just a natural extension of our profound curiosity. It seems to me that It takes formal education to beat that urge out of us. (I mean, seriously, three hundred hours of long division for the average Canadian student in public education? I’m surprised students across the country don’t impale themselves through the eyes with their pencils out of sheer boredom.)


    • tildeb says:

      Oh, and if a student doesn’t ‘get’ long division in the first hour, 299 more hours ain’t gunna help! And many teachers can’t think well enough to even wrap their little heads around this fact.


    • makagutu says:

      This is such a great story and now I know partly why your posts are the way they are, you are an educator and would like everyone of your students to learn!
      It would be an interesting thing being your student I guess.
      My maths teachers weren’t so bad or I had a high aptitude for maths.


  4. aguywithoutboxers says:

    Math and geometry were fine; it was algebra that was my complete undoing!


  5. Eric Alagan says:

    Maths is really easy – simple right and wrong answers. Perhaps that’s why even if I can hold my own, I don’t particularly like it – but indulge in it for end results.

    Now, with the advent of the calculator and programmed formulae —

    Life is so much more than right/wrong answers, I reckon.


    • makagutu says:

      Life is complex.

      Math is interesting though. I remember in high school we had a topic on navigation where we could calculate the speed and coordinates of planes, correct for wind speed and get the ground speed, not that I can remember them now, but they were always fun.


  6. shelldigger says:

    I second the algebra thing. I was fine and dandy with math or geometry until algebra ruined it for me. We got to a point where every day there was a new formula on the board to memorize, then be quizzed on it the next day. Then had to learn the new formula. That is where I hit the math wall. I wish I could go back and try that again. I dislike having to admit defeat, but I know when I need to.


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