Why is Maths a Big Deal?

`I couldn’t afford to learn it.’ said the Mock Turtle with a sigh. `I only took the regular course.’
`What was that?’ inquired Alice.
`Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with,’ the Mock Turtle replied; `and then the different branches of Arithmetic- Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.’
`I never heard of “Uglification,”‘ Alice ventured to say. `What is it?

Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

Here’s a satire on the education system at large in the contemporary Victorian England of Carroll’s times. But is maths that much of a menace?

Mathematics is really about patterns that you can spot in life and making things methodical. You then make assumptions based on the patterns that seem to be governed by rules and then you do cool stuff with it.

Some basic examples of cool maths:

  • The connection between music and maths; like there is a notation system for Carnatic music.
  • A game of cricket on the field or on your fingers with a friend needs quick maths.
  • Tying your shoelaces or knotting a necktie involves maths (in fact, there are books and articles published on them)
  • You use maths every time you work for remuneration or go out shopping
  • There’s maths in the homes we build, the roads we travel, the vehicles we travel in
  • Telling time and distances involves maths
  • There’s also maths in the word count of this article

The idea that maths is mind-numbing and a stress-inducing ritual is not entirely true. This may have something to do with standardized test scores that are designed to be competitive and draw out the merited students in a sea of plenty. Scores usually provide hard data by which to measure students with.

In the everyday lives of farmers, chefs, engineers, doctors, architects, psychologists, musicians or magicians, maths is that one constant that makes life simpler. Pretty much every career needs maths. Believers in better, faster, and easier solutions are inclined to it.

Research conducted by Tanya Evans from Stanford University, California reported that students that performed well at maths employed regions in the brain that poorly performing students did not. Although correlation doesn’t imply causation, maths does help the decision-making and attention processes of the brain.

It helps analytical thinking. Even if it sounds far-fetched, the thought process that involves figuring out the components of a problem, and establishing the knowns and the unknowns are very well applicable to real life. There’s also much to be said of maths as an art form and its purpose wrapped in its inner beauty like in the notes of music and in the symmetry of crafts.

Slope-intercept form equations can go beyond the motions of doing maths homework and assignments for students who are potential future entrepreneurs. They can use these concepts to make projections in business profits per customer and losses or even breakevens.

Two-step equations in algebra can be used to crack messages and eureka! Learners can understand firsthand how encryption works. Imagine what it would be like to sit with a pen and paper and calculate the probability of your favourite song coming next on your playlist or how likely it is for recurrent-type questions to appear in your exam next week. Here lies the beauty of maths, in the mundane, and the unpredictable alike. As David Wheeler put it, it is “more useful to know how to mathematize than to know a lot of mathematics.”

Maths geniuses demonstrate a certain maturity, creativity and rigorous thinking that others don’t. While standardised scores are different for different countries, and college admissions and entrance exams are a little more than a filtering tool in the elimination process of universities and institutions, maths really is more than a cut-off performance ritual.

Considering one’s maths scores as an achievement is one thing, and understanding that numbers cannot lie is another. Maybe prime numbers are trivial, but they are the very atoms of the universe and the basis of evolutionary biology. In hot pursuit of study goals and solving question papers, maybe if students sat back to appreciate the simplicity of such an infinite subject, cracking exams would become easier. Or even better, students could come up with other creative solutions in the competitive examination arena. And there’s a fat chance that scores can take a back seat and the application of the subject itself burns the stage.

This Guest Blog was submitted by Aileen Brent on the UKEdChat Guest Blog Submission Form.

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About UKEdChat Editorial 3187 Articles
The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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