Read the essay below entitled 'WHY STUDY MATH?" Your task is to answer the following: Which part of the essay do you like most? Why? Minimum of 3 sentences [5 points] Do you think we really need to study math? Why or why not. (Minimum of 3 sentences) [5 points] Read the answers of your classmates and choose two students whom you think provided the best answer. Comment to the answer of these two students. Make sure that you are positive and encouraging in your comments. You may also provide additional thought/idea from their answers as your comment. Minimum of 2 sentences per comment. [2.5 points per comment]
Why Study Math? by Bill Breitsprecher For many, math classes represent our greatest “challenge” at school. It may seem abstract and far removed from our lives. Some that may have had difficulty with some math concepts when they were younger and are now afraid. Others may feel overwhelmed by the fact that there is just one right answer – there is no room to “bluff” or “fudge” the numbers.
Math is all about patterns – there are patterns in numbers. Because numbers can be used to describe and predict the world around us, math reveals hidden patterns in our lives. Yes, in math class we do calculations, but math is much more than that. It involves looking for patterns, testing our observations, and estimating results.
Many enjoy math because it is about solving puzzles and bringing order to chaos. Do you enjoy puzzles? Is it fun to create or discover a different way to look at things? For some, math is fun because it stimulates curiosity and creativity. This is referred to as “pure mathematics.” It is about the satisfaction of seeing something from a mathematical point of view. Many enjoy math for math’s sake.
For others, math is a tool to solve practical problems. This is called “applied math.” Of course, the type of math problem that one person finds interesting or useful may be very different from the type of problem another finds interesting or useful. Perhaps even more important, solving practical problems requires a set of skills that need to be developed. In order to learn to apply math to practical problems, we need to develop a set of tools and strategies.
Perhaps that is the most important point – most people would agree that solving practical problems with math is valuable. We might disagree on what represents a practical problem. We might also disagree on how to learn the basic skills that are needed to learn “applied math.”
Math is a cumulative subject, one that builds on previous learning. Perhaps the “basics” that will allow us to solve more practical problems do not look useful, but without them, applied mathematics is unmanageable. Math is taught to develop the tools needed to apply more powerful problem solving strategies later.
The world we live in is more complex than most assume. We are interested in things like weather forecasts or how much money we might earn and save this year. These may sound like simple questions, but the answers vary with many variables, each constantly changing. To understand where these numbers come from, one needs a good understanding of linear algebra and multi-variable calculus.
Solving practical problems in a meaningful way requires a variety of techniques and strategies. In math class, students learn “story problems” that are designed to teach applied mathematics – many students dislike these types of problems. The assumptions and math that underlies them is not as readily apparent as a mathematical expression or equation. They require students to understand a problem, determine “useful” information to find the solution, translate that information into an equation, solve that equation, and then propose a meaningful solution that answers the original question.
Unfortunately, in some math classes, these problems sound phony and unimportant. Who is really interested in finding the time it takes for a car to travel some distance when we know that a truck travels another distance 6 mph faster in the same time.
Remember, we live in a complex world. In order to teach meaningful techniques and strategies to solve problems, we have to start with simpler examples that have fewer variables. Getting ready to solve the types of problems we are interested in will require preparation. Perhaps those of us that prefer to work with “applied math” and practical applications need to be patient – we learn to walk before we run.
Think of a baby playing with blocks. The child grasps at them and moves them around the playpen. If we watch that baby, through trial and error, the child will succeed in moving them about, perhaps even stacking stack some so that they will not fall. What is the benefit of this play? Is the child learning?
Yes, as any parent can see. The child is learning eye-hand coordination, motor skills, and spatial reasoning. The blocks provide an opportunity for growth – in and of themselves, they represent little meaningful at all.
When we study math, the real skill we are learning is to think carefully. Often, this means learning to see things differently. Many times, a problem seems hard not because the solution is difficult; it just requires a different point of view.
Some scientists believe the human mind was not built for careful analysis; it was designed for survival in a dangerous world. Because we often “act and react,” the human mind can be tricked and can mislead us. We have all seen optical illusions that illustrate this. Even when we understand that we are looking at an optical illusion, our mind still “tricks” us.
Reasoning does not come naturally. It is something we build. It takes effort. Math is the only thing humans do where the outcome is an absolute truth. Either 6 does or does not equal 9. The truth becomes obviously clear.
Math underlies all sciences because the process of objective truth and reason form the basis of the scientific method. Knowing the difference between valid and invalid reasoning is the key to problem solving. It is also the heart of a democracy.
This is why we study math – its really not about the “x’s” and “y’s” we learn in algebra class. It is about preparing the mind to seek more important truths. The reasoning skills are more important than the theorems and definitions.
Math represents the intellectual power of some of the greatest minds in human history. Concepts taught today are hundreds, even thousands of years old. Those that came before us worked hard to understand and develop these skills. They have passed them along to us. Learning math may not always come easily, but then math is not natural to our environment. All things of value take effort to learn. When we learn math, we are nurturing and developing our minds.