What is Math?

Another year has begun! This means another year of blogging. I am excited to start using this again, and hope to blend it into my daily routine.

This is my last semester before working hands-on in the classroom. A semester packed full of math: Euclidean geometry, modern algebra, statistics/probability, and a history of mathematics capstone. With math being my emphasis, this doesn’t seem too daunting.

On the first day of my capstone course (MTH 495), we discussed two important questions: what is mathematics, and what was the first mathematics? You would think a room full of math majors could answer this without hesitation, but that wasn’t the case. Some of our responses are below:

  • A numerical/logical explanation of the world
  • A mix of physical and abstract concepts
  • The science/study of patterns
  • The first mathematics coming from: measuring, counting, trade, structures, distances, cooking, and comparisons.

I agreed with my classmates about the presented ideas. However, when reading my chosen book for the course, some passages truly stood out to me about the question “What is Math?”. From Jordan Ellenberg’s How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking, 

“Math is woven into the way we reason. And math makes you better at things. Knowing mathematics is like wearing a pair of X-ray specs that reveal hidden structures underneath the messy and chaotic surface of the world. Math is a science of not being wrong about things, its techniques and habits hammered out by centuries of hard work and argument. With the tools of mathematics in hand, you can understand the world in a deeper, sounder, and more meaningful way.”

“We tend to teach mathematics as a long list of rules. You learn them in order and you have to obey them, because if you don’t obey them you get a C-. This is not mathematics. Mathematics is the study of things that come out a certain way because there is no other way they could possibly be”.

As a future teacher, these explanations of mathematics seem perfect to share with students. Mathematics has grown to have such a negative connotation that students need to be shown the importance of math in our every day lives.

I am excited to explore the history of mathematics, and plan to add my future discoveries to this post! Happy Blogging (:

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