Is Math Important?

  • 2022
  • Teachers
Suraj Samtani, High School Mathematics Teacher

“When will we ever need to use this in real life?” is one of the most common questions I am asked as a mathematics teacher.

When encountering topics like calculus or algebra, and even statistics or geometry, pupils often beg to question the importance, relevance and purpose of what they learn. While the act itself of such inquisitive questioning is a valuable trait that should be encouraged, the joy of exploring and discovering mathematics in action across industries ignites a euphoria like no other.

By itself, the act of doing drilling exercises of algebraic operations has almost no semblance to anything in ‘real life,’ some naive minds argue. Similarly, adolescents often advocate against learning how to draw or analyse quadratic, radical or rational graphs. Afterall, the percentage of graduates who dream of - and eventually end up - being professional mathematicians is rather minimal; surely not high enough to make the subject a compulsory one. So why then, is mathematics given that much importance? 

Just look around, and observe what you see: wallpapers are made of tesselations, road signs are housed in common shapes, products and their packaging are cut to the finest degrees, state decisions and laws are made on the probabilities of events (re-)occurring, and a lot more. Clearly, mathematics is not only about completing drilling exercises just to achieve certain credit, is it? As mathematics teachers, the most complex task is often to inspire students to explore, discover, and even make their own creations in the subject.

Tasking students to answer problem-solving questions has somewhat helped. Students get to role play as they get to help Mr Smith find the coordinates of his workplace, or determine how tall his house is based on the angle its terrace makes with the ground. Understanding others’ situations and problems also helped individuals discover their sense of empathy for others’ predicaments. 

The greatest breakthrough came when the students were given the opportunity to apply all that they learnt and create something artistic based on mathematical principles and logic. One class had created theatre designs wherein the seating allocation of each row was based on an arithmetic formula of their design. Another class used Desmos to create drawings using only graphs. The results were there for all to see. 

The students had answered their own questions about how Math could be applied. They had become logical artists; they had each gone on a journey of exploration and discovery, as they applied their knowledge in the most enjoyable and artistic process possible.

Sometimes the answers to questions are in the exploration of the question itself. Having taught innumerable classes, I am proud and privileged to have witnessed many artistic mathematicians being unearthed, and I look forward to inspiring several more.

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