Why I love practical math

During high school, I learned that I loved math. I loved that challenge of solving problems, of learning new techniques to solve older problems, learning about the quirks of the number systems and how to get around them. In my mind, math was about the challenge of solving problems through various means. My favorite part of my math homework was trying various formulas and ideas to solve the problems we were given. If it didn’t work, I could always erase my paper and get back to work. It was about attempting things.

I’m pretty sure my logic is a little flawed – most people don’t like math because they see it as a challenge to solve problems through any means. For those who do like math, it’s learning about the beauty of numbers, of figuring out the logic behind systems, of finding out “y?” (what up, random Adventures of Pete and Pete reference!). It takes a special kind of person to really enjoy math – they have to be willing to work through problems and to be stymied by not finding the right answer.

In college, I realized that as much as I loved math, there were things that I didn’t enjoy about it. I find abstraction to be annoying sometimes – as much as I can wrap my head around certain problems, when there are multiple layers of abstraction, when I have to transform my logic too many times, I get annoyed because I don’t see the practical application of the abstraction. This is why I loved my practical math classes – I took courses on mathematical modeling, on game theory, on learning MatLab for numerical methods. I learned so many practical skills from these classes and I enjoyed each class immensely.

I like learning about why the things I am learning about are important or applicable to real life. It’s why I really enjoyed my sociology degree because I learned about things that are interesting and actually about real life, about real interactions. It’s why I pursued my MLIS – I learned skills that will help me with information design and helping people find the information they need.

In life, the most important thing is to enjoy what you do. The second most important is learning transferrable and applicable skills. It’s time to encourage students to think about more than just their grade, but to also think about how what they are learning will help them in the future. At the end of the day, teach skills, not just content.

How to Fix Our Math Education

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