One little phrase that changed how I think!

It’s funny how writing can change you.  I’ve been making posts for this blog for a couple of months now, focusing on what I consider the important parts of math and math education.  The ideas I’ve been writing down have been bouncing around in my head for years now, so you’d think I’d be the one in charge.

Not really.

There’s nothing quite like writing to force you to really think about the words you use.   The more I’ve been working on what to say here, the more I’ve decided that there is something I just must change.  From now on, I’m no longer going to talk about “doing” math.  Rather, I will talk about the much more active “using” math.  When I can, I’ll even say what I’m using the math for.

Why the change?  Partly, I realized that I don’t really know what “doing math” is.  You sit down and do—what, exactly?  Solve a page full of arithmetic problems?  Boring.  Try to solve problems in linear algebra?  Why?  Do the kind of crazy stunts I had to do as a graduate student in physics, involving math far beyond what we cover on this website?  That was also doing math, but it was nothing like arithmetic or linear algebra.  It’s too vague for a website devoted to making things clearer.

Secondly, math is useful.  That’s why we have it.  Students often ask “When will I use this?”  Well, I say that we should be able to answer them, darn it!  It’s a good question.  If we change the focus from “doing” to”using,” we are focusing on what the students care about.  Just about everybody has some use for some math, just like just about everybody has some use for reading.  Let’s constantly keep that in mind.




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