August 3, 2011
Math-for-life

Why do I need to know math?

We recently took up some grass to expand our perennial garden. The question was: How much mulch to cover the area to a depth of 3 inches?

I’m glad I paid attention in my math classes.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what some math teachers say:

“Mathematics has a pervasive and essential influence on all aspects of everyday life when explaining and controlling natural occurrences and events,” says Nancy Casten, chair of the Mathematics Department at Front Range’s Larimer Campus. “Mathematics builds logical reasoning, deduction, pattern recognition, and calculation skills that are necessary for business, art, science, technology, and life in general. Math is entertaining, beautiful, and fun.”

Mary Sokol, chair of Mathematics at the Boulder County Campus, says, “Most employers, no matter what your career, feel that a strong math background better enables you to ‘logically’ confront obstacles and transitions in the work place. Therefore, more math means more job opportunities!”

And Jim Voss, chair of Mathematics at the Westminster Campus, says, “Studying math is useful. Being competent at math allows us to make better life decisions when dealing with budgets, loans, retirement plans, and more. Math has the added value of being intrinsically rich for those who like to solve puzzles.”

But enough of this shameless self-promotion of Front Range. Allow me some shameless promotion of my family. I asked our son, Eddie, who is a middle school math teacher in Seattle:

“This is a great question because being able to answer the why is very important to middle school students. The simple answer is mathematics is in everything around us. Mathematics teaches one to think critically and solve problems. Both of those skills are highly valued in the work world.

“Building on that, mathematics expands our view of the world, and compels us to investigate the maximal and the minuscule. Mathematics allows us to explain, analyze, and interpret not only systematic behaviors like the alteration of day and night, but also chaotic behaviors such as turbulence and earthquakes. A person interested in these types of things should study applied mathematics.

“Mathematics is not only in the universe, but it is also its own universe. It is built on a few axioms and operates on a series of mathematical objects, one of which is numbers. It has its own rules, and it is formed and deduced through logic. While studying pure mathematics one can appreciate the elegance of building so much from just a few axioms or find out what happens when a new system is built with different axioms.”

So there are four perspectives on why math is important. What do you think? How has math been valuable in your life or helped you solve problems?

About the author:

John Feeley is director of public relations at Front Range Community College. He’s a somewhat-frequent bicycle commuter, a certified soccer referee, and a newspaper editor whose subscription ran out.

Comments:

August 03, 2011 Howard Hampson

Good article!

I come from a family of engineers and accountants. Math is absolutely essential in those professions. Also in the myriads of research and analysis positions in areas such as economics, marketing, statistics, institutional research, planning, etc. Managers of all sorts have to be able to interpret data and reports. You will never be a power Excel user without being able to design and use mathematical formulas.

The practical applications of math are astounding once you get into the workforce. One of the best courses I took in college was a Calculus for Economics and Business course. I learned that it could be used to determine when to re-order merchandise in a business. I recently went to see some Renaissance painting at the Denver Art Museum and learned that the artists even used math to come up with their new artistic styles.

Estimation is another important mathematical skill which a lot of people don’t have.

I could go on and on but enough said. :) I am now in the Fiscal Services of this fine institution and I consider it a privilege to use my math and logic skills to support the educational mission of the college.

    August 03, 2011 John Feeley

    Thanks, Howard. You bring up more good examples of “math in real life.”

      August 03, 2011 Howard Hampson

      One more interesting note that might encourage others to look at math is that I did not “get” math in elementary, middle and high school. If you had polled my math teachers I would have won the least likely to succeed award. It was a community college instructor who taught my remedial math course who helped me to understand it in 10 short weeks (the college was on the quarter system). I never had trouble with math after that course and I actually got high grades in my upper division math courses.

      When I decided to become an accounting major, my parents were like “Who are you and what have you done with our son”?

      The moral of the story is don’t let a bad K-12 experience with a subject keep you out of a field you are interested in. Community colleges are good at helping you overcome such obstacles. It is up to you to avail yourself of their help.

        August 03, 2011 John Feeley

        Howard, you are not the first person, nor will you be the last, to “get” math, thanks to a community college instructor. And I can’t ignore one other observation: You kept at it. Persistence pays off.

August 03, 2011 Another Opinion

Its easy for you to say math is important, and it probably is. How ever it is my opinion (one that may hinder my ability to grasp math) that the math i am currently learning is pointless.

As a student, i find it incredibly difficult to pay attention in class. This is because i feel that the things i am learning fall into 2 categories:
#1 Things i will never use (based on asking professionals in multiple fields)
#2 Things i can look up online or pay someone to do for me.

How can i pay attention when i feel i am being forced to learn some thing that i cant see myself using? I can see the practical application of being able to pay my taxes, manage my money, seed my lawn, yet these are not the things i am learning.

Having straight A’s in my other classes, failing in math is causing me to feel i cannot succeed, this is causing a spiral of burning hate and aggression towards math, and i am not the only one. FRCC fort collins has a high drop rate for math and from what i hear from most of my fellow students is “math is the only thing holding me back, i hate it”

Maybe im being cynical, but when i ask my math teachers why i need to learn math and they hesitate, i cant help but feel i will never like math the way you seem to.

    August 04, 2011 John Feeley

    I suspect you are not alone in your feelings and frustrations about math. I hope you have tried all the resources Front Range has to help people succeed – math help centers, for example, or working with an advisor or your instructor.
    Your comment about the “high drop rate for math” at the Larimer Campus made me curious. I asked our Institutional Research office about this. I was surprised to find out that in the past academic year math had the 16th highest rate before the drop/add deadline, and the sixth highest after the drop/add deadline. I thought it would be the highest in both cases. It may seem a high rate to you because of the number of students. More than 4,800 students enrolled in math classes last year – more than enrolled in any other subject.
    People drop or withdraw for various reasons. Some might have changes in work schedules. Some might have underestimated the study time or work load. Others might drop a course to pick up the same course at another day or time. Others might have family or medical reasons. And, yes, still others might be struggling. If you are in this last group, I repeat: Please use the resources available to you. At the Larimer Campus, for example, the Learning Opportunity Center – (970) 204-8112 – is a good place to start.
    Thanks for your comment, and I wish you the best with your studies.