By Mr. Geoffrey Shen
Last evening, an unidentified flying object came to the earth for a visit. It came across a gym where people were doing all kinds of exercises. On treadmills, people were running. Some were moving their legs quickly and sweating out. But none of them were moving a single step forward and stayed in the same spot. “What on earth are they doing?” The aliens wondered.
Many people ask the question, why learn mathematics? As a math teacher, I agree that most math you learn in high school will probably never be used again in your future life, unless you choose to work in a math-related field. So is it a waste of time to learn math? Definitely not. Doing math benefits our mind as running benefits our body.
Math helps us to be meticulous, or very careful.
Let’s look at this paragraph in Chinese.
Can you identify any wrong characters? Well, I am sure that some of you are good enough to find all the mistakes. Even if you cannot find one, you still get the meaning without any misunderstanding. When it comes to math, things are quite different. Look at these examples.
Even the smallest mistake is intolerable. A math problem can have different methods but the final answer is always unique. One must be very careful in each step to get the right conclusion. Any misread or miscalculation should at best be avoided. When a math teacher designs a test, he must check several times because a tiny mistake could make a math problem unsolvable. When we deal with math, we tend to be extra careful, which also shapes our character during the course. Thanks to all the math we went through over the years, we become more careful than we used to be.
Some may say why bother to be careful. If anyone should run into a dentist who pulled the wrong tooth out of your mouth, or be charged ten times more because of the wrong decimal place, he will think otherwise.
Math builds our logical mind.
We now live in an era of information explosion. We can gain access to tons of information in a few clicks. Some are true but more are misleading. How to tell the right from the wrong? More often than not, logic reasoning is the key.
The foundations of math were nothing but a few intuitively correct ideas called axioms. All the rest theorems were obtained through the process of logical deduction or induction; hence the pyramid of mathematics was constructed. As we follow the mind-steps of those great mathematicians and go up, we are constantly exposed to logical thinking and our minds are fine-tuned to be more logical. Due to the nature of math being most pure and theoretical, logic is more widely and rigorously used in math than in any other subjects. While attempting math problems, our logic skills are sharpened. Such skills can be transferred to all other subjects. Whenever a person wants to make an argument or assertion, he must at least explain the reason and justify himself, in which logic plays a pivotal role.
Math makes things simple.
It is always said that math language is a universal language. A Chinese may have difficulty understanding an article written in English. But mathematicians can understand each other’s works well. For one reason, math language is so simple that it is generally accepted and understood by mathematicians of all nations. Let’s look at this example. What is the sum of [twenty thousand five hundred and thirty-six] and [seven thousand one hundred and eighty-two]? Without resorting to math language, one need more than a few seconds to figure out the right answer. If it is translated into math language, one can almost tell the answer immediately. You can see how powerful these simple notations really are.
Great mathematicians are truly genius. Not only they discovered many theorems, but they also designed the simplest language that ever exists. While learning math, we are taught to cancel out common factors and combine like terms because the answer should be made as simple as possible. In math, we get used to simple notations that are without ambiguity. And we always try to reduce unfamiliar and complicated problems to familiar and simple cases. To be simple is no easy at all. It is from these simple symbols and notations that the most amazing formulae were discovered and great laws unveiled.
The greatest truths are the simplest. To be simple is to be wise.
Although not everyone can appreciate the beauty of math, everyone can benefit from learning math: to be meticulous, logical and simple. Take the subject of math seriously, you will be amply rewarded with a well-trained mind that are open and ready to embrace greater wisdom.
Shanghai Qibao Dwight High School
April 18th. 2017