Alternatives to Math Homework

Not atheism related.

But is this how my students feel?

It’s math!

Geometry proofs? Challenging and fulfilling.

Finding the area under a curve? A great way to spend the weekend.

Simplifying polynomials? Makes for a great first date.

Ok, so maybe I go a bit overboard…

(via Lindsey’s Rantings)

  • Milena

    Sorry Hemant, but I’m with her. This school-year, math has literally brought me to tears on several occasions. Althought, solving difficult equasions is very satisfying, when you get it right. =)

  • Kevin L.

    It’s been four years since I’ve had math classes – AP Calculus AB and AP Statistics, both in my senior year of high school. I wasn’t as desperately opposed to math as Lindsey is, but it was never my strong suit, and I don’t want a thing to do with it now. I love science, but doing science – those sciences that involve math, at least – are beyond my abilities.

    My problem is that I simply cannot see the real-world applications for anything more advanced than algebra. My calc teacher, as wonderful a person and as enthusiastic a teacher and math-lover as she was, was unable to explain to me what the point of any of it was.

    And on that note, this seems to be as appropriate a place as any to ask – what is the point of Riemann’s hypothesis? Does it have any connection or application whatsoever to life outside of theoretical mathematics?

  • Susan

    I agree with Milena. I’ve failed math more times and it’s had me in tears more often than I can to remember. I graduated from college last year with all A’s and a D in that subject. However, I got into grad school and am happily earning honors as an English major. Thank the Spaghetti Monster or whoever, there’s no math ever again!!!!!

  • http://purduenontheists.com Jennifurret

    I agree with her completely. I absolutely hated math, but thankfully I’m done with math classes forever! Taking my final math class was one of my happiest moments. Math class would consistently bring me to tears from 7th grade to freshman year of college. I was in honors and still got A, but it was a struggle. I never got it, and past algebra and basic geometry, everything we learned seemed pretty pointless.

  • Stephanie

    I happen to be taking a break from my intermediate algebra homework right this minute. I’m two years into college, 20 years post high school. I’m a pretty good writer-both creative and analytic writing-so I do well in any class where that’s a major component. I’ve always thought I was bad at math. I must admit there are times in this class that algebra has made me cry. But I actually LOVE factoring. It’s got a kind of pattern-recognition thing going on that I’m really good at and that is very satisfying. I got my first math test A ever on that chapter-a perfect score plus the extra credit questions! That felt very good, but even better was feeling like I actually understood it. Tonight, though, I’ve scared the cat away with my growling and cussing at synthetic division. So my opinion is mixed. When it’s fun, it’s really fun, but when it’s awful, it’s really awful. Luckily, the professor for this class is an excellent teacher and very helpful. She’s been working with me and a couple other students after class each day to make sure we understand the day’s work. It seems to be working, and I hope that continues, because I want to keep my 4.0!

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Well, I’m pro-math. I don’t know how the rest of you survive your day-to-day lives without ever doing a Taylor expansion or a Fourier transform. And however can you count stuff without using combinatorics? And surely, you must have an understanding of set theory for your life to have any meaning. ;)

  • http://intrinsicallyknotted.wordpress.com Susan B.

    All you people make me sad! Hemant, I absolutely agree with you–I can’t think of a more fulfilling way to spend my day than doing math.

    Kevin, ALL of physics is based on calculus and beyond. Economics uses calculus, statistics, etc. although plenty of econ majors at my college seem to be deluding themselves otherwise. Higher math (the work that mathematicians do, which involves proving things rigorously rather than simply making calculations) often has enormous real-world applications, although certain fields have very few as of yet. If your calc teacher couldn’t give you at least three or four applications of calculus right off the bat, he or she couldn’t have been very good.

    Edit: Whoops, miller beat me to it! (I knew you’d come to the rescue.) And yes, set theory is what gives my life meaning!

  • Milena

    Yeah, the only reason I still love math-class is my teacher. He really has a passion for teaching and he’ll do pretty much anything to help students out.

    Still, I’m in the International Baccalaureate programme, so all my classes are advanced, and while I’ve managed to maintain a math grade over 90, it’s been a struggle this year. But I’m getting back on track — I got and A on my last test. I think vectors really agree with me (although it took me a week to understand how to do scalar products). So, don’t be sad Susan. It’s not as bad as you think, perhaps. =)

  • julie marie

    And surely, you must have an understanding of set theory for your life to have any meaning.

    so thats how to get meaning in my life! Sheesh. If only I’d known :)

    I did miserably in math the first time thru college. I took a D in algebra just to get it out of my hair. Unfortunately for me, when I went back to school for a second degree I needed *gasp* chemistry. For which I needed to understand math again. That was the hardest academic year of my life. I went around armed with an index card with basic “math facts” on it and re-learned that as I slogged thru chemistry.

    Funny thing though, I discovered something–I can learn things that don’t come naturally! Odd that had never occurred to me before. I gave up way to easily on myself as a youngster. The girl who took a D back in the day grew into the woman who got As in chemistry. Yes, I think I had something to prove to myself ;)

    That is definitely something I will share with my son–just because something is hard does not mean you cannot master it. And if you can master something not everyone has the grit to wrestle into submission, chances are life will be much easier for you, financially speaking, than otherwise.

    oh – and I was just thinking, of my 8 oldest friends–5 are math teachers! how very consistent of me.

  • Kathryn

    There’s definitely a reason I took stats instead of MVC my senior year.

    On the other hand, I’ve been math-illiterate since high school… and regretted it everyday in physics class *pumps fist*

  • http://journals.aol.ca/plittle/AuroraWalkingVacation/ Paul

    It’s posturing. Being smart and liking math is uncool, especially for girls. She probably is capable of straight As, but gets Cs and Ds on purpose so her friends don’t accuse her of being a geek.

  • http://www.chickengirl.net/ Chicken Girl

    There are certain types of math that I wouldn’t mind spending some quality time engaging my brain with, but geometry proofs?! Are you insane?!

    :P

  • Allison

    Go, Stephanie! I’m teaching intermediate algebra right now at a community college, and I salute you!

    Seriously, I love math. I do agree that when it’s awful, it’s really awful. However, it can be very, very good when it works! I’m a graph theorist and combinatorialist, both supremely useful in computer science and communications among other fields. I particularly enjoy longest path problems.

  • Julie

    It’s posturing. Being smart and liking math is uncool, especially for girls. She probably is capable of straight As, but gets Cs and Ds on purpose so her friends don’t accuse her of being a geek.

    I agree, Paul! I got a math award in middle school, and then I started with the “I hate math” stuff in high school. I was always good at it, too. I just thought girls were supposed to hate math. It’s kind of sad to think about that.

  • Andrew

    Good point. There are like 9 guys to every 1 girl in my engineering program. I’ve had Cal classes with only guys before. But some of my best math professors were women.

    But I love math. Physics not so much as just Calculus. I like the theorems and proofs and problem solving, but the practical applications aren’t real enticing to me. Is that weird for a wannabe engineer?

  • http://intrinsicallyknotted.wordpress.com Susan B.

    I’m a graph theorist and combinatorialist, both supremely useful in computer science and communications among other fields.

    Allison, you rock! I don’t know what my specialty will be yet, but graph theory and combinatorics (basically all of discrete math) are definitely among my favorites (along with topology, which is about as far from discrete as it can get).

  • http://heathendad.blogspot.com/ HappyNat

    I’ve always liked math, but then again I’m a stats geek. :)

  • Roger

    I just HATE math… maybe because I suck at it BIGTIME?

    Yup!

  • http://purduenontheists.com Jennifurret

    Well, all of my honors math classes have had twice as many girls than guys, so I can honestly say pressure to be “girly” was never an issue. Not to mention I’ve never been girly at all. I just honestly hate math. It doesn’t click with my brain.

    Not to mention I’m a biologist, and the most advanced math we do is plug and chug. Or for crazy statistics, we use computer programs. I had to write out an algebraic equation the other day (and not for anything school related) for the first time in a year. It was an amazing feeling!

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    Hemant, I just want you to know I’m behind you 100%. I love math. Especially when there’s as few numbers as possible.

    Quick! What’s the volume of a lathe object around the x-axis defined by e^(-x) from x=1 to positive infinity? How about its surface area? 10 seconds! And show your work.

  • Arlen

    I can’t really see math as either an object of affection or disdain, so maybe I’m weird. As an undergrad I was a math minor not because I liked doing the math, but because it was a set of tools necessary for doing the kinds of things in other fields that really do interest me. Now I use some pretty high-level math every day in very practical ways—econometrics, regression analysis, statistics, etc.

    My wife makes fun of me because I don’t understand how anyone can be bad at math—but then I also don’t understand how anyone can be good at biology.

  • http://rigtriv.wordpress.com Charles

    Math grad student here, and Kevin L., as far as the Riemann Hypothesis is concerned: it is a central problem in number theory, and solving it will advance the field tremendously. What does it mean for nonmathematicians? Well, number theory is the basis behind cryptography, so knowing the truth of Riemann Hypothesis has some bearing on how well we make sure that no one steals your credit card number when you order something on Amazon.com (or anywhere else on the internet), as well as how any other secret messages can be sent securely.

    Hope that helps.

  • http://intrinsicallyknotted.wordpress.com Susan B.

    Quick! What’s the volume of a lathe object around the x-axis defined by e^(-x) from x=1 to positive infinity? How about its surface area? 10 seconds! And show your work.

    Volume: pi/2 * e^-2
    Surface area: 2*pi*e^-1

    If you think I’m going to show my work, think again.

    Edit: screwed up my calculation of the surface area. Maybe I should show my work!

  • http://dcberner.blogspot.com Derek

    ∫[1..+∞](2πe^-x)dx
    =2π∫[1..+∞](e^-x)dx
    =2π[1..+infin;](-e^-x)
    =2π((0)-(-1/e))

    =2π/e

    … I think. Been a LONG time since I was a college freshman. Math teacher?

    Well, that was more fun than I’ve had all week :D

  • Miko

    Another note on the Riemann Hypothesis: It also has bizarre connections to modern physics in ways that it absolutely shouldn’t as far as I’m concerned. And if I weren’t an atheist, I’d probably think that the Riemann Zeta function was some sort of god.

    Well, number theory is the basis behind cryptography, so knowing the truth of Riemann Hypothesis has some bearing on how well we make sure that no one steals your credit card number when you order something on Amazon.com (or anywhere else on the internet), as well as how any other secret messages can be sent securely.

    I always thought that was just something we wrote at the top of grant proposals without really meaning it… ;-) Actually, one application will definitely be generating larger primes more quickly, so we will get slightly-stronger crypto out of it, but without seeing a proof of it, it’s hard to say whether in general it’ll make RSA crypto easier or harder to break. Anyhow, over the next decade or so I think we’re all going to switch over to crypto based on the Elliptic Curve Discrete Log Problem, for which the Riemann Hypothesis will have less importance.

    But overall, let’s just remember that negative numbers were vigorously attacked as having no use outside of theoretical mathematics when they were introduced, as were most sets of numbers that we now all know and love. Saying something has no use is just an excuse to ignore it. ;-)

  • http://intrinsicallyknotted.wordpress.com Susan B.

    Just look at the complex numbers–they got slapped with the label “imaginary”!

    Derek, if you’re doing surface area, you made the same mistake I did. You’ve got to multiply by the square root of 1+(dy/dx)^2 before you integrate. It should be:

    ?[1..+?](2?9e^-x)sqrt(1+(-e^-x)^2))dx

    which is more of a pain than I’m willing to deal with before lunch.

  • http://intrinsicallyknotted.wordpress.com Susan B.

    Just look at the complex numbers–they got slapped with the label “imaginary”!

    Derek, if you’re doing surface area, you made the same mistake I did. You’ve got to multiply by the square root of 1+(dy/dx)^2 before you integrate. The part under the integral should be:

    (2pi*e^-x)sqrt(1+(-e^-x)^2))dx

    which is more of a pain than I’m willing to deal with before lunch.

  • J Sveda

    I’m EE/telecom sudent. I also don’t mind maths, but i took a numerical methods course and I’m not very satisfied.

    I think that big problem with math courses is that A LOT of teachers and lecturers seem to live in distant galaxy or what. Not many are able to give good examples. I’ll forget anything that doesn’t look usable in any way. Take eigenvalues for example. Heck, I don’t remember Maxwell’s equations, which are among fundamental laws i electrical engineering. I just remember that they describe relationship betveen electric and magnetic fields.

    In EE / telecom, anything beyond basic calculus, some complex math bits, matrix operations and basic transforms (Z and Fourier tr.) is IMO barely usable, unless I’m going to do research in RF technologies or materials.

  • http://dcberner.blogspot.com Derek

    Ah, right… you have to account for the distance between two points. I knew there was something I was forgetting, but I forget exactly why you can’t just take the integral of the circumference. Doesn’t the distance between the two points approach zero in the limit? But I guess it’s not points but slices of cones… I still can’t verify in my head why we can’t use cylinders instead!! Crap, I used to know all this cold. Damn the reckless hedonism of my 20′s!

    FYI: http://www.w3.org/TR/html401/sgml/entities.html — that’ll let you do math symbols in HTML.

  • http://www.sophisticatedrelationships.com/blog Lexi

    I’d so rather do math than make out with Danny DeVito. Especially if I have a hot math teacher.

    The good math teachers I’ve had were all after highschool.

    Although, I’ve never had a hot math teacher. My *best* math teacher looked a little like a garden gnome minus the hat, and somewhat taller. He was actually quite good.

    My geometry teacher was a Russian dude who treated geometry like a court case, except he always said “Guilty until proven innocent” when referring to the proofs– like our proofs were proving something innocent. He was the closest to hot, but mostly ’cause he had a lot of muscles and good posture.

    The *WORST* math teacher I ever had was a geometry teacher in highschool and I didn’t understand something and asked her a question about “Why” and she said:

    I don’t know, it is in the book

  • Karen

    It’s posturing. Being smart and liking math is uncool, especially for girls. She probably is capable of straight As, but gets Cs and Ds on purpose so her friends don’t accuse her of being a geek.

    Oh, please. You’re assuming WAY too much. There are lots of people, like me, who simply have a very tough time with math, even though they are intelligent and accomplished in other subjects. In my case, I grew up during “new math” instruction and I never got an adequate foundation for higher math. I made it through four years of high school math, and even mastered calculus with reasonably good grades, but I never enjoyed it and have avoided it ever since.

    Danica McKellar, the actress who was in The Wonder Years, is a math scholar who has made it a priority to help teenage girls overcome their aversion to math. She makes the point that many high school math teachers may be numbers whizzes, but they are not good at patiently teaching concepts that seem simple to them. They also tend to be male and somewhat intimidating to girls.

    Of course I’m sure that Hemant is the antithesis of the impatient, scary, male like my ninth-grade algebra teacher. ;-)

  • Helie L

    I find it impossibly hard to relate to people who find math hard. I’m only in high school, but I’m planning on taking differential equations and linear algebra senior year, which is the course that is offered after Calc BC. Of course, positive reinforcement in the form of winning at math competitions may have something to do with the love I have for math. :D


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