Math, a necessary subject

From the number of eggs in cakes to keeping score in sports, math is ever present. Though it plays a major role in nearly everything, people are rarely conscious of the math in our surroundings.

In a digital age, invisible but omnipresent algorithms do everything from guessing which ads will be clicked on to operating rockets.

By focusing on teaching students the rudiments of mathematics, BC Curriculum aims to instill “mathematical habits of mind.” Subsequently, students should be able to develop their proficiency in post secondary math.

High school math

High school math is designed to equip students with the necessary skills to be a numerate citizen. These range from number sense and patterns to statistics and probability.

Essentially, the curriculum strives to enable students solve abstract and concrete problems mathematically. The curriculum outline states that its mission is to teach students how to “view and navigate their world with a mathematical perspective.” Is this really being achieved to the greatest effect? Some students question if the math they learn can be applied to every-day life at all and a substantial portion of them find it plain boring.

Alan Peng, 16, explains that he doesn’t enjoy many aspects of school math because of the way it’s taught. Doing tests where the answers can only be obtained by one method is formulaic and promotes uniformity in students. Peng recounts the first time he encountered Pi in grade 5, remembering that he wasn’t taught what it was, but to just plug it in to the equation. He remembers asking what Pi was, but the teacher never explained what it was or why they were using it at all. He prefers the sections of math that involves looking at a question and “finding [his] own method” to solve it.

He explains that most school math gives you an equation, tells you to follow it, and that this way of teaching takes the “investigative” aspects and the fun out of math.

For those who feel uncertain about math, hope may be on the way.

Veselin Jungic, PhD, will discuss math’s role in life in general and the importance of being math-conscious and the dangers of ignoring it in his upcoming talk. The topic, Math Is Not Fun: A Confession of a Math Teacher with Dr. Veselin Jungic, will be discussed at the Surrey City Centre Library on Friday, Sept. 27.

What is math and where is it?

Get on board with math classes

Math is how we describe the world around us and how we interact with it,” Jungic says. “[When driving over a bridge on the way to work], you’d better hope those architects and engineers got their angles and calculations right.”

Jungic also calls attention to math’s part in something as banal everyday scheduling.

“You’d better apply math thinking so you don’t schedule two things at the same time on different sides of town,” he says.

Looking beyond the mundane and obvious places one would expect to find math, Jungic sheds light on how “programs and algorithms run our lives”.

In his lecture, Jungic uncovers these ‘weapons of math destruction,’ showing how computer programs control even life-changing occasions such as job applications. He cites mathematician and author Cathy O’Neil in explaining “how a machine decides who is going to be a contender for a job”.

As Jungic explains, a single word in a CV or, perhaps, missing from a CV can decide if a candidate will be invited to an interview. This is but one example of advanced algorithms swaying the trajectories of people’s lives. Jungic advises that math is incredibly important and it is best to be open everyone’s eyes to the mathematics all around.

Math is not fun

Math is not fun, [it’s] hard, even for those who are very good at it,” says Jungic.

He acknowledges that even people with PhDs in math struggle because they strive to solve hard questions. Nevertheless, Jungic hopes to make the crucial distinction between fun and joy.

“Doing math can bring a feeling of joy. If you think about a difficult problem for an hour, a day, or even a year, and you solve it, it’s a joyful feeling. But ask any grad student, that year is year full of frustration, of ups and downs, it’s not a fun year,” he says.

That is the distinction between fun and joy, and why ‘math is not fun’ but still brings joy to many.

The big, bad M word

Veselin Jungin, professor of mathematics at SFU. | Photo courtesy of SFU

Jungic recounts the masses of young students who say they were turned off by mathematics because it’s ‘too hard.’

“I would go to schools and have fifth grade students tell me they hate math,” he says, also mentioning that even his friends would “duck” when they hear him say the ‘m word.’

He cites these experiences as the motivation for his upcoming talk. No one likes doing things that don’t feel good. The point of his lecture isn’t to convince anyone to become a professional mathematician or even to love math but to reinforce its fundamental nature in daily life.

But math has its fans too.

Marcus Lai, 16, a Junior at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary school shares that math is fun because it involves overcoming challenges using the skill sets he’s gained; the feeling of an earned victory.

Jungic wants people to look past math’s veil of frustration to the pivotal role it plays in our lives.

“Math is too important to neglect,” he says.

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