A little over four years ago I declared math as the first of my two majors, the second being education (with a minor in elementary education). But when people out side of the math department asked me what I was studying I would often just say education. When ask what my major focus was, I would honestly say math, bracing myself for the reactions that would come. I was not prepared to answer the question Why Math?
This semester I am finishing my mathematics major and reflecting on why I choose math and why I stuck with it for these last four years. It was not because it was easy or because I enjoyed every moment of it, but because I learned and I grew.
ITS BIGGER THAN THE NUMBERS. When the word math is thrown out, most people think of equations, shapes, numbers, and old frustrations. But in many of my math classes I gained insight as to what else math is. Often we were given tasks to solve and had to figure out the strategies that we could use to problem solve. Problem solving can be found in all levels of mathematics, and it gives students endurance and strategy to solve problems out side of their math classes. In other classes we had to communicate our work in a way that was clear and precise through writings, projects, or reflections. Communicating work clearly and precisely is a desirable skill in many settings, both professional and causal.
IT IS EVERYWHERE Many structures, paintings, flowers, and even bodies show characteristics of the golden ratio. This ratio is approximately equal to 1.61803 and has the Fibonacci numbers in every part of it. But even simpler than that, figuring out a tip after eating dinner out or getting a haircut can easily be done with out pulling out the calculator on the nearest smart phone. Seeing patterns in different designs while looking at art, floor tiles, or even a deck of cards. In almost everything we see and do, we can pull elements of mathematical practice from it.
IT HELPS ME UNDERSTAND EDUCATION Education was always my goal and math was just a long for the ride. But what surprised me most about so many of my math classes was that I got to understand student thinking so much better through those classes. Ideas like fixed and growth mindsets became more concrete because I was able see examples of both in those classes. I learned patience, determination, and that failure is not the end but the beginning. Education can be an intimidating field to enter because it is other people's lives you are affecting. But these math ideas are ideas I want to hold on to during my next step as I switch my roles in the classroom.