Revisiting the Essential Question: What is Math?

I think I will always find this to be a difficult question to answer, but I definitely feel more equipped to take a stab at it now, considering all of the things I’ve learned or thought about this semester. It is especially challenging to answer such a question when you’re unaware of the gigantic umbrella that mathematics covers and the history behind it all.

When I first thought about this question months ago, I said that math is a way of thinking about patterns throughout the universe. Math is interpreting and studying these patterns to find more patterns. I think that this definitely still applies, but now I think I would broaden it a little more and put a little more meaning to it. This semester, I have realized so many things about mathematics that I never would have thought of or known about. It forced me to open my eyes to thinking of mathematics in different ways and looking through a different lens at many concepts. Many of these examples I am thinking of are art and math or the fibonacci sequence throughout nature.

I decided to ask my little sister (she is 14) what she thinks math is. Her first response was “ew”. While some may take this lightly, I did not. I realized that she was probably thinking of the math she is learning in school right now and how boring and rigorous it can be. So I asked her to be serious and tell me what she really thinks, and her response was something like “math is like things you do with numbers to get answers you need to find for a purpose”. Okay, not a terrible answer for a 14 year old I guess. But then I asked her what she thinks of when she thinks of math, and that’s where it got interesting. Her answers were so boring that I couldn’t help but understand why people don’t like math. When you can’t find the beauty in something, why would you like/enjoy it?

The majority of things we did in class this semester were things that made me love math even more. It can be so fun and eye-opening. It is so incredibly integrated into every aspect of our lives that it’s hard to ignore. It can be extremely complex such as abstract algebra or Euclidean geometry, but can also be simply defining the world around you and observing patterns.

I’ve never previously learned about the history of math or all of the many many concepts mathematics actually covers, and I think that’s really sad. I think it’s really important to know the history of concepts in order to fully appreciate them because some of them came from such crazy ideas, it’s so hard to believe that people discovered what they have. It has definitely made me look at mathematics in a new light made me more excited to become an educator in such a cool subject that has so much to offer!

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