How math is taught in the classroom

By Seth Berger

Mathematics exists in every facet of our lives. It is the number of calories we consume, the rate at which we drive, even the phones and laptops we use: all math in its purest form. Mathematics is the intellectual framework in which the rest of the world is built upon — these peculiar symbols and representations lay the groundwork for physics, economics, medicine, engineering and much, much more. Yet, despite how prevalent math is in our lives, it is also seen as the nemesis of many highschool students. In fact, the idea that math is hard and boring is nearly an accepted fact  among students, so much so that many students end up refraining from taking any more math classes than absolutely necessary. 

Senior and AP calculus student Daniel Chang believes that the idea that math is hard and boring came to be as a result of how it is taught in the classroom.

“I think a big problem is that people feel like they just have to memorize a bunch of things and none of it comes together,” Chang said. “I’m lucky because I have teachers that help me learn why something is just as much as how to do it. [However,] I feel like a lot of other students aren’t so lucky.”

Chang believes that one of the key issues with how mathematics is taught is that students often only learn how to do certain questions without understanding the concepts behind them. In a sense, the definitions and theorems that students learn are artificial, as they are not proving anything. Students often fail to build on these ideas, memorizing them just like they would a vocabulary test. 

Junior Agustya Chamarthy has a unique perspective on how math could be taught in the classroom. He believes that a change in how problems are approached in class may be beneficial in motivating students.

“Personally, I find the way math is taught to be very systematic,” Chamarthy said. “I think that’s fine but I understand that this is not the case for many students. I think we should actively implement applications of what we learn to increase people’s motivation to learn these concepts instead of just memorizing them.”

UC Santa Cruz freshman Andrew Ko, a prospective math major, has a similar view on this. He believes that math is misunderstood by many students. He himself had prejudice towards math until he started taking higher level math courses in college, where he was exposed to “real math.”

“Mathematics is really a creative discipline,” Ko said. “A lot of students, including myself, thought that it was just practicing a bunch of methods proven to work. I guess nobody really questioned how these methods were developed, and how it may actually be quite different from what we are used to doing.”

Mathematics is often considered inapplicable or of insignificance to many. In some cases, this may be true. To the aspiring painter, cook or author, there are no prerequisites beyond basic arithmetic. However, it is important to understand that human society has developed to the extent it has as a result of mathematics by a large margin. 

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