> >Presumably everyone on this list has loved mathematics from a fairly young age. >How many owe that love to a sense that there were modern mathematicians out there, >tackling tough modern problems? > >Ted Alper >email@example.com
Nope, I didn't. I thought math = calculations (including algebraic) and overly formalized proofs of uninteresting statements = uncreative and dreary. Except for having run into the proof that the reals were uncountable in George Gamow's 123 Infinity back in junior high...
How I eventually got into mathematics is a long story that some folks on this list have heard before and isn't worth going into. However I can't help but think that probably there are other kids out there who currently think math is uncreative and dreary who would love it if only they knew what it was.
So how to teach kids what math is? I think Ted is right -- you have to give kids something they can work with and understand themselves. But surely it doesn't hurt to give a glimpse of some of the more understandable modern developments, both theoretical and applied. A bright high school kid can appreciate at least a vague outline of Wiles' proof of Fermat. The AMS puts out a series called something like "What's New in the Mathematical Sciences," beautifully written by Barry Cipra, which does a good pop science job in explaining some of what's going on right now. Discover magazine has also had some nice stuff lately (Daubechies and wavelets in the latest issue). Think of the situation in physics. Relativity theory and quantum physics aren't in the high school curriculum, at least not in any detail. But I and my cohorts knew pop science versions of this stuff back in high school 27 years ago -- we wouldn't have considered ourselves educated otherwise, even those of us convinced we were going to be in the arts and humanities -- and speculated about it in typical mushy adolescent fashion. Strange and interesting and attractive things were going on in physics. Why didn't we know about strange and interesting and attractive things in mathematics?
==================================== Judy Roitman, Mathematics Department Univ. of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66049 firstname.lastname@example.org =====================================