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Topic: Re: where's the math? so?
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Posts: 243
Registered: 12/6/04
Re: where's the math? so?
Posted: Apr 20, 1995 5:20 PM
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>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

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

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