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Dr. Math FAQ:
why study math?
Browse High School About Math
Stars indicate particularly interesting answers or
good places to begin browsing.
Selected answers to common questions:
Art and mathematics.
Law and mathematics.
Medicine and mathematics.
Music and mathematics.
Poetry and mathematics.
What is mathematics?
Was math invented or discovered?
- Rhumb Lines and Great Circle Routes [09/24/1998]
Can you explain great circles and rhumb lines and how they relate to
shortest distances in geometry?
- Science or Art? [05/29/2001]
Is math a science or an art?
- The Second Millennium [11/29/1999]
Does the second millennium begin with the year 2000 or the year 2001? How
does this relate to the math of counting numbers and subtraction?
- Slide Rules [03/13/1999]
Can you help me learn how to use a slide rule?
- Solvable and Unsolvable Equations [01/18/2004]
A discussion of how mathematicians look at an equation and decide if
it appears to be solvable or not, including defining what is meant by
- Spherical vs. Plane Geometry [05/30/1997]
How is spherical geometry different from plane geometry?
- Submitting a Mathematical Theorem for Publishing [11/30/2004]
Where and how can I submit a mathematical theorem or idea so that I
can get credit for it?
- Sugar Cubes and Coffee Cups [09/26/2002]
Given 20 sugar cubes and 3 cups of coffee, how many cubes must be put
into each cup of coffee if there have to be a total of an odd number
of cubes in each cup?
- Talking About Zero, Absolute Zero and Negative Numbers [11/12/2003]
Are there any useful strategies other than temperature to introduce
negative numbers, and also to teach about zero, its properties, and
how they differ from those of absolute zero?
- Times Greater Than, Times As Much As [05/02/1999]
A number is five times greater than x. Will this number be 6x or 5x?
- Trig Based on the Unit Square [10/22/1998]
Why are the sine and cosine graphs defined in a unit circle? Why not a
unit square or any other geometric shape?
- Trig Function Domains [08/23/1999]
Which came first, trigonometry based on the simple triangle or
trigonometry based on the triangle of the unit circle?
- Trigonometry and Music [12/21/1998]
How is trigonometry used in music?
- Trigonometry and Space Exploration [05/29/2002]
How does Trigonometry relate to space exploration?
- Types of Numbers [10/30/1998]
How are the different types of numbers related? For example, what about
counting, whole, rational, irrational, integers, prime, ... ?
- Types of Variables [01/14/1999]
Can you explain the different types of variables, such as free variables
and bound variables?
- Undefined Geometry Terms [09/16/2001]
I know that they call point, line, and plane the undefined terms of
geometry, but is there a way to give those terms a definition?
- Use of Math in Various Careers [11/06/2004]
Just briefly, how is math related to history, poly sci, visual
communications, business, and psychology? I am giving a persuasive
speech to a group of college freshmen and I want to make them realize
how important it is to have math in their background.
- Uses of Logarithms [07/20/2002]
Who uses logarithms, and for what?
- The Value of Two-Column Proofs [12/19/2000]
What is the point of learning two-column proofs?
- What Can Math Do for Me? [11/24/2005]
I understand the math I'm doing in grade 11, but I can't imagine how
I'm ever going to use it in real life. What's the point of taking math?
- What If There Was No Zero? [10/21/2003]
Why did it take so long to discover zero? Why did early civilizations
not need zero? How would math as we know it be different if there was
- What is an Algorithm? [10/21/2001]
Please define and explain algorithm, and include an example.
- What is Math? [10/04/1997]
Is math a science, an art, or some other anomaly?
- What is Math? [09/14/2001]
Mathematics as the study of abstractions.
- What is Mathematical Modeling? [11/08/2002]
I am looking for documentation that would describe the difference
between calculations and mathematical modeling.
- What Is Mathematical Thinking? [03/08/2005]
A lengthy but interesting discussion on what constitutes 'mathematical
thinking' as defined by NCTM Standards and in general.
- What is Mathematics? [09/22/2000]
Please tell me the definition of maths.
- What is Trigonometry? [8/20/1996]
What is trigonometry, and what is it used for?
- What Motivates New Definitions? [02/06/2000]
Why do so many mathematical objects -- groups, fields, rings, vector
spaces -- have nearly identical definitions and properties? Does every
new object have to undergo some rigorous proof of its existence?
- When Do We Need to Know Roman Numerals? [08/26/2003]
I have a student who does not see how learning Roman numerals will
benefit her. What advice can you give her to make this learning
experience more relevant to her life and needs?
- When is the expression Q.E.D. used? [02/15/1999]
More on Q.E.D.
- Who Invented Binary? [05/07/2000]
Who invented the binary system of numbers and when was it developed?
- Why Do I Have to Learn This? [05/03/2004]
When, in the real world, would I have to find the roots of a quadratic
- Why Do I Need to Study Math? [04/05/2007]
I am a high school student who is college bound, but I am not going
into a major involving math, so why should I have to learn math in
high school? Why do I need to know it?
- Why Do We Have to Study Math in School? [02/25/2005]
A freshman in high school questions the point of learning lots of math
that he will never use in real life, and Dr. Ian replies with some
interesting thoughts about the benefits of studying math.
- Why Do We Need to Study Rational Numbers? [04/22/2008]
My students want to know why they need to know what rational numbers
are and what use they have in the real world.
- Why is Math Interesting? [01/16/2001]
Why does math have to be so boring and hard?
- Why Is Mental Math Important? [03/25/2004]
How can I convince a 14 year old girl who is in 8th grade the
importance of mental math? I think that skills like mentally adding
and subtracting 2 digit numbers and being able to estimate multiplying
2 digit large numbers are critical. My daughter's teacher says that
such skills aren't needed because of calculators and computers.
- Why is Pi Everywhere? [2/9/1996]
Why does pi show up in things that don't seem to be related to circles?