Interview of Mathematical Experiences

After defining what math is to me, stating different problems that exist, and discussing gender issues I wanted to interview someone to see what it might confirm or deny for this particular person. I started out by asking questions that would give me an idea of what this female thought math was. Below is a narrative of the interview:

Me: Can you describe what mathematics is?

Her: Math is just problem solving using equations and numbers/

Me:Do you like or enjoy math?

Her: I am very good at math I just don’t like it.

Me: Could you tell me why you don’t like it?

Her: I don’t think it is useful in most situations. When am I ever going to use the quadratic equation in real life. I just had to memorize a bunch of equations that I’m going to forget at the end of the year anyways.

Me: So you say you are good at math, what make you say that?

Her: I get A’s in math.

Me: So you don’t really struggle?

Her: Nope

Me: Why do you think that is?

Her: My mom made me go to a learning center when I was little and memorize pointless facts that I used in my classes.

Me: Can you describe your worst mathematical experience(s)?

Her: In 3rd and 4th grade when we had to do the multiplication and division tables that were times. I could do them but not in a minute and it made me feel stupid.

Me: Can you describe your best mathematical experience(s)?

Her: (took a while to think) Nothing in particular. Maybe tanagrams, puzzles, anything that wasn’t just problems.

Me: How do you thin your math education could have been improved?

Her: If it was not based on memorization of equations and just using them in repeating practice problems with just different numbers.

Me: Do you think your enjoyment of mathematics has anything to do with being a female?

Her: NO

Me: Were most of your math teachers male or female?

Her: Mostly male.

After the interview I had a good grasp on her impression of what math is. I can take this interview into consideration for my classroom. Maybe not really force students to memorize equations all the time. Only emphasize the important ones that they should be using so often that it won’t really be memorization. I think that too many teachers reference the textbook as a guide for their curriculum. And this is great, but the textbooks emphasize everything equally. Teachers need to do a better job of transferring the importance of each concept to the students. Also, bringing meaning and purpose to everything they do! Looking forward to inspiring the world of those willing to absorb it.



Nature of Mathematics

Many people and commonly students believe that mathematics is the process of computing numbers in routine ways to obtain a specific desired result. They get frustrated when they can’t find a method in a textbook telling them a step by step procedure that fits the problem they are presented with. If that is what math is, then it should be easy for everyone. It would be like finding the map to a destination and following it. Many people try to do math this way and as a result can’t grasp the skills, beauty, or concepts of mathematics. This is because their idea of math is distorted. The idea of what mathematics is in society to do is so engrained that it is difficult to bring out the true mathematics. Football use to be the same way until society has shaped and molded it to be extremely accepted and now the majority of people participate in it.

Society needs to learn and experience what it really means to do mathematics. It is not solving problems on a worksheet or memorizing formulas. Mathematics is logically reasoning and thinking through a situation or question. For instance, I was flying on a plane and as we were landing I said to my friend, “I wonder what all has to go into landing a plane. The speed, the angle, the distance needed to stop.” This is an example of a mathematical question. After thinking the question, a mathematician would do mathematics by using his “tool box” to figure out the question either estimating an answer or finding exact ones. Now when I say “tool box” I mean an assortment of idea of where to start and mathematical knowledge that has been utilized previously that may help solve the problem. This may mean that the problem needs worked through several times before reaching a logical answer. Mathematics does just stop at an answer like commonly happens in schools. The next phase can vary but for this particular question a mathematician might investigate how the answer changes depending on the size or weight of the plain. Does the weather have anything to do with it? To answer some of these questions some research might need to be done to collect data, unless you have a bunch of planes in your backyard. With your data you can analyze it, look for patterns and reason through what the numbers mean. This part of the question involves some interpretation of the numbers. Depending on the mathematician this may look different. After answering some of these questions a mathematician might look at his work and ask, Could I find an answer in a different way? Why does this work?” Doing mathematics is playing with numbers and questions in an individually creative way.

Not everyone has the same mathematical questions or the same creative ways of finding answers, but everyone has these mathematical questions. Society just doesn’t recognize them as mathematics because they do not have a sense of “live” mathematics (that is, mathematics that isn’t staged in a textbook). If we can get society to just have conversations about these questions in a space where they would categorize their experience as mathematical (such as schools and workplaces), we could change the definition of mathematics.