Does Math Have a Context?

Basic MathThroughout my engineering days as well as professional life, I always liked math. It has a certain cleanliness to it that I could not find elsewhere. Of course there came a point where it took more effort than I intended to put in to understand the intricacies. However, everything I learnt before that is still close to my heart.

So, when I decided to indulge in a newfound passion to create masterpieces for the mobile world, I naturally turned to math. The idea was to create something that would help kids understand, enjoy and excel at basic mathematics. The more I researched in this field, the more confused I got.

I realized that our learning process for different subjects is different. We learn the best when we learn within a context. Language is taught to children using action words which they can easily identify with. Right up to our learning in professional lives, our learning all comes with context. However, math is still taught in a very abstract way.

We are taught that 2+2=4. This is a “fact”. We are taught the process of solving this problem and how to extend it to other problems. However, there is no context. There is no storification. No wonder that children who do not immediately identify the beauty do not really like the subject even if they are good at it. A food for thought article I read from PBS prompted me to write this.

Can anything be done about this? Can math be storified? Can we create a context around basic math to stoke the imagination of children? In fact, does math have a context?

What do the 9-to-whatevers think?

4 thoughts on “Does Math Have a Context?

  1. One of the beautiful things about math is that the context is you. It can all be derived logically from within your brain without any knowledge of the outside world. The ultimate context for mathematics is the act of deriving it logically. Take for example basic calculus. As a student, you have the ability to go through the logical steps that took many people a great number of years to develop(starting from the geometric attempts to increase the number of sides in a polygon infinitely to find the area of a curve). A student has the ability to follow, and with a little guidance go through the steps to invent calculus in their own mind. While they may not have been the first to do it, they still put the pieces together on their own, and the context now becomes that this idea is their own. The real context of math is that you can own it like nothing else.

    • Bruce,

      Thanks for your thoughts. I agree that this is one of the beautiful things about math and appreciate it myself.

      Unfortunately, the same independence is what also alienates some of our young minds. In my view, we need to relate mathematics to reality early in the children’s learning process such that they can learn to appreciate the beauty that you talk about.

      What do you think about applying the same logic for calculus above to basic addition?

  2. teaching the 7th graders (with a specific mandate of ‘an alternate way of teaching’) I was provided with a simple comment (a big Q for me). “Math does not relate to anything in life”. Though I would put down any person altogether, who would say that …. but coming from a child in a class, I had to wear their shoes and see, why that Q came up. Still wondering what is the best answer a teacher can give to these 7th graders

    • Sandeep,

      I agree that this is a very sad situation. In my opinion, math skills are the most used in real life on average than any other subject.

      One start to this solution is to storify and add a sense of connection to reality early in the cycle. We need to create math natives.

      What do you think can help change this situation?

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