Posted by admin on January 16, 2010
Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics.”[i] – G. H. Hardy
A seemingly insignificant incident in one of my electrical engineering classes changed my entire thinking about my long-time nemesis, math. The answer given for a problem was 1/j2πf but I kept coming up with 1/j2πf+δ(f)/2. Try as I might, I couldn’t figure out how to make δ(f)/2 go away. I gave up and showed my work to the professor. He laughed, “Simple! Ignore it! It represents random noise,” he explained, “so it cancels itself out and has no effect on the signal.” That incident changed my relationship with math. To an engineer, math is a tool, a way to model elements of the real world so they can be better understood and shaped into new creations, a hammer that can be used to beat problems into submission.
The problem with math is that it is taught by math teachers, like Professor Hardy, acolytes of the religion of math, and, frankly, it doesn’t connect with most of us because our minds work differently. For example, if you find yourself in a grocery store contemplating two bottles of ketchup, and the little one is on sale, and you want to know if it is a better value than the big one, do you need to know the cost per ounce down to six places behind the decimal? Of course not! You just want to know which is the better value! We’ll talk about quick and easy math tricks you can do, tricks that will give numbers close enough, though not exact, to answer ketchup problems in a future post. Before we can do that, though, we need to address that math anxiety you caught from listening to math classes taught by the Dr. Hardys of the world.
I teach part-time at Colorado Tech. Sometimes I teach pre-algebra. It is a no-credit course for new students who need math help. Many students fit a profile similar to this: They did not study seriously in high school. They are now in their mid-30s. They are working in a low-skilled job. Something happened that inspired them to change their life. The stories students tell me about inspiration, change, rebirth, and redemption make this my favorite class. Almost without exception, the students fear math but know they have to get through this class to achieve their dreams. You’re going to laugh, but I have developed a two step process that works to eliminate math fear. It is stupid. It is simple. It works!
Step 1: Confront your fear! Imagine your fear as a math anxiety monster. Take a blank sheet of paper. Draw your monster. Ugly, isn’t it? Okay. Kill your monster! Do it in whatever gruesome, horrible way you imagine. Take joy in its death! Wish it good riddance from your life!
Step 2: Purge negative thoughts! If you sit around thinking, “I’m not good at math,” guess what? You won’t be good at math! Change your self talk! Replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations. Imagine yourself in the present being comfortable with math and using it to solve everyday questions and turn these into affirmations. Post them on your bathroom mirror, beside your bed, or where you can see them at work. Here are some to get you started:
- Every day, I’m getting better and better at using math!
- I use math tricks to answer everyday questions!
- Math is my hammer!
We will talk more about using simple math tricks to answer everyday questions in future posts. Start getting ready by using my silly, simple, two-step process to eliminate fear of math from your life. Why not start today?
[i] Hardy, G. H. (1940), A Mathematician’s Apology, University of Alberta Mathematical Sciences Society