meta - January 31, 2023

Is math irrelevant?

So, after having read one or two mathematical biographies too many, I restarted studying math. Roughly at the same time, I started doing a bit of mathematics with my kids. Math with kids? Yeah, I know. It’s crazy. My neighbor Vera was appalled. My brother-in-law tried to convince me to teach the kids some business fundamentals instead. You know, his kids started developing business models at the ripe age of four.

But I prefer counting and drawing triangles to business models. So, I bought a blackboard and put it in the living room.

Vera cannot believe

"What’s this for?" asked Vera that very same day.

Because, my dear friend, Vera visits us at least once a day. She would never admit it though; she always says she comes only occasionally. Well, Vera just seems to thoroughly enjoy the company of my wife and daughters. I have no illusions she likes me.

"It’s for teaching math," I said.

"Who are you going to teach, boy?"

"The kids."

"You serious?" asked Vera. "How old is the older one? Three? And the little one? She is one?"

Vera had a point. Of course, she always does.

"I’m not going to force them, Vera. If they aren’t listening, it’s totally fine. I’m perfectly aware they don’t hear half of the things I say."

"Well, they won’t be listening," said Vera. "You can bet on me."

And, sure enough, they didn’t. But there was one thing my first-born quite liked. It was encircling some particular objects on the blackboard. Like encircling all plus signs.

You can give it a try yourself – the silly board below is supposed to be interactive. You should be able to draw a curve around the required elements and get another task if you were successful. Note that sometimes an empty circle can be a solution too.

So, my older girl and I used to do this exercise here and there. And Vera was horrified whenever she saw us. Or she pretended to be.

"That’s not math, young boy!" she exclaimed. "Of course it is," I said.

"No, it’s not!"

"We will extend the exercise when the time is right!" I said.

"So what! Even if it’s math, it’s stupid. It doesn’t teach you anything about life!" exclaimed Vera.

Because, you know, that is something I have not yet managed to do – convince Vera that mathematics is relevant for real life.

Anyhow, the time came to extend the little exercise. Not that it convinced Vera, but we started doing exercises like the one below.

Then, one day I saw a link to Math from Three to Seven by Alexander K. Zvonkin on Hacker News and started thinking I might organize a Math Circle for a couple of other kids as well. More about it next time.

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