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Where did you get your appreciation of/respect for, math?

  1. Home

    9 vote(s)
  2. School

    16 vote(s)
  1. Aug 1, 2012 #1
    The average denizen of PF has an above average interest in math. It's my preconception that people don't well at math unless it's reinforced at home. I could be wrong, though. It could be that some people discover it in school and take off with it despite indifference to it at home.

    I've put two options. The first is that you got a good opinion of math at home, that your parents spoke of math as a good, important thing and encouraged you to do well in it.

    The second is that your family was indifferent or even hostile to it and you got your interest from exposure at school and good experiences in math classes. Math intrigued you despite your family members speaking of it as "boring," "tedious," or "bleh", and the bulk of your encouragement came from your teachers.

    Option one probably encompasses option two, but option two does not encompass option one. That's why I've limited it to two. Feel free to explain any third situation that applies to you.
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2012
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  3. Aug 1, 2012 #2


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    I was encouraged to take math at an early age and I did some outside school work and was good at it.

    Around the end of primary school I was introduced to programming and devoted a great chunk of my out of school time to learning it and how 3D games actually worked.

    Over a long period of time I built on each experience cumulatively in a way that gave me some intuition for mathematics in many respects.

    I am in the final year of an undergraduate degree in mathematics and statistics and a lot of this has simply re-inforced and re-integrated a lot of the stuff I had been learning before-hand, but with the addition of reconciling things like foreign notation that I wasn't able to interpret before hand.

    I was fortunate to have a series of events occur and the hindsight to take those opportunities on, as well as the encouragement to do mathematics at a very early age.

    Ironically though, when I got accepted to study Computer Science, I did not choose to study mathematics because I felt that I wasn't good enough to become a mathematician (not just pure, but any mathematician) and so I pursued what I had spent most of my time learning which was programming (and thus computer science).

    The irony is that the computer science was probably the best thing for understanding mathematics (in combination with understanding game engines particularly 3D ones) since the programming helped me organize a lot of complex things in my head as I did more and more practice building more complicated programs.

    Without the many years of programming, I doubt I could comprehend mathematics as good as I can today and I'm glad I decided to do what I wanted to nearly a decade ago (i.e. do a major in mathematics).
  4. Aug 2, 2012 #3
    The teachers I had for mathematics throughout my school life were so bad that they made me dislike the subject (and that's putting it very lightly).

    Only after I finished high school, when I started looking at universities and courses, did I start to get an appreciation for mathematics.
  5. Aug 2, 2012 #4


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    I have neither.
  6. Aug 2, 2012 #5


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    I got zero encouragement at home but found at school that I was good at it everybody likes to do things they are good at.

    Based on direct personal experience, I think your assumption that people don't do well in math unless it's reinforced at home is just silly.
  7. Aug 2, 2012 #6


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    Let me guess... your parents were psychologists? :tongue:
  8. Aug 2, 2012 #7
    Home and high school.
    Till high school, my parents taught me most of the math course work at home because we weren't happy the way things were at being covered at school. In school, I would often get in trouble with my math teachers for not doing things their way: skipping (what seemed obvious to me) steps while reducing equations, not using the standard notation, using 'tricks' that hadn't been taught yet etc. One teacher told my parents to stop interfering in my studies.
    But then in high school, for two years, I had this amazing teacher who turned math from something that was interesting to something that was delightful. In his class math was more than just a tool, it was about ideas and he encouraged us to explore and to think differently. And when we really got something, he would be so completely and utterly delighted! If only I had more teachers like him!
  9. Aug 2, 2012 #8
    I would say neither, but more so school. My father hates math and pleads the 5th whenever it comes up, and my mom has talent in it but had no ambition to pursue it past basic algebra.

    My schooling had glimmers of math enthusiasm, but for the most part it was tedious with little time for appreciation.

    My real interest in math came from reading those popular science books about advanced math and physics topics and the origins of pi and i and e. From that point, I went to my math courses with a new appreciation and it really made a big difference to my interest in the material.
  10. Aug 2, 2012 #9


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    My parents were indifferent, as was I until I decided to go back to school in my mid-twenties.

    I was not challenged mathematically in high school. My school was very small; trigonometry was the highest course offered, and the geometry course I took was all but devoid of proofs.

    Up until a couple years ago, I had thought Calculus was the "highest" mathematics. I had no idea what a proof was until my first Calculus course in which my professor gave the epsilon-delta definition of a limit. The level of precision intrigued me and became more interesting as I went deeper. I found this forum and began poking around; most of what I found was way over my head, but it was the first time I actually felt a strong motivation to learn more about a topic.

    My affection for mathematics is difficult to explicate. I've learned that I'm quite uncomfortable with ambiguity outside of literary prose or poetry, so this is a likely component of my appreciation for the precision and rigor of mathematics.

    I've also described mathematical arguments as "puzzle pieces" that fit my "way of thinking." I know this probably sounds very odd, but I did a lot of puzzles when I was growing up, and the satisfaction I got from fitting a piece snugly in its place is analogous to how my brain "feels" when I read and understand proofs. Constructing proofs on my own is like hunting for the right piece; sometimes I know just where to go and find it easily, other times I stumble upon it by accident after fooling around with a few pieces that look like they might work. Either way, it's one of the most intellectually satisfying experiences I've ever had.
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2012
  11. Aug 2, 2012 #10


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    Definitely home. My sister was 5 years ahead of me in school and was always teaching me what she knew. I loved mathematics. I could go on for days about how it was my favorite form of recreation.

    Then, in just one day, it all changed...

    In 7th grade we were given an exam and I was able to do all the problems in my head. The teacher gave me an F, even though I had answered all the questions correctly. She explained that I hadn't shown my work, and implied that I cheated. That kind of gave me a disrespect for the instruction of math. It was like having a backhoe available, and being told I had to use a shovel, because that's what everyone used. It pissed me off to the point where I would only take the minimum required mathematical courses.

    Though I did still enjoy the mathematical recreations in the back of Scientific American for several decades. So all was not lost. :smile:
  12. Aug 2, 2012 #11
    None of my school teachers were exceptional, and neither of my parents ever even mentioned math, besides the fact that they both felt like they were bad at it.

    I found this forum while looking for help with math, and I decided to stick around, since the people and website seemed to be very helpful. I was thus introduced to people who actually loved math, and developed an appreciation of it even more when I started going through a math book on my own.
  13. Aug 2, 2012 #12
    In school during 3rd grade. But the reason was that because I was very good at it at the time. Then when I learned the difference between math and physics may interest in math declined. But I'm still fond of it.
  14. Aug 2, 2012 #13
    This is why I made the poll: to test my assumptions by actually asking people.
  15. Aug 2, 2012 #14
    I never got why we had to show our work in math during highschool, especially when I could easily do it all in my head. Gave me a disrespect for it. Then I started taking a course in linear algebra at the college, and I completely understand why we need to show our work. Maybe while just turning a crank it's unnecessary, but it's essential for logical proofs. It shows you can logically conclude the answer, instead of getting it by false means.

    My parents both hate math and fall into the people who like to say how unimportant and unapplicable to the real world it is. They always made me do it when I got in trouble when I was little (which was a lot), and I love it now. I wish I could major in it, but like physics too much. School nor home really made me enjoy it. I just got into it on my own, because I just liked learning.
  16. Aug 2, 2012 #15


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    I have no idea how to answer this poll. My dad was a Civil Engineer, I got lots of math from him. But I had some pretty good teachers, too.

    It's kind of like asking where you learned to appreciate the color blue.
  17. Aug 3, 2012 #16
    The answer to this for me would be at home. My mother and sisters taught me the colors. I don't think this is the same thing as learning an appreciation of math, though, unless appreciating blue required learning to paint with, say, Monet's sense of color.
  18. Aug 3, 2012 #17


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    Hmm...actually, that's a pretty good analogy!
  19. Aug 3, 2012 #18
    Home - the only maths I've learned in a school was at highschool, so you can probably see why I wouldn't gain any great appreciation there. Everything else I know and love about maths I learned in my own time from textbooks at home.
  20. Aug 3, 2012 #19
    I'm getting the impression a lot of people would have liked a third option, which is that they developed their appreciation for math all on their own, that it arose independently of their exposure to it at home or in school.
  21. Aug 3, 2012 #20


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    I've never appreciated it, it's the stick between me and the carrot.
  22. Aug 3, 2012 #21


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    Through grade school and most of Jr. High school I was a solid D student in "math" classes (actually arithmetic classes!). I believe it was going into the 9th grade that my mother literally drug me into the principals office and pounded on his desk insisting that I be put into Algebra. I was in tears with embarrassment and not a little fear. However, once the class started I discovered I had a knack for math. I still suck at arithmetic, but have a BS in math and completed course work for a MS in applied math.
  23. Aug 3, 2012 #22


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    I had to think long and hard (about my science interest), it wasn't my parents nor school. Then last night it came to me: Discovery channel. In the 90s the had some really good science shows that inspired me. Now they're mainly airing a lot of burly crab fishing/ gold mining/ rattlesnake catching shows, who knows what I would've become when I'd grown up now :biggrin:
  24. Aug 3, 2012 #23
    I remember a similar existence in primary school, it was when we started with doing two digit by two digit multiplication... I also remember being in tears after the teacher pretty much made a spectacle of me in front of the whole class for not being able to do it very well.
    I've not completed any degree so far but I did go on to win joint best in my highschool and a gold in some national maths competition.
  25. Aug 3, 2012 #24


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    I would say "neither" - and by that, I mean that it seems my love of math was largely self-generated. I've always been entranced by the precision, symmetry and beauty of it all. However, the home environment helped to cement my love of the subject.

    I was certainly encouraged/enabled by my parents, who would get me any math book I wanted. This is why I was able to master basic differential and integral calculus by the age of 12 with self-study, about 4 years before it was taught at school.

    Certain experiences helped to cement my love of math. When I was about 9, I had self-taught myself basic algebra (it wouldn't be covered in school for another 3 years). I had no clue about the theory of quadratic equations at this point, yet for some silly reason, fixated upon this equation (I still remember it!!): [itex]x^3 = 5x - 5[/itex], which I'd come up with off the top of my head. I didn't know it was called a cubic, and I had no clue how to solve it. But a visitor with a computing background and a slight knowledge of math told me what sort of equation it was. So I knew to search for "cubic equations". This was in the era before the Internet was a global resource, so I buckled down and looked through the Encyclopaedia Brittanica (which my father had previously purchased) and learnt about Niccolo Tartaglia, Girolamo Cardano, and the theory of solution of cubic and quartic equations. Of course, I quickly learnt to solve quadratics along the way, and I preferred to complete the square because it is assured to give an answer, and it seemed cooler than memorising a formula. Later on, I discovered that a good bit of the theory of cubics and quartics had already been elucidated by the ancient Indians, my ancestors.

    Another example of a significant formative experience is when my family was visited socially by a gentleman by the name of Gopal Prasad. Some of you may know him - he's a prominent mathematician working in abstract algebra at U. Michigan. I was about 13 at this time, I think. I had been playing around with an idealised "multiplying rabbits" problem (again, I'd just been thinking about this idly), and had come up with a simple geometric series (I didn't know that that was the right name!), then generalised it symbolically. However, I didn't have the insight to add it up to get an elegant expression, and had left it in sigma notation. Dr Prasad showed me how to write the progression twice aligned vertically, multiply the top by the common ratio, "frame shift" by one term, then subtract term-by term, and finally divide by (common ratio - 1) to get a neat expression for the sum (identical to the one school would teach me years later). I was thunderstruck when I saw what he'd done, and I immediately set about manipulating other series in similar ways, and that led me to a wondrous journey through Analysis. (I later found out from school that I'd somehow skipped over a more elementary series - the Arithmetic series and gone straight to the Geometric series, but such lack of systematicity is one of the perils of being an autodidact).

    In the same visit, Dr Prasad introduced me to his field of Group Theory, and tried to explain the basic concept to me (of a closed set of elements under an operator), but I found it all a little too abstract at the time. He gave me a "first print" of a paper of his, entitled "Volumes of S-arithmetic quotients of semi-simple groups". Of course, I found it impossible to understand, and I still can't follow it (despite having learned rudimentary abstract algebra along the way), but the paper still takes pride of place in my math papers and books collection (yes, I have one! :biggrin:)

    Well, those are the seminal events that come to mind when I think about what influenced my love for the subject. I guess most of them happened at home, but it seems like the interest in math has always been intrinsic to my personality. It wasn't really due to any member of my immediate family - my dad (coincidentally, also named "Dr Prasad"! :rofl:) is a medical doctor, and although I consider him generally brilliant, he isn't that keen on advanced math. I do have him to thank for providing resources to me to enrich myself in my interests. He still felt that Medicine was the safer choice, which is why I ended up doing it for a career, but (as should be obvious), I still have a very keen interest in math, which I pursue as an amateur whenever I find the time.

    Apologies for the long post. I just felt I had to get this all out. :smile:
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2012
  26. Aug 5, 2012 #25


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    I at least got an appreciation for working with numbers from home at a very early age. Not just reinforcing the basics, but tips on when to break the rules (when doing calculations in your head, start with the most signficant digit and work to the right, instead of starting with the least and working left, since errors in the least significant digit are less significant, etc.), plus lots of tips and shortcuts for doing calculations in your head.

    Many of which I finally realized why they worked so well once I took algebra - in other words, algebra made things make more sense rather than being some entirely new concept - kind of like learning the secret to a magic trick. In some ways, learning algebra was a little disillusioning. All of those brain teasers for elementary school students that I liked so much (and took so much thought to figure out how to solve) suddenly became so simple and basic that I was almost embarrassed to have been proud of figuring them out.

    I also gained a little appreciation for numbers at the bowling alley. By time I was in third or fourth grade, I was keeping score for my dad's bowling team and adding up the team scores in my head (for some reason, the other team was always a little dubious and wanted to double check the numbers themselves).
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2012
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