Why, Oh, Why Must I Learn Math?

I recently asked some folks this question:

What are you/your children’s biggest struggles in math?

The responses varied (stay tuned for others in future blogs), but several voiced the same struggle: why.

Knowing why you need to learn something certainly doesn’t seem like too much to expect. It’s actually a very reasonable question. As Alfred North Whitehead said, “There can be nothing more destructive of true education than to spend long hours in the acquirement of ideas and methods that lead nowhere.”

So why math? Well, math is a way of describing the consistent manner in which God holds His creation together. Thus it helps us work with the world around us—from everyday tasks to sending men to the moon. It helps us complete various tasks that God gives us to do here on earth.

For example, fractions give us a handy way of describing division, helping us work with real-life relationships. Oh, and don’t forget that music notes, sewing, and cooking all use fractions! (There’s more on the why of fractions in my previous post “Why Learn Fractions?”)

One mother shared that her child wondered why finding the area of triangles matters. While triangles might not at first appear to be the most practical shape, they can actually help us measure such real-life distances as the height of a building and the distance across a stream. (In fact, that’s exactly what students learn to do in Principles of Mathematics while studying triangles.) As for finding their area, triangles also help us measure other shapes. For example, if we want to find the area of a hexagon (which is what bees make their honeycombs out of), we would use triangles to do it. Triangles—along with the rest of geometry—are incredibly practical!

For those of you wondering the “why” of high school math, I recently had an article published in The Old Schoolhouse magazine on that exact topic. You can read “What’s the Purpose of High School Math?” online (note: it may take a minute to load)…and I’d love if you’d then leave a comment here and let me know what you think.

And for those wondering how to teach math in such a way that your students will understand why they’re learning each skill they study, check out the math resources I wrote specifically to help students understand math’s true purpose…and to praise the Creator of all as they study. After all, math applies because Jesus is upholding all things by the power of His Word (Hebrews 1:3) in such a predictable way that we can describe it mathematically! Math, when properly taught, should encourage us to trust Him more and more.

Have a specific math topic you’d like to know the “why” of? Leave it as a comment!

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Battleship, Probability, and More

As I sat playing Battleship the other day, I got to thinking about how many concepts of math I was using as I played. (For those not familiar with the game, Battleship involves trying to guess where your opponent’s ships are located on a grid.)

To begin with, I used numbers to identify the columns on the grid, combined with letters to identify the rows.

When hunting for my opponent’s aircraft carrier, I knew the carrier takes up 5 spaces…which meant my opponent’s carrier couldn’t be hiding anywhere with less than 5 spaces. I also knew that when I hit the carrier, I needed to continue guessing the spaces around my hit until I’d located all 5 spaces upon which the carrier sat. I was doing a lot of counting as I played.

Since the aircraft carrier takes up 5 spaces and the battleship takes up 2, I knew the carrier should be easier to find. But why is this? Well, on the very first guess, there’s a 5/100 (which reduces to 1/20) probability of hitting the carrier (there are 100 spaces total, 5 of which have the carrier on them), and a 2/100 (which reduces to 1/50) of hitting the battleship.

While we don’t often think of the math used in games, it’s there none-the-less. Even games can turn into teaching opportunities. Math isn’t a mere textbook exercise, but rather a way of describing real-life consistencies God created and sustains. It’s a practical tool we use all the time…even when playing a game.

Math Moment with Divi: Counting the Stars

For a long time, I’ve dreamed of using video as a vehicle to communicate about God’s handiwork in math. Below is my first attempt: a 35-second video in which Divi (a division sign) sets out to count the stars…and realizes just how much bigger God is than we could ever imagine.

Please let me know what you think…and feel free to share the video with a friend.