Head of Mathematics

When are we ever going to use this?

This is a question that gets asked numerous times in mathematics classrooms across the world. While sometimes it is a student testing the teacher’s authority, most of the time it is caused by frustration. If a student is attempting to solve a problem and having difficulty, it is a natural reaction to deflect the importance of what they are trying to do. As mathematics teachers we try hard to show our students the relevance of the ideas we teach, the connections between concepts and indeed the links between our discipline and other subject areas they study.

While it is undeniable that everybody does use maths every day –  carpenters use it to make houses, accountants use it to do taxes, chefs use it when they modify recipes, hairdressers use it to mix colours, the list goes on and on – it is generally the maths that you learn in the early years of high school that you will use regularly. It is much harder to understand the relevance of the more abstract ideas like the quadratic formula or the derivative of a trigonometric function, and even though we can cite that none of the advances in technology, science, finance, statistics, or space travel for example would have happened without mathematics, many students are still not convinced of the necessity of them personally knowing these things.

So, when are we ever going to use this? Well, perhaps you won’t, but does it then follow that we shouldn’t learn it? Think about a Sydney Swans AFL training session. They certainly do lots of game skill practice – throwing balls, kicking goals and tackling, but they also do numerous exercises like weights training, skipping and other agility activities. Why do they do bench presses if you never see them do that during a game? They are doing activities that build their strength, their dexterity or their overall fitness; all qualities that they do use in a game. In the same way, doing mathematics is about building our girls’ creative thinking, problem solving, their ability to make an argument and, just as importantly, to see logical flaws in a line of reasoning. Doing mathematics helps them to see the unstated assumptions in people’s statements and pull out the important information in a sea of available data; it teaches them that there is value in struggling with complex things and learning from their mistakes. In short, it builds valuable life skills.

Of course, many of our girls love maths for its own sake, and for them learning it is about the excitement of finally solving that problem, the intrigue of an alternate method, the surprise of an unexpected answer and the beauty of an elegant proof. While I understand that not everyone loves maths like I do, it is my hope that every one of our students can take away some of the lessons that learning mathematics provides.

 

Mrs Sally Brimfield

Head of Mathematics