Hate Math? This Professor Can Help

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Have you always felt uncomfortable with math? Steven Strogatz can help. From a profile of the Cornell University math professor, appearing in the Ithaca Journal:

“In 2010, Strogatz wrote a 15-part series for the New York Times, ‘The Elements of Math,’ which began with an introduction to numbers and concluded by exploring the mysteries of infinity. Former New York Times editor David Shipley, who’s now at Bloomberg News, recruited Strogatz to write the series, partly out of his own discomfort with the subject.

‘I felt that I’d lost my way with math in high school,’ Shipley said via e-mail. ‘When I met Steve and we spoke, and he explained so many complicated mathematical things in such a clear, calm, smart and inviting way, I wondered if he might be the person to help me find my way again. What would happen, I wondered, if he took me through the elements of math from the most basic levels to the most complicated ones? Would I get lost? Or would I be able to follow him beyond the place I’d long ago gotten stuck and given up?’

Shipley figured that there were many others in the same predicament with math, a hunch that ultimately was confirmed by the amount of web traffic and reader responses to the articles. ‘To my mind, the series was a terrific success,” said Shipley. ‘Not only did Steve write something of beauty, he also found a way to give many of us a second chance with math.'”

Strogatz has now turned the series into a book, The Joy of x. He says he hopes it will elicit an active rather than passive response from readers:

‘It’s not just spectator math, where I show you something pretty,’ he said. ‘I want people to go through a thought process in each chapter in a way that’s still palatable and not painful, to have the feeling of the light bulb turning on. If I can guide them gently through this process, they’ll see something magnificent happen.'” (Read more here.)

Did you, like David Shipley, “lose your way with math” sometime during the course of your education? (For me it happened even before high school.) And have you ever found a path back to enjoying and feeling competent at math? I’d love to hear about it.

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One Response to “Hate Math? This Professor Can Help”

  1. Karen says:

    I was a typical “fixed mindset” math student. Since I usually got A grades and, in order to get an A in math, I had to work hard, therefore I must not be very good in math and I never would be. I dropped out of math courses in high school and didn’t take another class until I absolutely needed it to graduate 2nd semester senior year in college. This time, though, something was different. I realized for the first time that math was just a different way of explaining the world, a language that could be used to express ideas that couldn’t be expressed other ways. I saw the beauty in math. Now, many years later, I often co-teach in math classes and work with math teachers to help kids develop growth mindsets and see math in new ways.

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