The Joy of Mathematics

A spirited eight-year old, holding his father’s hand, sits among the spectators, intently watching a cricket match. ‘India need 56 runs from the last over!’ his father shakes his head dismissively. The boy instantly slumps down sadly. ‘But that’s over! We’ve lost then!’
The boy was supposed to be studying for a Math test the next day, on the ultimate nightmare of every child of his age – division, ratios, proportions, variations, probability and what-not! Little did the boy or for that matter, his father realize that he had already understood his Math well enough to surmise that hitting 56 runs from 6 balls (9.33 runs per ball) was impossible. Watching cricket matches has imparted this knowledge in him, as no tiresome working-out problems would have done!

Math is everywhere and anywhere – from shopping (those eye-popping discount percentages) to cooking (the laborious measurements and fractions), from organizing dinner parties (budgeting, counting and efficient packing of those round plates) to learning to look at a watch (fractions and time), Math is omnipresent.

To all the teachers of the fascinating subject – it is fascinating only as long as the students find it so. A series of questions have always intrigued students of the subject – we have failed to understand where the blazes do logarithms come into picture in our everyday life, we have rolled our eyes at integral calculus, wondering about its ultimate purpose (whether it really does have one remains a mystery) and we have sat through trigonometry classes, looking through the holes in Ө if there is some hidden meaning behind it that may save the nation one day.

As the students grow to learn real life concepts in Physics and begin questioning why things are in some way and not the other, they may find it easy to understand those concepts better if they had learnt basic Math concepts the right way. If a child stands in a railway station tomorrow and asks his/her parent why there is a change in pitch of the horn when the train approaches and moves away from the platform (the famous Doppler Effect derivation our generation mugged up intensely before our exams), he can better understand the principle behind the effect if he had understood speed and distances in relation to time as a concept and not as a mere formula.
The true beauty of Mathematics and the fascinating concepts it gives has never been appreciated by many students in the Indian context. Say Math, students think about dozing off at the back of the class. Say Math, students go off sick during tests. Say Math, students wake up in the middle of the night terrified. The problem, solely and totally, lies with the teachers who teach the subject. They would have better success at making students interested in the subject if they started involving students in learning activities and make them observe instead of scribbling down derivations on the board and asking students to copy them. They can have the complete satisfaction of having effectively imparted knowledge to students if they explained the concepts with real-life instances and objects instead of forcing them to write meaningless formulas as homework and destroying their love for the subject. It is up to them to make the students understand that Mathematics is beyond equations and formulas and derivations and corollaries. They have to understand that the only way to learn Mathematics is to do Mathematics.

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