Mathematics! – The discipline that sends many a student into a cold sweat, from primary school to sixth form; from passing GCSE maths to A-levels. Some students brave it and venture into maths in higher education, at degree level or beyond.
Maths is everywhere. Whether you aspire to study sociology, psychology, physics, biology or even economics, maths is held in high regard, and you will be called on solve various maths problems, as part of your work.
Many students and adults never think to use the maths they have learnt, or are still learning in their everyday lives. In this, they are wrong for many reasons!
First of all, as we will see, mathematics is present in many aspects of your daily life, from a trip to the bank, to cooking and even doing DIY.
Another point, not to be taken lightly, is that learning maths, and more broadly all the ‘hard’ sciences, trains your mind and conditions you to think and analyse problems (not necessarily mathematical ones) more effectively.
In addition to the purely technical elements, mathematics also teaches you methods of reasoning, and a certain rigour in how you approach your work. Why do you think it is that the highest A-level pass rates are found in the scientific disciplines? It’s because these students have learned intellectual rigour, and have developed analytical skills well beyond the sphere of maths.
It is time to recognise the importance of maths, and to get over your reservations about the topic!
Whether you’re studying for a maths exam or not, complex equations play a big role in your life (Source: Flickr.com – Eric Hacke)
You may well have already asked yourself questions such as:
Pupils and students often ask such questions, and as a maths teacher or maths tutor, it can be hard to give a convincing answer without drawing on practical everyday examples.
To avoid resorting to retorts like “actually, square roots are very useful: To pass your exam and succeed in maths!” or “I’m sure the Minister for Education would find your point of view very interesting!” let’s look further than simple exam success, and explore some concrete examples.
Did you know that about 1 person in 10 is at a disadvantage in their daily lives thanks to their poor knowledge of maths? Let’s not leave them behind!
Here are some examples which show that maths is essential in our lives and serves us in many important ways.
Maths surrounds you the minute you step through the doors of your favourite supermarket!
Indeed, the automatic doors and security scanner you pass through are composed of electronic systems that could never have been designed without maths.
Then, when you start shopping, you fill your trolley with products labelled with barcodes, which reference the manufacturer and the specific identity of each product. The products, thanks to the barcode, are scanned at the checkout with a laser. All you have to do is pay for your purchases by check, credit card or cash: All of which, again, are possible thanks to mathematics!
All these steps and operations use mathematical concepts, like those taught in the classroom.
Another example would be if, while shopping, you realise that the store has a 30% off promotional discount, and that this reduction increases if you purchase 2 items. You understand, however, that a 10% off the first product and 20% off the second do not make a total discount of 30%!
The value of knowing some basic mental calculation can be very useful when out shopping.
Even when you’re cooking, maths is there! (Source: Pixabay.com – Daria-Yakovlev)
The use of maths in cooking is almost inevitable, and it is often the famous rule of 3 that is applied, when you have to convert the proportions of a recipe for 6 people to a different number.
It’s important to calculate and adjust the quantities for the recipe to turn out well.
Similarly, you should know the basic rules for converting weights (grammes to pounds and vice versa), temperature (between Celsius and Fahrenheit, depending on where you get your recipes from) or simply to add or divide ingredients. For example: “Mix 2/3 of 500 g flour, add 2 eggs, and milk, then add the remaining 1/3.”
Buying property is among the most significant and practical examples of using maths in your everyday life. Given the importance of such a purchase, it’s better to pay attention to all the details, to be sure of a favourable transaction.
In fact, when you borrow money, you are offered a repayment plan that accounts for interest rates, sometimes fixed, sometimes variable, but different depending on the length of your loan: The rate differs whether you borrow for 2, 10, 25 or 30 years.
To know how much you’re going to pay overall, what you need to save and what you have to repay, interest rate calculations prove to very important.
If you’re going to build a house, then besides the loan you’re going to take out, you’ll need to draw up plans.
For this, you should know how to use a ladder, measure angles and provide for furniture to scale, to finalise your plans. Here as well, the use of maths, and more precisely of geometry, is paramount.
Whether for small or large jobs, maths will be one of your best friends when doing DIY!
Whether you want to calculate the angles necessary to erect a partition or work out the number of tiles needed to decorate a bathroom, you need to know how to use the rule of three, how to calculate angles and the hypotenuse of a triangle, and be at ease calculating surfaces in square meters and volumes in cubic meters.
Examples like these are so familiar that it’s easy to forget that maths comes into play so often when redesigning or transforming the interior of your home!
Nowadays, GPS receivers are found in so many cars and smartphones. There, too, maths is at work!
Before all this technology came along, we had the compass, protractor, sextant and the astrolabe: It’s with triangulation that we can determine our distance from a fixed point, and direction of movement.
Triangulation (today greatly improved with satellites) with its calculations of angles and distances has always been a mainstay of cartography and navigation.
Just ask someone sailing around the world, how they would manage if they were not able to identify their location on a map!
Keep in mind maths, at the card table (Source: Pixabay.com – Skitterphoto)
Although chance does play a role in card games, mathematics gives the best poker and bridge players an advantage over average players, who don’t use probability or calculate odds to give themselves an advantage.
In poker, if you can grasp a few statistical notions and keep in mind some other factors, like the hand you hold or the pot size, you will be able to play more consistently. Moreover, for any great card player, the expectation of gain is not calculated in the short term, but in the long term. While it may not be possible to win systematically, it’s important to be systematic in the long term.
As such, good poker players are all familiar with the law of large numbers, even if only implicitly.
The law of large numbers tells us that the more frequently you toss a coin, for example, the more the observed result will approach the theoretical mean, in this case 50% heads and 50% tails.
This helps to explain the legendary calm shown by some players when losing large sums: Because they know that in the long run, they will.
On an audio compact disc, the sounds you hear are coded by a mathematical sequence into a string of 1s and 0s, which are grouped into 8-bit words. So that the recorded sound is more resilient to damage to the medium, duplicate packets of data are added to the disc, so that the decoding device (a CD player) can detect and correct the sequence, if dust or scratches obscure some of the data on the disc.
This branch of mathematics has a name: theory of error correcting codes and is found in many other applications such as data transmission via satellite, and even the Internet:
Without you even knowing it, maths makes it easy for you to access your favourite websites!
Beyond universal applications that touch everyone’s lives, mathematics is very much a part of our professional lives. Much more so if you are an accountant than a literary critic, granted, but applications abound in many spheres of work. Here are some examples.
Having at least a basic understanding of maths while working in sales is an indispensable asset.
Maths practice is important for the workplace (Source: Pixabay.com – ArtsyBee)
Whether calculating prices in Excel, working out sales percentages, commissions, a discount or converting currencies, maths is a central part of the daily life of all who are involved in sales. However, you won’t have your maths teacher alongside you, so be sure to practice properly!
You don’t need a maths degree to become an accountant or a secretary, or even to plan your monthly household budget, however, you need at least some knowledge of maths to successfully navigate your day’s work.
To manipulate an Excel table, do basic statistical analyses, evaluate a forecast budget, balance your books or determine management thresholds to assess the health of an organisation: Maths is everywhere!
Maths, with its formulas for area and volume, is widely used in architecture to represent buildings in three dimensions and to create perspective views of a plan.
Thales’ theorem also allows us to calculate hard-to-measure distances, such as the height of a pyramid.
Architecture draws heavily on geometry (Source: Pixabay – 3093594)
Maths can even be found in video and animated film design, through 3D special effects and image morphing software.
In fact, it’s impossible to manipulate 3D images in space, create representations of surfaces or curves, or distort images without a minimum knowledge of maths.
Most economic models use mathematics. Broadly, economists are interested in production, productivity and the distribution of wealth in a given country.
The range of applications of mathematics is as broad as the economy itself, from simple calculations like the aggregation of a company’s payroll, to more technical notions such as share price updates and concepts found in macro- and microeconomics.
However, one of the most interesting aspects of maths in economics, though far from the easiest, is their use in predictive economic models.
Maths allows us to store data that will allow us to anticipate, to some extent, the future fluctuations of a phenomenon we are attempting to explain.
There are other subjects closely related to both economics and the application of mathematics which fulfil other roles. One such sub-discipline is econometrics, which seeks to demonstrate mathematically whether variables are relevant in explaining phenomena.
It could be used, for example, to attempt to determine whether and how the number of years of education that a person has acquired is related to his or her salary.
Just as English is the international language of areas like business and geopolitics, mathematics enjoys the same prestige in the realm of science.
From economics, as we have just seen, to physics, biology, health or neuroscience, the application of maths in the sciences is omnipresent. If you are keen to embark on a career in any of these areas, and many more, you should be aware that your maths abilities will be closely scrutinised by recruiters: Just one more proof that maths is present in many professions.
Beyond the practical applications of mathematics in your everyday life, it’s worth mentioning some of the discipline’s more rarified benefits. In fact, when you practice maths a regular basis, you train and hone your mind in a number of ways.
The holistic benefits of mathematics, unlike its practical, everyday applications, are skills that can be exercised in all kinds of situations.
Indeed, if you are able to reason more effectively and remain consistent and rigorous in your thinking, it is a good bet that you will be able to make better decisions than someone with little or no mathematical rigour. Just like studying philosophy, argumentation and rhetoric, mathematics is a tremendous tool for structuring your thinking. Superprof maths tutors can, therefore, enhance your logical mind.
To then declare that mathematics makes you more intelligent, as one sometimes hears, is for us a step too far, however, it’s true to say that you will likely be more comfortable with the “consistency” and “logic” components of reasoning.
To put it bluntly, it would be quite difficult to be effective in mathematics without a minimum level of patience!
Through practice, you will realise that this discipline is a true therapy for patience. At times you will need five or six steps of reasoning to answer a single question or solve a puzzle formulated of only a few words.
Over time, you will learn how to formulate your reasoning, make your own shortcuts and, above all, stay focused from beginning to end, on an exercise, problem or puzzle.
Perhaps even without knowing it, you are already using mathematics on a daily basis! It just might be time to rethink your relationship with the topic!
Find a tutor for GCSE maths revision in your local area or an online maths tutor with Superprof.