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Discover The Biggest Stereotypes in Maths

By Jon, published on 31/03/2018 We Love Prof - IN > Academia > Maths > Learn Maths: Common Mathematical Misconceptions

Mathematics is one of the most unpopular core subjects on the school curriculum. If you are reading this, you have probably suffered stomach pains, insomnia, panic attacks before an important maths test or maths class (these symptoms are also common when handing in course work).

According to popular belief, there are those who are naturally good at maths and then the rest… The problem with the boring and tedious learning methods is that they often fall short of helping students who require a different approach.

Here are 5 stereotypes about mathematics that should be studied to make everyone aware of the extraordinary richness of mathematics. After reading this article, we hope that you will be able to correct these misconceptions that damage the reputation of this subject!

Learn all about maths…

If You’re Not Born a Maths Genius You Won’t Do Well in Maths

FALSE! Having a natural flair for maths is a myth and has been since the dawn of maths learning. The reality is that some people have ability to study this subject while it can be quite frustrating for others. However, students who do not understand everything at the first try are not condemned to be the last in maths class for the rest of school, whether it’s GCSE maths revision or beyond! To obtain a good level, these students have several options:

  • Attend support and tutoring classes during lunch hours.
  • Tutoring in mathematics.
  • Attend refresher courses and training during holidays.
  • And above all, spend a little more time at your desk doing exercises instead of watching TV.

The difference between mathematicians and non-mathematicians is none other than the working time required to understand and complete an exercise. Those who are supposedly “rubbish at maths”, please rest assured, even good students have their weaknesses, and it is very likely that you are better than them in another subject. It can also be the case that your maths teacher is not giving you the attention you need.  Too abrupt, too quick, and scornful of students falling behind, teachers can sometimes instill a feel of failure or even a phobia of maths revision.

You don't have to be a maths genius to do well in exams at school. It’s time to give maths a better reputation! | Source: Pixabay

You may have a different way of seeing the world than your teacher. Don’t worry, you can find a super nice, patient, and understanding maths teacher who will help you progress at your own pace!

Personal anecdote: with an average of 9 students in my maths class throughout school, I managed to get a high mark in mathematics after doing lots of exercises and weekly maths tutor classes with a maths tutor! Which just shows that failure doesn’t have to be the only option. ?

Maths Has No Practical Use in Real Life

FALSE! There are not enough hands and toes to count the uses of mathematics. To begin with, you need mathematics to be able to split the bill with friends when out for lunch. To prove that knowing how to count is important for not losing friendships, take a look at this sketch on splitting the bill.

Be practical. Mathematics is also used to calculate the price of items sold.

For example, if you receive a 20% discount, simply multiply the product price by 0.80 (100 – the percentage). Of course, using a calculator is allowed, especially for pesky figures like £14.95! By doing this quick calculation, you get the sum of £11.96. We bet that it will come in handy soon… In medical imagery for example, mathematics is used to reconstruct images of the human body from certain points (scanner).

Operational research in the tourism field uses mathematics to search flights at the best price. It is all about constructing high-performance algorithms capable of calculating in real time the best cost for a given journey among all available flights.

The study of acoustic waves also helps design noise barriers along motorways, concert halls perfect for optimum noise cancelation, or noise generators to cancel unwanted noise (such as anti-tinnitus hearing techniques).

The potential uses for mathematics are almost infinite, to understand that they are an essential is one more step towards reconciliation with this subject. Learning maths is also useful in everyday life.

Obviously, the genius Albert Einstein would have refuted such a narrow view with a simple mathematical formula …

Mathematicians Don’t Know How to Have Fun

FALSE! It is important not to confuse meticulousness with low spirits! Mathematics is a discipline that requires a lot of concentration, hard work and consistency, that’s a fact. Try to read a chapter or two on functions, you might not be able to answer many questions during the next exam! However, this does not stop you from having fun in your free time, to have a real open-mindedness, and enjoy life!

Alegbra, fractions, multipication and division can be fun, easy and worthwhile! Mathematicians aren’t a bunch of bores | Source: visualhunt

Check out Ben Orlin’s hilarious blog “Math with Bad Drawings” which combines maths, humour and teaching to interest and educate people in the joys of mathematics. It does so by providing clear examples which relate to things to the “real world” and popular culture to captivate learners.

It is an accessible blog that combines mathematics and entertainment, a great way to get rid of the stigma and bad reputation this subject suffers across the globe. With his blog, Ben, a maths teacher in Birmingham, aims to “capture the contradictory state of the teacher, of the mathematician – and, what the hell, of the human”.

Adopting a playful approach to mathematics is enticing for even the most rebellious student. To read without moderation. Moreover, mathematicians are bigger dreamers than what people think. You have to have your head in the stars to devote your life to the study of our galaxy, right?

Art and Mathematics are Worlds Apart

FALSE! First, it is important to remember that classical painting has always used mathematics to create masterpieces. Then mathematics (see history of mathematics) was a very important subject to inspire painters and some works took place in extraordinary places known world-wide.

For example, there is the fresco called The Arithmetic of the Palazzo Pontifici in the Vatican, and the masterpiece that is Raphael’s School of Athens, which features Euclid, Pythagoras and Ptolemy!

Geometry was not only a subject in pictorial art, it was also served as inspiration and motivation, as shown by the work of Pablo Picasso, the pioneer of cubism, who created canvases made up of geometric shapes deconstructing traditional representation of portraits and still life paintings.

The abstract painter Vassily Kandinski has also devoted himself to the use of geometric shapes to create dynamic canvases like his COMPOSITION VIII, just like Vasarely with using a compass to create his paintings.

Mathematics and art have as much a connection as math and computer science!

Teaching maths in fun way will make students do better in exams. One of Vassily Kandinsky’s works | Source: wassily-kandinsky.org

In 2001, the Pulitzer Prize was awarded to David Auburn for his play Proof bringing mathematics to the theatre. We must not forget to mention the link with music, especially in the 20th century when composers trained in mathematics such as Pierre Boulez who developed the principle of serialism (also called serial music) to create his musical compositions.

Boys are Better at Maths than Girls

FALSE! A recent American study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology showed that confidence strongly influences student’s choice of studies, especially in girls.

Maths is just as easy for girls as it is for boys. Maths, a subject for boys and girls | Source: pixabay

This fact put into reality: women are 3.7 times less likely to study science than men just because they do not feel able to do so. The culprit being the lack of discourse stating that men and women have the same capacities in terms of intelligence. Thus, it is the merely a misconception that girls are less talented in maths, which leads them to choose other paths, meaning women are poorly represented in the scientific professions.

Note to all girls who love maths: do not underestimate your abilities and you will go far, very far indeed!

Need an example? Marie Curie, a Polish physicist and chemist, was the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the Discovery of Radium and Polonium, and the only woman to have received two in her scientific career. Her studies have challenged the Greek assumption that matter is stable and unbreakable. Hats off!

Through her example, she also participated in the evolution of mathematics and the creation of maths vocabulary.

Success in Mathematics is Possible for Everyone

Mathematics is in fact accessible to everyone, everyone can succeed in this subject, and the fields that use maths are very numerous from medicine to art to aeronautics.

I’ll leave you with this final mistaken idea about mathematics for the road: “After studying maths, you can only be a math teacher.”

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