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Why Math Isn’t an Awful Nerd, Part 1

To celebrate The Math Dude’s 100th episode, we’re going to find out why you should think of math as a puzzle and not a problem, and why math is actually fun, useful, and not at all nerdy.

By
Jason Marshall, PhD
April 6, 2012
Episode #100

Page 1 of 2

Since this is the 100th show—and since those of us who use the decimal system like to attribute special meaning to numbers that are multiples of 10—I thought we’d do something a bit different today and talk about how I think you should think about math. Namely, that you shouldn’t think of math problems as problems (since that’s such a negative word), but rather as puzzles. Once you make this little mental shift, the world of math suddenly becomes much richer, more vibrant, and—dare I say it—a lot more fun. If you think that sounds far-fetched, keep on reading because what you learn might change your mind.

Is Math an Awful Nerd?

I can’t prove this theory, but I’m pretty sure there’s a giant conspiracy out there to make people think that math is awful. And, sadly, a lotof people have bought into it. To be honest, I don’t really blame them (or perhaps even you) because, frankly, math can be kind of awful. Have you ever had math presented to you as a stale and lifeless sequence of seemingly never-ending steps that have to be followed without thinking? Or as an endless series of painfully long, boring, and repetitive practice problems? If so, you have every right to think that math is awful because math is awful when it’s shown to you in an awful way.

But believe it or not, math doesn’t have to be that way. Many of you will already know this, but for those of you who don’t, you should know that there’s another side of math that you’ve perhaps never seen. This might sound strange but math is kind of like that quiet kid in class who you always assumed was a big nerd but was actually rockin’ out with her band every weekend on her way to becoming a big-time star. Yes, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but stick with me and I think you’ll see that even though you might think of math as that kid you never wanted to talk to, it really is that creative, fun, and surprisingly cool rock star.

Why Math Isn’t an Awful Nerd

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, let’s take a few minutes to play a math game. The objective of this game is to first try and figure out what happens when we add up positive odd numbers, and then to figure out why it happens! Sounds like fun, right? Oh, perhaps not so much? That’s okay, I get that adding up a bunch of positive odd numbers sounds like a really odd (yes, pun intended) way to spend part of your day. So why should you do it? (And, by the way, this is kind of a metaphor for the question: Why should I learn about math at all?)

The answer is that whether or not you realize it, life is all about learning, exploring, and trying new things. In other words, expanding your brain with new information, making discoveries for yourself, and solving problems you haven’t seen before are all really good for you! Each and every time you do it, you open up a new door that will help you solve other problems that you’ll eventually face in your life…some of which, I might add, will even be math problems. And believe it or not, it turns out that playing games with math can be a lot of fun too. So let’s go ahead and play this one now.

Whether or not you’ve realized it, life is all about learning, exploring, and trying new things.

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