How to get your friend to like math: A multipronged approach

In Math with Bad Drawings, the author Ben Orlin calls the query in my title the most adorable ever, and I have to agree.  Now math is so awesome that it’s hard to believe that we actually have to develop any sort of strategy to entice our otherwise amazing friends (who don’t seem interested) to enjoy it.  Post-school, when it is no longer compulsory, we really do have a better chance at changing perceptions. So let’s think of some ways of luring friends ever closer to your world.

Introduce them to the concept of mathematical taste.  In other words, if you don’t like a certain genre of music, and that’s the only one that your music teacher ever played, then of course you would dislike “music”.  It’s never too late to develop a taste for mathematics, a hunger even, as described by Caroline Herschel in this poem, who at 31 started learning math from her brother only to become an astronomer.

Have them read Mandy Brown’s post on the pastry box, a forum in which 30 people who do interesting tech-related activities blog about themselves.  Mandy thought she would always be a language person, and not a math person… until she ended up majoring in physics!

Show them some amazing videos from George Hart at the Simon’s Foundation Site.  His most recent, posted just a few days ago is about Permutahedrons and Change Ringing (ringing church bells in beautiful patterns).

Force them to do something like make a Mobius band and cut it in half (always a conversation starter and crown pleaser).  Maybe if they are having fun, they’ll want to explore some recreational mathematics.  Here’s a brand new Recreational Mathematics Magazine.

Point out that it’s free!  One last thing that has always attracted me to mathematics from a philosophical point of view is its egalitarian nature.  In a world filled with expensive hobbies that require lots of equipment, travel, or expensive training, one can pick up a pencil (or a box of brightly colored pens if you prefer) and give math a try for free!

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yyyOne Response to How to get your friend to like math: A multipronged approach

  1. Tim Chartier says:

    I like to note that math is really a buffet rather than a one course menu. Sometimes, we seem to teach math as a multi-course meal, where a big part of dinner is Calculus, if you have the time and patience to sit and eat that long.

    If you’ve only experienced math that you don’t like, then you simply haven’t gotten a taste of the type of math you might enjoy. It’s important to learn how to walk down the buffet of math and keep sampling.

    From CGI and 3D printing to Google and sports analytics, math goes from spatial to very applied to the many forms listed in this blog post.

    Right now, I really like to note that we are in the year of the billion dollar bracket prize insured by Warren Buffett. Math helped Buffett decide to insure the prize and math can help you pick a bracket to possibly improve your chances at the billion.

    But overall, why math? For me, one big reason is that I think people deserve to have (at least) 1 good story about it. For some, that seems nearly, if not entirely, impossible and that’s precisely why they need one. Math is so robust that there are many, many ways to enjoy it. The key is to learn to sample and when you find what you like — you may dig in before you even realize it’s math you’re gobbling up.

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