I suspect that it’s not only math teachers who are faced with the question, “When will I ever use this in real life?” But I can only answer it from the math teacher’s point of view. One of my freshmen asked me this question in class the other day (concerning geometric transformations); I didn’t want to put him off, but we had no time in the remainder of that particular class, so I told him I would come back to it. Of course it’s a bit ironic to ask the question about transformations, a topic that forms the basis of understanding for a lot of material in subsequent math courses, but he couldn’t know that. Besides, he wanted to know about “real life,” which he explicitly defined as excluding the classroom. I could, of course, have told him about video game design or something like that, but I don’t think he really wanted to hear it.
I thought I would write a three-part response:
- Rejecting the Question
- Answering the Question
- The Big Picture
So I started to write this essay….
Then I remembered that I seem to write about this topic every couple of years. Looking back, I see that I wrote an essay about it two and a half years ago. And in that essay I quoted a long excerpt from a post I had written two years before that. Neither piece was exactly organized into the three parts I was recently thinking about, but my ideas haven’t changed that much. Come to think of it, on re-reading those essays, I don’t think I have anything new to add. So let’s leave it at this: just follow the two links, read what I wrote in 2010 and 2008, and give it some thought. Send me email if you have further questions or ideas on the subject.