The university I went to did not have a particularly rigorous math program. I took college algebra, and higher math classes were offered, but there was also a “mathematical experience” course offered. I knew many students who opted for this class.
My understanding of the class was that it was very basic — practically just arithmetic. My fellow students who opted to take it instead of algebra said it was a very easy way to fulfill the math credit requirements.
From those students, and others, I’ve heard many complaints about math — sentiments that it wasn’t practical knowledge, that algebra, geometry and trigonometry were not applicable to daily life. Who needs to be able to calculate angles, or solve those word problems so many people hated in class?
Well, turns out, I need to. I have noticed that I have been using my modest math skills almost on a daily basis.
Although I find myself using math regularly, I also have found myself wanting to go back and review my old math textbooks — brush up on my problem-solving skills.
There are many daily tasks that don’t require any knowledge of numbers and how to use them, such as much of my computer work, playing with my kid, taking walks, reading books, etc. But there are many daily tasks and hobbies that do — cooking, sewing, gardening and similar activities all take basic math skills.
Sewing in particular often has me wanting to learn more geometry and trigonometry — the curves and adjustments to make apparel patterns fit is complicated, and I often have to guess rather than having a full grasp on adjusting angles.
While I haven’t been knitting much lately, my mother often talks to me about her projects, and the amount of math that goes into them. Calculating stitch patterns, yarn size and length all come into play.
Sometimes the math in knitting gets particularly tricky, and she calls on my father, who taught math in higher education, to help her set up and solve some of the equations.
Most recently I had to flex my math muscles when working on a building project, and the calculations took more time than I would have liked.
The project in question is building a sauna. The mathematics in question were calculating roof angles so girder and rafters would line up at the proper pitch and sit stably on the posts.
It was pretty basic triangle calculations, and I got it done (so far it seems correctly, I double and triple checked the math using different methods). But it was more difficult than it would have been when I was doing math homework regularly.
It made me want to do math homework again — it was a part of my education I always enjoyed. The math levels that I achieved always made sense and required logical thinking.
My recent building experiences made me reflect on how often I use math and how useful it is in daily life.
It also made me appreciate even more what hard work construction is — not only does it require physical labor and skill in using tools, but also a firm understanding and ease of use of math and physics.
Other hobbies and everyday activities that take some math now stand out to me — paying my taxes and shopping and budgeting obviously take math. But so does creating art, doing crafts and so much more.
Next time I hear someone complaining about how their math classes were pointless because they never use math, I will wonder how often they need those skills without even realizing it.