Math Awareness Month: Math Matters


Math is often maligned as irrelevant to real life (perhaps most often by students on their way to math class) when the opposite is true. One of the most useful tools ever, math is essential in our lives and key to our survival, from the mathematical concepts behind powerful computers to the math skills we rely on every day without realizing it. Crucial for success, mathematics and the problem-solving skills gained by doing math can also help students tackle problems in many other areas. Let’s look at a few reasons why math is so important.

What is math and where did it come from?

More than a set of numerals, math is a conceptual approach to the reality we find ourselves in, along with the ongoing attempt to accurately measure, scientifically study, structurally understand, and ultimately sculpt that reality.

Many thousands of years ago, the earliest mathematical principles probably came naturally out of daily life and survival necessities (e.g., “How many fish did we catch today? Is that more than yesterday?” or “Here, you take half of this pile of wood”). The earliest records of math we’ve found so far are scattered around the world, interestingly at about the same time: around 4,000 years ago, from Mesopotamia and Egypt to India and China to Mexico and Central America.

Mathematics as a practice seems to have become more advanced and organized around 2,500 years ago in ancient Greece. Arithmetic, geometry, and algebra became essential to farming, engineering, commerce, city planning, scientific study, calendars, and many other crucial aspects of life. Math intersected usefully with ancient astronomy and physics; Indian mathematicians described a planetary solar system and defined gravity a thousand years before western scientists did in the Enlightenment. Over the centuries, math combined with scientific discoveries to help civilization advance through the Industrial age and into the Information age.

Math is now studied and practiced as a group of sciences, ranging from the three pure math disciplines (analysis, geometry, algebra) to branches of applied mathematics like computational math or particle mechanics. These various branches of math address issues like measurements, quantities, sets, relationships, magnitudes, attributes, and forms through an abstract representational system of symbols, formulas, and theories.

What is Math Awareness Month?

Each year in April, we celebrate Mathematics Awareness Month, to increase appreciation for mathematics, help people better understand what math is, and inspire people to study and apply math in their lives. At its inception in 1986, President Ronald Reagan said:

“The application of mathematics is indispensable in such diverse fields as medicine, computer sciences, space exploration, the skilled trades, business, defense, and government. To help encourage the study and utilization of mathematics, it is appropriate that all Americans be reminded of the importance of this basic branch of science to our daily lives.”

Math helps you:
  • Stay on schedule: Knowing math helps you tell time.
  • Keep a budget: Math skills are essential for managing finances, an important life skill.
  • Feed yourself: Math helps with meals, from measuring to planning to inventory to cooking.
  • Get work done: Almost any job will use math in some way.
  • Be smart: Many studies have shown that learning, knowing, and using math skills is good for your brain and promotes a range of critical thinking skills.
  • Solve problems: The analytical thinking and reasoning skills used for math are powerful problem-solving skills in life.
  • Appreciate nature: From Fibonacci flowers to hexagonal honeycombs, math is on gorgeous display throughout the natural world.
  • Play sports: Keep score, manage time, strategize for victory.
  • Go the distance: Travel requires math on many fronts, including routing and tracking.
Why is math important for students to learn?

An immeasurably powerful tool to wield in the world (we go into many of math’s practical uses below so read on), math is actually very good for your brain. Like hitting the gym works your muscles, doing math whips your brain into shape, building all kinds of healthy, beneficial skills and strengthening the very structure of the brain by protecting brain cells, building gray matter, and more.

How can math help keep people safe?

Math skills help architects and engineers create safe buildings and keep people safe on bridges and roads. Math goes into supply chain logistics, electrical power grids, communication networks, transportation infrastructures, and many other aspects of civilization that ensure better safety. People use math to make safer vehicles, better medicines, effective footwear, strong protective equipment, surveillance systems, air purification devices, and countless other things that support health and safety.

Is math a universal language?

Humans have used math to help us understand the universe, space, time, and energy. We may never know for sure whether math is the language of the universe, but it’s interesting to consider that question and to wonder how close math comes to a “theory of everything” (a potential definition for the coherent framework of all known aspects of the universe). At least here on earth, math serves as a useful and essentially universal form of communication, a method for understanding in mathematical terms that transcends culture, language, dialect, or context.

Can you balance your budget without math?

One budget + zero math = no, you can’t: math is a prerequisite for anything related to money. In some ways, the two evolved together. Understanding math, not just using a calculator but comprehending even basic mathematical and economic concepts, goes a long way toward helping young people thrive in the real-world economy, manage money effectively, and achieve financial success. From compound interest to credit cards to investments, algebra class helps with money.

Does every career use math?

Yes! You don’t need to be an astronomer or an architect to find yourself frequently using math at work: no matter what you’re working on, whether you’re running a hotel or a lemonade stand, most jobs will rely on math at some point. Chefs, doctors, nurses, teachers, attorneys, artists, engineers, musicians, scientists, programmers, designers, pilots, gardeners – everybody uses math to get things done.

More math-driven areas:
  • Fashion design and interior design: Taking measurements, estimating amounts, calculating costs and profits, meeting the exact demands of clients, and many other aspects of design fields require math.
  • Computer science, video games, space travel: Algorithms and rockets don’t build themselves! Students of math can become computer scientists inventing amazing space robots or engineers coding their own new video games. With math, the sky’s not the limit.
  • Weather forecasting: Utilizing probability concepts, math is fundamental to weather analysis and prediction.
  • Music and dance: Children acquire math skills when they listen to music, sing, play an instrument, or learn to dance. Dance coordination or coordinated performance requires math, and math is closely related to music.
  • Urban planning: From planning and budgeting to scheduling and building and much more, the complex layers of urban planning all relate to and depend upon math.

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