David Semitekol

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Where do you use math in your profession?

One of the most difficult challenges that math teachers face today is motivating their students. This becomes more difficult when faced with the all famous question: "What am I going to use this for?"

Help me with some real world examples of modern day math. Please let me know your profession and what type of math you use to share with our students.


Thank you everyone so much for the contributions! They are great and I wasn't expecting such a turn out. My goal is to gain enough examples and to use them at the start of each lecture. I'm hoping that these examples in the beginning of class will spark the student's interest for the reaming of the lecture and to show that that we really do use math.

There is a difference between having to learn something and wanting to learn something. When we have to learn it we just try to get through it. When we want to learn it, this is when we make breakthroughs. Stimulate the interest in students so that they want to learn math and we increase our probability in someone discovering the next breakthrough.

  • Feb 5 2012: i give a weekly lecture on what i call 'ancient geometry'. I explain students about the vesica piscis, why a week has 7 days and a clock 12 hours ( see yourself by laying 7 coins in a 'flower' pattern), how the egypts made right angles (with a 12 knot cord, 3-4-5 triangle) and i take at least half an hour talking about the perfect number 6, before continuing to some other important numbers like Phi and the fibonacci sequence, showing them nature uses math to grow. Of course i also make sidesteps to oddities like 666 ( a triangle number) when they start to ask about it.

    At almost every lecture i get a remark that i have finally sparked someone's interested in math !
    I think to get someone interested you need to show them that math is in their daily lives and not only in a distant job they maybe once will get.

    Hope this helps !
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      Feb 10 2012: would love to take your course - could be a good TEDx talk !
    • Feb 10 2012: Hooymans suggestion here opens up one of the sweetest areas of intellectual effort possible. I second the motion.
      Quote the old saw about "the unreasonable efficiency of mathematics in explaining the physical universe'.
    • Mar 1 2012: I also would love to attend your lectures! Just reading the description it sounds like a fun and fascinating class to attend. I need to see something that approximates the math, and I need to know why a problem is solved the way it is, so your class sounds like the Math Class of my dreams!
  • Feb 9 2012: Continued ......

    What Equals 100%?
    What does it mean to give MORE than 100%?

    Ever wonder about those people who say they are giving more than 100%?

    We have all been in situations where someone wants you to
    GIVE OVER 100%.

    How about ACHIEVING 101%?

    What equals 100% in life?

    Here's a little mathematical formula that might help answer these questions:


    A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

    Is represented as:

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26.


    H-A-R-D-W-O-R- K

    8+1+18+4+23+15+18+11 = 98%



    11+14+15+23+12+5+4+7+5 = 96%



    1+20+20+9+20+21+4+5 = 100%

    THEN, look how far the love of God will take you:


    12+15+22+5+15+6+7+15+4 = 101%

    Therefore, one can conclude with mathematical certainty that:

    While Hard Work and Knowledge will get you close, and Attitude will
    get you there, It's the Love of God that will. It will put you over the top!
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      Feb 9 2012: i found a better strategy:

      2+21+12+12+19+8+9+20 = 103
      • Feb 9 2012: But you can not deny the beauty of the 101% statement Kris.
        I guess everyone speaks of what he is made off huh ............ ;-)

        I hope I did not hurt your feelings Kris.
        I only meant to stretch your lips sideways ..... to make a laugh ..... ;-)
        • Feb 10 2012: Pinter translates it so well; brought up in a barn, maybe?
        • Feb 11 2012: Of course you can never deny the beauty of it. I think it's reasonable proof of the supernatural. We should make it our purpose for the love of mankind to elaborate on these numbers.

          With God, we can calculate 7+15+4 = 26%, Christ gives us 77, so... Christ > God, that's interesting. Jesus comes in at 74 and completes God to 100%. Similar to Attitude.

          Unfortunately, if we add upp rape, hate and murder, we get something like 159, so a much more powerful force of the universe than God.

          We can also see that with the hindu deity Adi Parashakti, we get 118, no love required, but he beats God straight out of the box. All we have to aknowledge is that he's proven by math to exist since he adds up to over 100%, and we know numbers like that just don't exist.

          Numbers obviously never lie, this night, I changed my faith. The deity "Xxyzixxer Tsuxyvorz Kruxozyxuvurrz" appeared to me in a dream, spilling the truth about the world and mankind. I obviously at first thought "oh my, this must be the work of the devil, the christian god have been conclusively proven over and over by poking wholes at small sections of works of science", but I did the calculation and could you believe it? 651!

          I mean, 651!!!!!!!! That's 550 MORE than any love of god can give you!!! That's over six times love of god, not to speak how many God-gods you'd need to even come close! 651/26 gives you some kind of number I'm not even sure my newfound deity approves of!

          PRAISE Xxyzixxer Tsuxyvorz Kruxozyxuvurrz!!!!!!
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        Feb 11 2012: @ Matt how about this one? @ 100 + 3= 103, not to demotivate someone but to say how simple it is !!
    • W T

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      Feb 11 2012: Nagib....very 14 + 4 + 3 + 5...nice

      Will share with some spiritual friends that did not grow up on a farm.

      Nice play-on-words.

      • Feb 13 2012: I am sorry Mary I do not see the message in these
        numbers 14 + 4 + 3 + 5

        please clarify
        • W T

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          Feb 13 2012: Ooooops.....14 + 9 + 3 + 5 = NICE

          I have enjoyed all your entries. Very uplifting, and revealing....my kids
          especially my daughter, who has a love/hate relationship with Math,
          has been enjoying your great lessons.

          Thank you Nagib, and sorry, I just typed too fast.

          Be Well
      • Feb 14 2012: You are most welcome Mary.
        I am so delighted your kids liked it.
    • Feb 11 2012: How did you get the fomular? I just copied it to give someone.
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      Feb 11 2012: That's not math, that is religion.
    • Mar 1 2012: Nagib, while that is amusing, I'd like to point out that by your math, the love of God won't get you any farther than the love of Dog.
  • Feb 9 2012: Hello David

    There is sooooo much beauty hidden in the math of our world.
    here are a few cute examples that I recently received.
    Hope you enjoy them:

    Beauty of Maths!

    1 x 8 + 1 = 9
    12 x 8 + 2 = 98
    123 x 8 + 3 = 987
    1234 x 8 + 4 = 9876
    12345 x 8 + 5 = 98765
    123456 x 8 + 6 = 987654
    1234567 x 8 + 7 = 9876543
    12345678 x 8 + 8 = 98765432
    123456789 x 8 + 9 = 987654321

    0 x 9 + 1 = 1
    1 x 9 + 2 = 11
    12 x 9 + 3 = 111
    123 x 9 + 4 = 1111
    1234 x 9 + 5 = 11111
    12345 x 9 + 6 = 111111
    123456 x 9 + 7 = 1111111
    1234567 x 9 + 8 = 11111111
    12345678 x 9 + 9 = 111111111
    123456789 x 9 +10= 1111111111

    9 x 9 + 7 = 88
    98 x 9 + 6 = 888
    987 x 9 + 5 = 8888
    9876 x 9 + 4 = 88888
    98765 x 9 + 3 = 888888
    987654 x 9 + 2 = 8888888
    9876543 x 9 + 1 = 88888888
    98765432 x 9 + 0 = 888888888

    Brilliant, isn't it?

    And look! at this symmetry:

    1 x 1 = 1
    11 x 11 = 121
    111 x 111 = 12321
    1111 x 1111 = 1234321
    11111 x 11111 = 123454321
    111111 x 111111 = 12345654321
    1111111 x 1111111 = 1234567654321
    11111111 x 11111111 = 123456787654321
    111111111 x 111111111=12345678987654321

    Now, take a look at this...


    From a strictly mathematical viewpoint:
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      Feb 11 2012: This is fascinating.....thank you for sharing.
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      Feb 11 2012: Love it!
      • Feb 12 2012: I am glad you guys liked it.
        Your kind words are a strong motivation
        for sharing and interaction.
  • Mar 1 2012: What don't we use math for? Math helps us cook, balance our budgets (or just figure out whether to buy that bling or pay that bill). Math helps us figure out when to fill the gas tank, where to get the money for that movie, and how much soap to put in the triple load washer.
    As an artist, math also helps me figure out how many sheets of aluminum I need for that sculpture, how many pounds of glass beads I need for that design, and how much all that will cost me. I use math to calculate my time and materials so I can calculate how much a piece must sell for just to break even. Beauty and wonder help me figure out how much the piece will sell for above the break even!
    As a photographer, math determines how I frame my photographs, how much I zoom in, how fast my shutter speed must be to capture that frog in mid-leap. It also helps me calculate how much it costs to produce a print in various sizes and materials, how much it costs to frame it, and how much it has to sell for.
    Math helps me convert massive numbers like one billion into something I can visualize - like $10,000,000 which is 500 new $20,000 cars. I can SEE 500 cars in any dealer's lot, so math helps me make sense of one billion pennies, and understanding one billion pennies makes understanding 7 billion people on Earth easier. If your students are younger and find $20,000 incomprehensible, math let me calculate how many blades of grass were in one inch of my yard, which let me figure out how much yard it would take to hold 7 billion blades of grass, which is about the area covered by the city of Miami, Fl. or 17,361 football fields.
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    Feb 16 2012: I am a Biologist and I was really lucky and got my first research job after second year of University before I had taken any statistics courses. Because I had learned how to conduct good experiments, I knew that I needed controls:

    I was looking at chemicals that made lavender plant roots grow so I knew that for every chemical I added I had to add the same amount of each one and that I had to repeat another plant grown without any chemical in case the conditions (light, nutrients, temperature...) affected how the roots grew instead of the chemical.

    So I got all of my data and one of the chemicals made the roots grow more on all of the plants it was tested on, but how could I know that they grew different ENOUGH from the control that this chemical might be worthwhile to use? After all, even plants treated the same way sometimes grew a lot and sometimes only grew a little. Maybe the plants had a lot of variation in root length and this trend was just a fluke? Or a result of growing the plants in a lab instead of outside?

    I needed statistics! Statistics take into account the natural amount of variation in samples and tell you if a trend is "significant" or not. I had to try to teach myself all of the formulas I needed for my research so by the time I DID take statistics the next year, I was VERY grateful for the class :)

    Statistics is what lets me know that the results of my experiments are actually MEANINGFUL, and because there are consistent amounts of variation allowed (5% usually). Scientists from around the world use the same guidelines and can therefore trust each others results.

    Math allows scientists to be objective and to share data that is meaningful according to agreed upon standards. Without it we would see "what we want to see" and would have trouble communicating with one another.
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    Feb 11 2012: Aside from using mathematics to understand trends depicted in charts and graphs, I have found that almost all research into causes and effects, regardless of field, employs statistics, which builds on mathematics. Analyzing data requires statistics but also using research in a practical setting requires understanding what the author claims and also where the flaws in the analysis might be. This sort of use of mathematics is ubiquitous in any setting in which people want to understand what works on a widespread basis (so one might scale it up) and whether a strategy works better in one setting or for one client group than for another.
    Another place mathematics comes into play is less obvious but I think more profound. Mathematics is a model for rigor in drawing conclusions from what one knows or can assume to be true. It is the opposite of "hand waving." The most important influence on my life of my mathematics training is rigor of thought. This has served me in every setting in which I have sought to understand other people's arguments or to define my own.
    Mathematics is peculiarly challenging for many people, often providing a unique experience of struggle and breakthrough. The practice and experience of struggle and breakthrough is an invaluable skill for taking on challenging work with confidence later in life- understanding how long something might take, how being stuck feels, and how to break through.
    These are some of the ways a strong mathematics background has enabled me to undertake projects and problems which may on their face be unrelated to mathematics.
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    Feb 11 2012: Beauty of Maths, see the numbers from 1 till 9 backwards
    1 x 8 + 1 = 9 ,12 x 8 + 2 = 98, 123 x 8 + 3 = 987 ,1234 x 8 + 4 = 9876 ,12345 x 8 + 5 = 98765, 123456 x 8 + 6 = 987654
    1234567 x 8 + 7 = 9876543, 12345678 x 8 + 8 = 98765432 ,123456789 x 8 + 9 = 987654321

    1.Statistics is mostly used in daily life activities

    And most basic is to manage personal finances
    future value of things to buy,
    Present Value
    Debit Credit entries , End of day balance
    And this goes on infinitely

    Ps: I find using Abacus easy for all calculations
    • Feb 12 2012: The numbers have always been there ....
      like the grains of sand on a beach.

      Is it the person who puts or arranges them in these beautiful orders that
      creates these patterns, or is he/she discovering messages setup by a
      higher intelligence creator?

      I guess every one is to make his own decision.
      I have no clue myself.
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    Feb 10 2012: David,
    Great question.
    As a executive search professional, I disguise math with charts, graphs and drawings to show certain values related to hiring trends and talent management.
    For example, my data shows the average job tenure and compares that rate to how companies create incentive programs to stay at the company for longer.
    I show data around topics of sales training recvd by the average sales professional. I graph how job changes in a person's career can predict their ability to perform effectively. I chart personal income over a 10 year period to demonstrate if a person is securing the right edcuation and experience to add value to the marketplace.

    Any time I can turn what appears to be "my opinion" into a equation, a chart, a graph, etc. , it gives the client a true perspective of the information and allows them to accept as fact easier and then act on the data.
  • Feb 10 2012: Having been a Firefighter/paramedic for 30 yrs I used math often and in a variety of ways, ie. calculating ratios of medication dosages to patient weight, water pressure friction loss in hoses, gallons per minute water flow from various nozzle sizes/ sprinkler heads/ hydrant ports, setting climbing angles for ladders (a simple rule of thumb for this one is: stand on the lowest rung and extend your arms out in front of you, you should be able to comfortably grasp the rung in front of you without stretching or bending your elbows), etc.

    But, what I found to be most advantageous was to be able to estimate well. It is a skill that most people seem to posess but are not often comfortable using. In the "real world", it appears to me, being accurate to 85 or 90% is good enough. In my work I estimated a lot of the time (emergent operations aren't always conducive to detailed analysis!). For example: How much of this structure is involved in fire and will it stay standing long enough for our crew to extinguish this fire? OR Do I have enough hose to reach from the engine in the street-through the front door-up the stairs-and into the rear bedroom where this fire is?

    Good estimating appears, to me, to be a matter of not just paying attention to the details but paying attention to everything, including the details. There is certainly a mathmatical basis to estimating and with practice estimating is a very practical skill to be used across most professions.
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    Feb 10 2012: I work as a statistician...

    Probability theory can be applied in almost any field of research...

    I used it for forecasting, predictive modeling and self-adapting decision trees.

    Where-ever you have measurements or data... it is applicable.

    check this talk:
  • Feb 5 2012: I'm an engineer. All that technology that everyone has so much fun playing with (and maybe using seriously sometimes) from music and video players to computer and computer games, trains, automobiles ... it's all made from math.
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    Feb 5 2012: As an old school photographer I use math in many ways. One is that light falls off inversely proportionate to the square of the distance traveled. This will let me know how much light I am getting from my source just by judging the distance of the light from any point with the same source after I have determined one distance with that source. No need for light meters just a bit of math to get you the correct exposure.
    Another one that is used a lot in photography is the angle of reflectance The incident ray, the reflected ray and the normal to the reflection surface at the point of the incidence lie in the same plane. These are both basic physics but it shows how we use such advanced concepts without even being smart enough to realize it : ) They are ll around us.
  • Feb 3 2012: I am a web developer and use math quite often in my day to day activities and some bigger stuff when I deal with the server side.

    Now, I am one of those gifted people who was doing algebra prior to preschool, and I can say with surety, I wasted my talent with web development, as the math isn't exactly difficult for this career, though you would be surprised (or maybe not..) how many people still can't do it

    Most of my day to day math is simple addition/subtraction for pixel calculations, with simple division for columns. I consider this automatic stuff, but I can imagine it isn't to an average kid in school.

    For the server side it really becomes critical. For those who don't know much about the web, this may be of interest to you. I'll use TED.com as an example (all estimates, by the way)..

    - Each page view (html code) in this discussion forum is roughly 53.5 kilobytes.
    - If you include images, this adds roughly 260K extra to the initial page view (images get cached on the browser after the first hit, so this extra gets removed for repeat visitors)
    - I'll guess TED gets roughly 80 million page views per month, 8 million of which are unique visitors.
    - The web server uses 12 megabytes of ram per thread (per page view at any given moment)
    - It takes 1.5 seconds for each page to be generated (this is normally faster with caching, but I'll keep it simple)

    Now, what I need to know is:
    - How much ram my web server needs to not crash on me
    - How much bandwidth my website will need to handle the traffic, not accounting for spikes

    Since I'm feeling lazy, I'll let your students figure this out.

    Things to keep in mind:

    You must calculate how much data each page requires vs. how much traffic your site gets per second vs how much bandwidth your connection has vs. how much memory your web server has (this is important for slow connections)

    A web server (normally) has a max of 32GB of RAM, so if more than ~30.5GB are used for web threads, you'll need a second server
  • Feb 3 2012: When I was a high school student, I disliked math since studying math was literally boring and even meaningless to me.
    You know, I thought that most of the lessons that I learn from the math class seemed to be not useful to my future career--a writer, lawyer.

    But these days, I regret it.
    I was wrong--but not totally wrong since I still believe that my country's education system has too many problems. All of the students care about is just higher scores than they have right now, and the worse thing is some students tend to memorize all mathematical formulas just for the exams even if they don't understand the basic principles of them. That is, math we learn in the class is divorced from reality as if theory is separated from the practice.

    If I had tried to find the beautiful value of math and studied more, I would have enjoyed the math class and tried not to obsess about the "score".

    Btw,I think you are a very good teacher who has a great attitude toward your job and your students:)
    love the way you ask about it.
  • Gail G

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    Feb 3 2012: As a math failure, I hated math. I could not understand why I needed to be able to compute more than multiples, divisions, or fractions. The idea of needing to know the square footage of my living room floor was stupid and insulting to my intelligence – even in early elementary school. Later I wondered why should I study things that an engineer would need to know when I was only interested in the geometry and fractions that a normal person would need to know (given that women were not then permitted to be engineers any more than most black students will not be permitted to be as successful as whites)? Why would I care about a train heading east at 70 MPH and another west at 35MPH? I found math B-O-R-I-N-G and a huge waste of my time. I saw it as a way for teachers to tell me how worthless I was and how pitifully empty my life would be.

    Then I FINALLY left high school and, vowing never to enter another schoolroom, I began to learn the JOY of learning. This included the joy of math. Math, I discovered is not a bunch of boring formulas. Yes, those formulas are part of it, but they are a fun part of it. My change of heart came when I understood that math is a language – a language that tells stories as well as any novel can. It just tells different stories. It tells stories that do not lie – unlike most of all else that I had been told.

    I found that teachers (and others) over-simplified and took all of the fun out of it. By making the object to learn what was expected, rather than to ask questions that math might be able to answer, my humanity was being devalued and diminished. I knew that my time was being wasted, and that insult to my integrity was deeply painful. It was a constant reminder of how fruitless it was to bother because there was no future in it for me.

    Continued in next post:
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    Feb 3 2012: This is a photo of a sculpture I made with the students at a centre for difficult kids. These young adults were expelled from numerous schools for a veriety of different reasons but in general they all had difficulty learning.
    I tried to design the project to encompass as many of the subjects in the curriculm as possible. We covered ecology, history, art, theology, physics, biology, literiture, computer aided design, green screen technology, photography, woodwork, engineering and math. The sculpture is depicting the mythical creature the Chimera. After looking at the anatomy of three animals, lions, goats and snakes we were presented with the problem of how to interprate organic shapes using straight and flat peices of found wood. we had to break the structure down into simplified mathematical shapes .How do we create a tube for example ? we construct hexagons or octagons or decagons and build the illusion of a tube connecting flat planes. Mathematical equations had to be sketched out in chalk on the concrete to work out angles for these shapes. I believe that maths can be taught effectivly through practical design problems and physics.
    I feel this aesthetic learning offers an intuitive, deeper understanding of the implications that these symbols we call numbers have on the real world.
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    Feb 3 2012: Is was in sales for 10 years and of course, used a lot of fractions to calculate margins...
    For kids, I'd guess this could translate into a "lemonade stand" where kids would be responsible to buy their raw materials then put a price tag.
    At home, I dream of building a tree house with my son, which would imply simple calculations such as calculating the surface (how many wooden planks would I need for ... squared meters) and also geometry (angles).

    Of course your question depends on the children's age.

    PS: As far as your question is about making kids actually like maths, Jump math is an interesting new way of teaching and it seems to bring great results, even with kids "who are not good at it". Check this out here: http://jumpmath1.org/
    Just for this, I wished I lived in Canada or the USA so my kid could be taught maths following this method!
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    Feb 2 2012: Something that may interest your younger students because it's pretty 'cool' (I use these examples in the different public speaking situations I've had back in my old high school to promote education to get into "awesome government jobs"):

    1) Working with the ATF: Certain Criminal Organizations in this country hire lower/middle-class Americans to buy weapons and place them in trunks of cars for a cash stipend. An Organization-member will ask said normal, every-day American if they would like to make a quick $5,000. Economically unlucky American agrees: Takes the $25,000 offered by the Organization-member and buys $20,000 worth of semi-automatic rifles (under his name), places them in the trunk of a specified car and never sees the Organization-member or the weapons again.

    Two years later, one of the semi-automatic rifles that the American purchased is found in a murder-scene in Mexico; the victim being, say, a VP of an important International Trade group. Now that serial number is tracked, through time of purchase allllll the way back to the American that bought it. Through that long process: statistics, physics, and even chemistry is used. Tracing such a thing over a long period uses variations of math by many different government agencies, like the CIA.

    2) Working with the DEA/ICE: Narcotics have a simple way of finding sources. My example is cocaine: You can chemically and mathematically deduce the cocaine an agent picks up off of a dealer to tell how close to the source you are. If it's 100% pure, he is the source. If it's 75% pure, he's cut it up with less pure cocaine he has been selling as well. If it's 50% pure, you're even further from the source and said dealer has been cutting it up with the different providers he is working under.. etc etc. The further from pure, the further from the source. Find the source, you get to kick his door in and arrest him.

    Good luck with this one David. Hope I helped!
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    Mar 1 2012: i use math whenever i buy something... or cook.... or generally when i am existing and have a need to navigate this world.
  • Mar 1 2012: As a math tutor, I use math every day. My students often ask me if or how they'll use math later in life. While they may use a few of the concepts, most of the students will rarely directly apply the majority of the formulas they learn. So why should they learn math? A student should learn math for similar reasons an athlete lifts weights. While an athlete will never do a bench press in the middle of a game, the athlete trains with weights to get stronger. The atlete benefits indirectly from the weight training. Similarly, a student learning math is doing mental pushups. While the student may never directly use the exact formulas later in life, the student is learning how to make connections between concepts, find patterns, and develop the study skills necessary to understand more complex topics. The students is training for the moment when he or she encounters a subject that is actually interesting. I've found that this analogy helps a lot of my students understand why math (and other subjects too!) is important even though they may never directly use it later in life.
  • Mar 1 2012: When I was in school, the teachers would never explain WHY a formula was, they only said this is the formula. I need -need!- to know WHY. Why do I multiply instead of divide? Why do exponents cancel out? Once I understood why, how was simple. I think the biggest reason people struggle with math is because teachers teach in the style they themselves learn in, but there are many styles of learning, so students who need the WHY get lost if the teacher isn't also a WHY person. I think it is just as important to match learning and teaching styles as it is to match knowledge levels.

    We have wonderful assessment tools that help us understand how personality types learn and interact. We should be using them to match students to the right teachers!
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    Feb 29 2012: Math and Physics is the duct tape that holds the universe together.

    As a math major, you might guess that I use math mostly when my girlfriend is out shopping with my money and asks me "what is 30% of 125 dollars?"

    Of course !
  • Feb 29 2012: I have a degree in Information Systems Engeneering and I'm studyng some Physics. I work as a consultant on some HP software technologies.
    I found Math and Algebra empowered the mind with some ways of thinking you would not accomplished other way. I think one example is the first subtle and beaty concept I came upon: infinistesimals and the definion of function limit.
    When a debate comes at work about some "yes/no" issue or some steps between that "yes/no", I always could see a continous of states and conditions in between. Money and time to implement seals the things and delimits what is feasable. But, sometimes is good to undestand issues and I beleave me being able to see this has something to do whith beeing able to see epsilon becoming as little as I want and always beeing able to find (a some cost, of course) a suitable 'h' that let's me approach as much a I wanted.
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    Feb 28 2012: I am a Mental Health Specialist for the Pressley Ridge School for the Deaf. I spend my entire day designing, implementing and upgrading Individual Education Plans, Positive Behavior Support Plans, Functional Behavior Assessments etc. etc.

    It's all about behavior, mental and emotional stability.

    And, of course, when I was in High School and college I griped through my math classes muttering that I'll, "never use this in my real life ever!"

    I learned American Sign Language, Literature and Psychology- hooray for no math! I thought.

    Now, math doesn't bother me-- I quite enjoy it now that I'm older.

    But in my job I often have to use math for behavioral data collection. When one of my students has a negative or positive mark on their Daily Progress Narratives then it is calculated into a percent of their day, this data is then calculated into weekly updates and monthly updates. All of it turns into numbers and averages that are spread over graphs and Individual Education Plans.

    In many cases the words are no longer even seen!

    I'm fairly certain a lot of the psych field turns into numbers at some point or another.
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    Feb 28 2012: Perhaps the best gift that Mathematics trains the learner to think through problems by breaking them down into simper terms. Also helps your mind to see correlations between seemingly unrelated ideas.
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    Feb 27 2012: I think a very important message to get across to your students is the use of math/numbers as a proof of an idea. Most of the time, people argue with emotion, which really has no ground, but once numbers get involved, an opinion can hold its own. My degree is in structural engineering and my profession is construction management. Recently, I have been working with a number of initiatives within our organization to optimize work, both in an effort to save money and create a healthier environment for the workers. My utilizing numbers/statistics, I can identify what habits lead to safer environments. More importantly, by manipulating (not in a bad way) the information I have at hand, I can determine how small a change (investment) can be made to deliver the greatest result.

    To sum things up, using math as a proving ground for arguments will open up a whole new method of discussion. Expose your students to this and I am sure it will peak their interest in the mathematics.
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    Feb 27 2012: The most dangerous use of mathematics in non academic circles is perhaps the retail % price discount.
    It's amazing how much money you can spend by saving money on discounted products.
  • Feb 24 2012: I'm only 22 and you may not find my insights to be credible enough to consider, but math is VERY relevant to many professions or further studies that require math.

    the LSAT, GMAT, GEM require math. Although it may not be calculus, it is the coherent logic that you have to compute (quickly) to solve many questions and problems. I was told that these math questions are involved in exams like the LSAT because it reflects your level of coherent logic. It makes you think on your feet, helps you theorize new ideas, organize information/data, etc etc.. Pro gamers, athletes, even most successful business have proven to have high computing capabilities.
  • Feb 23 2012: If your going to explain math from a pure mathmathecal view point, yes that's hard
    But look around you math is everywhere every physiques formula is a probable example, who don't know the example of car A and B are racing,
    A has speed x
    B has speed y
    B start ahead of A by distance d
    How long will it take A to pass B
    That's a simple physiques formula, could be used as an example.
    Not only physiques there is biology, chimistry, programing, etc...
    Math is everywhere in anything we use, even the sofa I'm sitting on is built using math
    I can't think of anything not related to math, one way or the other.
    One of math fascinating math implementation is in natural inspired algorithm
    there is a software called netlogo with lots of pre programed examples, a bit hard for kids but can be used by the teacher in a session or two to given students some live solved problems
    The software can be found here
  • Feb 23 2012: The same question troubles me in my student's period.I was asked to learn math,but nobody told me why,why I had to learn it.So I cannot enjoy my learning.As grows,I gradually realize that math is not only a kind of tool but also ability of thinking.You are a good teacher who knows to spark students' interest.Good luck to you!
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    Feb 22 2012: Great question David. I was so disconnected to Math in school I fell asleep in my final Math exam.
    I learn through experience, so need to be able to apply in order to experience, in order to learn. My life food and passion is learning so I have created my life, to continue my learning through experience and in turn, create experiences for others that enjoy a similar palette.

    "Making Ideas Tangible" through Working Art is how we do it. Our most recent structure intersects, Art, Architecture, Education and Renewables ="Interactive Hard Art". Every type of Math was used throughout the fabric of the Design, Construction, Installation and ongoing development as an Educational tool, functional sunshade and community Art element. We are working with the Principals and Teachers, inclusive of, Art, Science, Math, Geography and History to develop fully integrated curriculum and lesson plans (using Promethean Planet as just one of the mediums) that align to the IB program frames. The design holds ancient and universal truths, wisdom and knowledge, with an entrance through the Sun's highway and the 12 zodiac constellations that the sun passes through during its annual cycle. This piece of “Interactive Hard Art” exposes our young people to rudimentary universal knowledge in a playful, engaging, artistic and creative way that allows them to think and apply their unique expression to their learning process. The more we integrate meaningful learning possibilities through Works of functional Art the more we can demonstrate a Return on investment that allows for the production of more one-of-a-kind, considerate and bespoke, tools for our young people to become productive and creative global agents.

    Integrating a rudimentary solar lighting system is next. An article published in "Go Green Kids & Parents" International Magazine can be reviewed on pages 5 & 6 at www.gogreenkp.com and for further information you can visit our dedicated project web site at www.interactivehardart.com.
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    Feb 22 2012: The sad truth might read as...
    Algebra will be enough mathematics to get one through the day (in America anyway).

    All of that calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, discrete math, etc? Unnecessary!

    The purpose of taking a math course is to qualify to take the next math course. Yikes.
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      Feb 23 2012: As you might find out while reading many comments from different people in this conversation, even it may not be clear at first, the matematics is in my opinion quite useful in many ways of our life. Of course it depends on the way you live your life. Truth is that for lots of people the basic algebra is everything they have ever needed. On the other hand when you imagine all things you use every day such as your cellphone, iPad, any kind of electronics in general, the Internet, the computer unit in your car controlling the engine, system of distributing electricity to your house - behind all these thing you would find mathematics. There are lots of people worldwide who use more difficult methods of mathematics than basic algebra in their occupation. So if you have a feeling that mathematics is useless for you (besides basic algebra) you might be right, but the statement that calculus and other methods in mathematics is useless in general is in my opinion completely wrong and I (and as I believe - many others) simply cannot agree with it.
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    Feb 15 2012: In my day to day work as a project manager, one of the challenges I face is to get a large variety of professions to “speak” the same language. To get them to understand how their area of expertise and the things that they work with, affects the other areas in the company. Architects and economists, environmental managers and key account managers….
    It does not require that much arithmetic. But it does require a very acute sense of the creation and transformation of denominators and variables. You need to understand the math of the numbers and figures, without actually computing them.
    Personally I don’t like to do math. But the understanding of mathematics allows me to be part in projects and issues that are both exciting and challenging. I can be part of and help guide operations whose mathematics I understand, but could never perform.
    15 years after high school, I found the answer to the question I used to challenge my teacher with.
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    Feb 15 2012: We all use math when we count our money, which is why most of us work at all. That right there should create some interest in mathematics, right?

    While you don't want to encourage careers in illicit finance, you might point out that people like the good folks at Enron and guys like Bernie Madoff can undertake complex mathematical schemes that get into astronomical numbers. You might lower your voice, squint at them, and ask them what other mathematical conspiracies might exist?

    You could tell them to look into Japanese sumo and the system of cheating used in matches. One can prove its existence though statistical analysis. What other lies can one uncover beneath allegedly holy shrouds with mathematics?

    Mathematics is the cornerstone of the Quadrivium -- mathematics, geometry, music, and astronomy. Mathematics presents the number, which is an idea that exists outside space-time. Geometry puts the number into space. Music puts the number into time. Astronomy puts the number in space-time. That might fascinate some students.
  • Feb 14 2012: Escrow Officer (real estate closings), Bookkeeper, Accounting. All due to a great 7-8th grade math teacher, who let us do extra credit and get A+++ in the course. His motto - practice makes perfect.
  • Feb 14 2012: I am a fellow teacher working on my graduate degree in Curriculum and Instruction and I would love to relay a message to your students. Did you know that math can lead to less homework? It's true! Teachers use something called "data-driven instruction," which means that we analyze feedback from students to make decisions in the classroom. Right now, I am using the mean of a set of quiz scores to determine the standard deviation, and hence, the comparable effectiveness of extra practice done at home vs. extra practice done at school. What I've learned so far is that students who do well on homework are those who do well on quizzes--not the other way around. I'm changing my homework policy based on the analyzed data from multiple data sets, none of which would have been possible without math.
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    Feb 14 2012: Ideas to help kids see the power of math is blending their mathematical learning with practical tools. I heard once of a geometry teacher who taught the use of computer-drafting software (I think it was Rhino) simultaneously with teaching geometrical axioms. Not only did the students immediately see the truth of those axioms and thereby grasp the concepts easier, but they also learned to use real-life software useful in certain careers.

    Microsoft Excel (or any spreadsheet for that matter) is another way to integrate real-world tools with mathematical education. Applying algebra to get a spreadsheet to do the calculations you want it to, or using a spreadsheet to visually represent data, is a powerful thing. I have my (2-year technical) college students use Excel regularly as a mathematical modeling tool.

    One of the most memorable examples of math education for kids I've seen is my fifth-grade teacher, who had us building model rockets and using trigonometry to estimate how high they flew. First, we would stand 100 feet away from the launchpad, sight the apogee of the rocket using a special protractor, then look up the value of the tangent of that angle (this was in 1980 -- we used trig tables rather than hand calculators) and multiply by 100 to find the rocket's height. Very cool stuff, and it took all the fear away from trigonometry when I encountered it much later in school.
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    Feb 14 2012: Simpler forms of math are used by technicians in a variety of fields to perform diagnosis on complex systems. Understanding the mathematical relationships between variables allows one to determine potential causes by careful analysis of the effects.

    One example that comes to mind is a diagnosis I once made on a leaking compressed air system at a commercial facility. Compressed air was leaking out of the pipes somewhere in this expansive system, but we did not know where. We connected a pressure sensor to the main pipe and used a computer to graph pressure versus time. This revealed an inverse-exponential curve, which is precisely what you would expect if the air pressure at the leak were falling with time -- an air leak occurring at some location where the leak pressure was constant would produce a linear drop of main supply pressure over time (based on differentiating the Ideal Gas Law: dP/dt = dn/dt R T / V). We knew this system had pressure-regulated as well as unregulated segments to it, and from this analysis of the pressure drop we could tell the leak must have been in one of the unregulated segments of piping. This knowledge allowed us to eliminate large portions of the piping and focus our search on a smaller part of the system, to find the leak faster than if we searched the entire piping system.

    A subset of mathematics education is estimation. A person who can rapidly estimate quantities is able to apply basic arithmetic to a wide variety of problems in life (time to arrive at a destination, costs versus returns of financial decisions). An understanding of probability is crucial to making intelligent decisions involving risk and reward. As I like to tell my students, lotteries are a form of taxation on the math-illiterate.

    Simply put, math is a powerful tool for understanding the physical world around us. Who wouldn't want to have a powerful tool at their disposal to help them make good decisions in life?
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    Feb 14 2012: Here are some examples:

    * Fourier analysis of waves: Jean Baptiste Fourier discovered that any repeating waveform is mathematically equivalent to a series of sinusoids (sine and cosine waves) added together at different amplitudes, phase shifts, and harmonic (integer-multiple) frequencies. When you look at a graphical equailizer on a stereo system and see the individual bargraphs showing how much of each frequency comprises the sound, you are seeing the results of a Fourier transform function applied to that wave. Fourier transforms work for *all* waves, not just pressure waves (sound). In machine vibration analysis, for example, technicians and engineers use Fourier tranforms to decompose a vibration waveform into its different harmonic frequencies, those decomposed signals holding clues about the health of the machine.

    * Charles Proteus Steinmetz applied the notation of imaginary (vs. real) numbers to the solution of alternating-current electric circuits near the turn of the last century. His mathematical contribution to the then most empirical subject of electrical engineering revolutionized the field. As it turns out, complex numbers work wonderfully well to represent electrical signals (there are those waves again!) changing in time. Technicians and engineers in the electrical industries use Steinmetz's principles continually to calculate voltage and current quantities in power systems.

    * The calculus principles of integration and differentiation are widely used in automatic control systems. Differentiation is used to calculate the rapidity of some variable's change, for the purpose of damping rapid changes. Integral is used to calculate how much control action is necessary to bring a variable back to its "setpoint" (target value), by integrating the error (variable-setpoint) over time. Technicians and engineers "tune" control systems by adjusting the coefficient multipliers of the differentiation and integration functions to achieve stable control.
  • Feb 13 2012: here is another cute story to tell to your young students.
    is there any design behind the shape of the digits as
    written in the English alphabet. namely 1234567890

    to see that please write the digits using straight lines.
    the design is that the shape of every digit indicates
    its value by an equivalent number of "angles".

    1 has only one angle. 2 has two and 3 has three
    angles. Try out the rest of the digits 4 5 6 7 8 9 0

    its interesting i think.
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      Feb 13 2012: 6 and 9

      1 and 7
      • Feb 14 2012: Hi Kris

        1 has clearly one angle pointing to the left. just remember its 1 not "I"
        and 7 remember how we used to write it before the digital calculator came about.
        7 with the small horizontal dash in its middle.

        I still don't remember the exact shapes of 6 and 9.
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    Feb 11 2012: i am a anesthesiologist, when i give anesthsia to my patient, i must know how much medicine my patient needs, and when i should add some, for patient's safty, i must know math first, although i just use simple math in my work, but it's really important to me and my patients, you can't predict what you will do in future, math is a basic skill we should take.I hope your students can know how important the math is.
  • Feb 10 2012: Kudos, for a noble undertaking.I worked for many years on missiles , specializing in control systems, reliability, and such.
    I particularly enjoyed, and used feedback control technology (Start with Norbert Wiener's classic "Cybernetics" for a good orientation there).
    Then there was numerical analysis, particularly numerical integration. Skim through calculus to motivate that, and go for the references to pioneers: Runge, Kutta, Simpson (all of these will have "Rules" quoted in the literature).
    Finally, one needs dynamics and mechanics to get into really fun work, like putting a missile from, say, Hawaii launching down next to a given site on Luna, (or Mars, or such...).
    Showing such possible future undertakings as these, to interested students, will fire some of them up to "blast off", I would guarantee.
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    Feb 10 2012: I work in IT, mostly with IVR (Interactive Response Units) design. My work is to understand how clients are using those systems through numbers!

    We collect usage data from every interaction and then we mix and match all the data through (usually basic) statistic models and use a lot of perception.

    "Is this prompt too long (as the client would become impatient?)"
    "Is this menu confusing? Where are the clients going?"
    "How can we improve the overall experience of the user?"
    "How can we tweak phrasing so it will result in better understanding of the companies process?"

    Those are questions that we try to answer every day. We gather data, treat it, count, group, calculate and forecast.

    The numbers gives us the power of being creative, but effectively, since we are able to test and prove the results of something that otherwise would be a guess.

    So, we try to understand this part of the world and people through many mathematical forms. Oh, and it's always awesome to know that you're changing (hopefully for better) this little aspect (how they connect with companies, have their problems solved, buy things and voice complaints) in the lives of millions of people each day.
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      Feb 10 2012: you are free to press the little flag. but politeness also asks for not polluting a conversation with your unrelated observations.
    • Feb 10 2012: "or open exchange of ideas is stifiled, antithetical to the puropse of TED"

      Just as one should not stifle pointing out the dead end in ideas.

      "perhaps one should admire the work and artistry behind the comment"

      Perhaps you should admire the creative approach he used to respond to such an obvious dead end theory instead of complaining about it.
  • Feb 10 2012: As a school administrator use mathematics all day long. I analyze student growth data, averages, research stats, creating schedules, class size vs. staff/student ratios, calories on the lunch menu, budgets, etc. I also sometimes get the chance to teach math to students needing extra support.
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    Feb 10 2012: As a physician, I use math daily to calculate drug doses, half lives, metabolic rates, and many other functions. In life I find myself thinking of things in terms of entropy, heat capacity, inertia, energy of activation, gaussian distribution, and many other concepts learned in math, chemistry, and physics - all of which greatly help me to understand the world I am living and dealing with.
  • Feb 9 2012: here is a wonderful math tool:

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    Feb 4 2012: When don't I use math in my profession? I am an artist and heavily rely on mathematics to plan and execute my installations. Computer programs such as Rhino and Illustrator help to make it easier, but there is still a great deal of basic arithmetic, algebra and some calculus.

    I believe that my colorful work especially appeals to kids, teens and young adults - feel free to show them some of my projects, we also have a vimeo channel that shows the teamwork that goes into making such precise massive works of art. In the next few weeks, my website will be changing to include schematic architectural drawings and diagrams that we develop during the planning stages and use as working charts during installation. So keep checking in :)
  • Feb 4 2012: hi
  • Feb 4 2012: hi
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    Feb 4 2012: I've found that I have never needed more than addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions and decimals to make it successfully though my career. The sad thing is that these functions are often too much for the average person in American society.

    Math has most often come in handy with big ticket purchases and investments that requires someone to calculate out monthly payments and interest rates. When I was buying my first car, the dealer miscalculated my interest rate and quoted a monthly payment about $20 a month higher than it should be. I caught it immediately. He said that $20 per month wasn't such a big deal. I retorted that $20 per month puts an extra $1000 or so bucks in HIS pocket over the life of a five year loan. That's a very big deal.

    Unless you can calculate out compounded interest, monthly payments, and simple interest rates, you will be taken advantage of at some point when buying a car, buying a home, or investing.
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    Feb 3 2012: Failing :)
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    Feb 3 2012: Thank you everyone so much for the contributions! They are great and I wasn't expecting such a turn out. My goal is to gain enough examples and to use them at the start of each lecture. I'm hoping that these examples in the beginning of class will spark the student's interest for the reaming of the lecture and to show that that we really do use math.

    Thanks again and keep them coming!
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    Feb 3 2012: I could not survive without Math.

    I need an understanding of number order to find addresses as I drive around town.

    I need mental math to calculate which is a best buy at the groceries. If a 24 ounce package is on sale for $4.99 is that a better buy than say two 12 ounce packages that each cost $2.65?

    I need it to scale down a pancake recipe I have that feeds eight. Some mornings I only make pancakes for 4 or 5 people, so I need to divide fractions for this.

    Math is very important!!

    By the way David, are you familiar with Project M.I.N.D. (Math is not difficult)? It was started as a grant project by a Nova University professor many years ago. I don't know if it is still around.

    Also, here is something I used to love to do with my little ones each morning.(kdgtn and 1st grade)

    Calendar Skills: Let's say today is the 28 of the month. I would ask them to make 28 using coins. I would ask for three ways (1 quarter 3 pennies, 3 dimes 1 nickel 3 pennies.....etc)

    Kids really looked forward to this each morning.

    When learning fractions, we would make pizzas out of construction paper. I precut the paper into huge circles beforehand, they decorated and made their own paper toppings,

    They had to divide the pizza up into 1/2's or 1/3's or 1/4's and then choose toppings, Later, they had to write about what they did. For example....My pizza is one third pepperoni, one third cheese and one third mushrooms. I always found that taking a Math enrichment activity and turning it into a writing assignment really paid off.

    Afterwards, I filled a bulleting board with all their colorful pizzas and writing.......I loved to decorate my class with kids work.

    How about you?
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      Feb 3 2012: Hi Mary,

      Thank you for the link for project M.I.N.D. I will have to take a look at it.

      I love your real world examples with your kids. My area of interest is in college math and higher, perhaps starting with high school. For example: algebra, calculus and trigonometry.

      My concern is with the student's interest when approaching these subjects. They simply have no desire to learn the material and they end up just muddling through it. In some cases it causes students to change their major just to avoid the required math.

      There is a difference between having to learn something and wanting to learn something. When we have to learn it we just try to get through it. When we want to learn it, this is when we make breakthroughs. Stimulate the interest in students so that they want to learn math and we increase our probability in someone discovering the next breakthrough.
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        Feb 3 2012: Hey David, do you have smartboards in your classrooms?

        Because if you do, then the possibilities are endless. The board allows you to display any website on it....so if you do your research, then you'll always have a great opening for class.

        The internet has made teaching much more interesting for the teacher and the student. But still, it is the teachers integrity and devotion to the subject matter and his students that decide the outcome.

        Also, remember about www.kahnacademy.org. Teachers, as well as students have access to free tutoring sessions. You might pick up some ideas on how to present your material there.

        I wish you all the best David!!!
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    Feb 3 2012: i'm a computer programmer, and ... seldom.

    last time i had to solve a linear equation system. decided to use LU decomposition, just for the sake of it.

    i often have to work with dates, ie, what is the closest thursday of a given day. it involves modulo 7 arithmetic, and occasionally ceiling / floor function.

    sometimes rounding tasks come up, which involves logarithm and ceiling / floor. (like: round number to have 3 significant digits, like 121 or 655million or 0.000615)

    business calculations tend to contain trend-fitting. linear and exponential trends are very common. example question: what is the anuual growth % if the value went up from 1000 to 1300 in 3 years (hint: not 10%).
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    Feb 3 2012: I am a sculptor. I use geometry to create large scale sculptures in modular parts.
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    Feb 2 2012: I took four semesters of calculus, plus classes in statistics, geometry etc as part of my engineering and business education and profession. I cannot remember a day in my working life that did not require an understanding of math, whether I was dealing with molecules and energy or finance and business operations.

    And I cannot remember a day in my life when understanding mathematics was not as important in my non-working life as my ability to use language. Does anyone think they can buy a car, a home, borrow money, shop at a store etc without having a quantitative understanding of what they are doing?

    So you can try to scare the Hell out of them:

    Without math (unless you are among that tiny number of people who are very talented, creative or beautiful, or a criminal) you will probably, for your entire life:
    1. Not get a job that pays enough for you to lead a comfortable life, with a nice home, nice car, nice things for your family etc
    2. Not be a smart consumer and probably be taken advantage of when you buy things or borrow money
    3. Not be able to effectively invest your earnings to accumulate wealth
    4. Not be able to easily understand the increasingly complex world that you live in which is dominated by science and economics.

    On the positive side:

    1.Show them how their passions and interests are tied to math. Even if you are an artist or a writer, you still need to understand the concept of value and how to quantify it.

    2.Take them through the days of people as they go through their lives, buying things, understanding current events, understanding money, undestanding calories, understanding the climate. etc.Almost every important decision they make in their lives will be done better if they understand math.

    3.Give them books to read that have quantitative as well as qualitative content.

    4.Have them play games that require math (Monopoly ?)

    5. Pair up, or group, students with low math interest/skills with those who have high interest/skills

    Good Luck