The prompt for this week of new blogging is “misconceptions.”

Not arithmetic

I think the biggest misconception I encounter is that math is arithmetic. I try to persuade students that arithmetic is really irrelevant to mathematicians. Although we learn some mathematical modeling by using  arithmetic, saying that modeling is arithmetic is like saying that Sudoku is arithmetic. Using the ten symbols for digits (I include zero because it’s just so handy, thank you some arabic guy ) is not arithmetic. Using x^2 is not arithmetic. (Sorry if my latex comes out brown again, I don’t know why, must be flesh-colored for more aesthetic use. LaTex, really? mathematician joke, obviously.)

I tell a (true) story about my mathematician friend who created a math model for regeneration of red blood cells, then was startled when I wanted to put in numbers to check for validity. He ended up doing a blood draw with a friend of his, every 30 minutes, after donating blood, and had the blood cell count done.  It had not even occurred to him to do an experimental match. Because the latter is applied physics/biology/whatever. The model is the math.

I blame the elementary schools – well, poor dears, they don’t know any better.


3 responses »

  1. Yeah I whole-heartedly agree. This is definitely a misconception that is prevalent. Students even sometimes think that they are horrible at mathematics because they are not good at arithmetic.

    thanks for sharing this!

  2. I used to like Sudoku, then I switched to KenKen, then I thought, “Okay, there must be something else to better spend my time. Bleh.” I think when people OPENLY admit that they’re bad in math that they’re really bad at the arithmetic. It’s like admitting they can’t think reasonably. Sad.

    Hey, I get to feature you again this week at http://fawnnguyen.com/2012/09/06/20120905.aspx

    Thanks and keep on blogging! Fawn

  3. I don’t think it helps that all of the arithmetic they teach is labelled math by the books they use, and by the people who train them… Frustratingly, they can actually teach both but are rarely adequately prepared (for a variety of reasons) to do so.

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