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Why Do We Study Mathematics?

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There are many answers to this question. Some would think that it’s just to pass the next quiz or final examination so they can move on to the next course in their program of study. Others will say it is totally unnecessary; and still others will claim they need math to balance checkbooks or for a promotion… There isn’t a single answer that fully addresses the question, but there are many reasons that every student will come to appreciate math as they move forward with their academic endeavors.

Using Math in Everyday Life

Mathematics is an essential discipline in today’s world. It is a powerful tool for understanding the world around us and our perspective of the important issues facing us as individuals, families, businesses, and nations. Math surrounds us; we see and use math skills and capabilities every day–from balancing our checkbooks to advertising agencies to doctors; from retailers to builders, lawyers and accountants. Everyone needs some level of specific mathematics knowledge. Most professions use math to perform their job better and to get ahead in the world.

Analytic Skills Obtained from Math in School

To succeed in college, there are general education mathematics requirements that help students develop critical thinking and quantitative analysis skills. Every university has general knowledge course requirements. American Public University requires that all students complete at least three semester hours in their mathematics general education. These general education courses develop the skills that students need during their more specific program courses. The general courses include computational skills, problem solving, data analysis, pattern recognition, and learning how to approach and solve complex problems.

Some mathematics courses are required as prerequisites for certain courses in your degree program. You won’t be able to register for and pass some upper-level courses in your degree program unless you learn the required math concepts used in those courses. As an example, a student studying orbital dynamics must have a firm understanding of algebra and trigonometry, and a social scientist needs to comprehend the foundations of statistical analysis. As you proceed toward your degree, you will find that you need the technical and computational skills learned during your mathematics courses.

Technology and Logic

Technology is changing rapidly and the basis of many of these technological changes is mathematics and logic. These changes are so rapid that it would be difficult to predict the skills that people will need in the future workplace or at home in the coming years. But a good basis in mathematics, statistics, and technology will keep you agile enough to adapt to the advances in technology.

Blending Historically Implied Math with Current Concepts

Mathematics has evolved over many centuries to help solve problems. Math teaches us to think logically; to identify and state the problem clearly; to plan how to solve the problem; and then to apply the appropriate methods to evaluate and solve the problem.

We learn to evaluate and draw conclusions based on our knowledge. We are surrounded by a large number of statistical data and studies. To be a successful student and also an informed citizen, we should be able to evaluate these studies and the data they present in order to decide what is true or reasonable. Mathematics help you recognize mistakes in thinking or analysis that we encounter in our lives. How many advertisements or political polls have you seen lately? Do you have the quantitative skills to evaluate their messages? Mathematics can help.

Where Else is Math Applicable?

Math is more than a subject that everyone in school needs to take. Many believe that math is only needed in the Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics fields (STEM). That’s true, math is absolutely essential in those fields, but it is also needed in many other fields including economics, many of the social sciences such as psychology and sociology, and in many of the arts and humanities disciplines including art, music, and mass communications. Mathematics has been called “the universal language”.

Numbers and mathematics help us keep score–not just in sports contests, but in measuring money, time, distance, cooking and baking, balancing a checkbook, planning an improvement project, and buying the necessary materials. Building a new deck on your house or finding the amount of material to build a fence are both good examples of mathematics in our daily lives.

Logic and quantitative reasoning attained in mathematics courses helps us make better decisions. Learning how to solve the hard challenges is an asset that will pay dividends throughout our lives. These challenges may be a complex statistical analysis or one of the many challenges you face in your life.

We also use numbers and mathematics for leisure. We play card games, electronic games, crossword puzzles, and Sudoku’s. They all share a common element of mathematics.

In summary, a solid foundation in mathematics is an essential skill for students pursuing any academic degree and that same quantitative capability is necessary for success in life as well. University mathematics courses prepare students for both of those very important reasons.

By Bill Owen
Program Director for Mathematics, American Public University

As an adult educator, Mr. Owen’s focus is on the use of sound analytical and managerial techniques to solve complex business and management issues.  For the past four years he has served as the Program Director for the Mathematics Department, School of Science and Technology at American Public University System. He has a Master of Education in from the University of Oklahoma, he’s attended the John F. Kennedy School of Government, and he has a Master of Science in Operations Research from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

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