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Student Definitions of Mathematics

Two weeks ago, the idea of definitions of mathematics was discussed. The suggestion was made that you should ask others (students, colleagues, etc.) as to their definitions of mathematics.

J.D. (Sedro-Woolley High School) took this suggestion to heart, with some interesting results. The following is a sample...

Freshman in Algebra 1:

  • Mathematics is the act of problem solving.
  • Mathematics is a problem with an equation that you have to solve. (any kind)
  • Mathematics is having a general idea of numbers.
  • Mathematics is a system that you use every day. There are different levels of mathematics some of the easy stuff is 4+1=5 and then it gets harder as you go.
  • Mathematics is solving any form of a problem, like trying to define what mathematics is.
  • Mathematics is basically the study of how numbers, shapes, graphs, and everything in that category are used to problem solve.
  • To find the answer to something using different methods and strategies. A lot like a game of chess.
  • Numbers working with other numbers to create new numbers.
  • Using one thing to solve another, then another, another, another, and another number.
  • Using numbers to solve life’s problems.
  • Mathematics is ummm…it helps in life like when you buy things or your job like construction and I don’t know how to define mathematics.
  • I honestly cannot define such a meaningful word…sorry.
  • Mathematics is everything because everything includes mathematics.
Advanced Algebra Students (Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors):
  • Mathematics is using formula’s and numbers to solve real life equations. Using numbers to solve problems.
  • Mathematics is the application of logic, common sense, and practicality in often complex ways. Math is the constitution on which the rules of reality are written.
  • Is how to use patterns and numbers for daily life.
  • The working of numbers for unknown intellectual reasons.
  • The combination of numbers with variables that add, subtract, multiply, and divide positives and negatives.
  • Mathematics is the study and use of numbers as a language to help solve and simplify basic and advanced equations to better and prosper your life by getting precise numbers so you can better plan or find a better way to execute a situation.
  • Mathematics is the use of numbers, variables and/or processes used in a linear fashion to find a definite answer that cannot be argued and has proof to show its existence.
  • I think mathematics is when you extend your way of thinking to an extent of solving problems in every day life.
  • Using your brain to answer questions by solving and creating and using equations. Sometimes plugging and chugging.
  • Math is challenging. It has laws and rules and is complex. It’s not very broad, like English is. Has lots of techniques and requires logic, solving, and other skills.
  • Math is numbers and funny symbols and letters thrown together.
  • Mathematics is a huge amount of tedious, monotonous, insipid, and long numerical manipulation with the result of a more understandable yet complicated product.
  • It starts from 0,1,2,3 and from there goes uphill in difficulty and once you get past geometry down in relevance in the world. Otherwise, it’s just putting numbers together.
Reflecting on his students' definitions, J.D. wrote: I was pretty amazed just how often I saw the word problem solving and real life application. However, the more I think about it, I'm sure this is what they have been told about math since the beginning. "You need to be good at math because you use it all the time in life." However, even when doing "application" style problems and showing evidence of how it's used, I still have major problems getting students to buy into it.... I feel like if all my students have is a strictly utilitarian view of mathematics, I can understand why half my class doesn't care. Why should you care if everyone tells you the only reason to learn mathematics is because it's used so often in real life and yet you can't draw the connection? Or you can draw the connection, but know that you can pay people to do half the stuff you "need" mathematics for?... How do you convince high school students that education isn't purely utilitarian? That sometimes it's good to learn things because they are beautiful...

THANKS J.D.....both for sharing these definitions and your reflections.