When I was in Elementary, Middle, and High School, I thought that math was all about solving dozens of addition, subtraction, multiplication, long division, fraction, or trig calculations per night, using the same method my teacher showed me in class. I was not the best math student, and I remember feeling frustrated every night when I looked back at the notes I took in class and still couldn’t understand my homework. I thought that math was about finding an answer, and the answer could either be right or wrong, and there was no in-between.
When I came to Grand Valley, I chose to study math because all my life, it had been some big scary monster that I could never really understand. I wanted to overcome my fear and hatred of math and finally get some answers to those things about math that were always left unexplained. During my studies here at Grand Valley, my hatred and confusion of math turned into passion and curiosity. I realized that math is not all about numbers and finding the right answer-- for me, math is all about the process, not the answer. In the past, I believed that there was only one way to find the right answer to a problem, and that was the way that my teacher showed me how. All of my professors here at Grand Valley challenged me to find my own solutions to problems by approaching a problem in different ways, and they encouraged me to collaborate with my peers to find many different solutions to the same problem. Now, I think that math is more about solving problems creatively than about crunching numbers. Real math goes beyond pencil-and-paper and extends out into the real world. It is what we use to analyze and describe patterns and problems we observe around us. Math solves problems. Math challenges. Math creates. Math inspires.
Although I’m a mathematician, I admit I don’t know much about math history. What I do know about the history of mathematics is that math has been around for a very, very long time, and it is responsible for some of humankind’s greatest accomplishments. Without math, the Egyptians would not have been able to design the pyramids, and ancient astronomers wouldn’t have learned very much about the Universe. Mathematics has always been a tool that people have used to help them make sense of the world around them, and it is a tool we all use in our daily lives today. I think that the most important development in the history of mathematics was the modern number system, because it made math universal. Some of the famous mathematicians whose work I am familiar with include Euler, Euclid, Hippocrates, Fibonacci, and Pythagoras. I am really looking forward to learning more about the history of mathematics in this course.