Thoughts About Teaching Math

I would like to say something about the way math is taught.

I am mostly self-taught in math, but I grew up around people who believed mathematics was important, and I went on to win a math scholarship and attend MIT. Almost every person I have ever met is content with "I was never any good at math." I think that's because they have never seen any mathematics.

For 10 years, my wife (an educator) has been mentoring a young woman who is struggling. She wanted me to tell her the formula for the circumference of a circle but I refused. I wanted to hear a struggle with quantity, symmetry, and relationships. If *this* doubles, what happens to *that*? Soon, I heard a discussion about string, rulers, bicycle wheels, skillets, and the difficulty of measuring the diameter of a circle. Everything was going according to plan, so I hid in the other room.

After several hours, the two of them came up with a theory of circles. My wife was up till 3am producing a Shutterfly book documenting the work. (It was published, but in a limited edition of 1). The next morning the young woman texted "It was nice that I got to learn math."

She's 20 years old, and I think that was the first time she saw any mathematics. The ancient Greeks would have been proud of her. She had discovered the number pi.

Ashley and Kath Discover pi

circular things

The book as a PDF file.

What some other people say

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