Thursday, 12 July 2018

Maths frightens me

I am not frightened of basic arithmetic or even basic geometry or algebra. I can still get the right change, multiply, divide, do basic statistics and the like.
It's the "big" stuff that bothers me. I have absolutely no idea.
A friend sent me a link to a piece of research yesterday. The title was "Geometry and elasticity of a knitted fabric."  I think she hoped I would have more idea than she did about what it all meant.
I read it - or tried to. 
I struggled with things like "an inhomogeneous displacement field that quantifies the deviation from the absolute reference configuration" - especially when it was surrounded with mathematical symbols I understand not at all. 
I was not taught mathematics at all well. I had basic arithmetic drilled into me. We chanted the "times-tables" at school. At home my mother would often challenge us unexpectedly with words like "Nine eights?"  If we couldn't answer instantly we would find ourselves learning the answer all over again. 
I  gave up maths at the end of the "Leaving" (O level). That year I was taught by a man who was still teaching at 77. He consistently failed me in algebra when I was supposed to draw a graph and couldn't and in geometry when I could not draw something like a right angled triangle with a square on the hypotenuse. I simply ceased to be interested in something I could not pass.
I started teaching just as "set theory" was coming in. We were appallingly badly taught about it and "how" to teach it in teacher training college. There must be an entire generation in this state who have no idea even now. I only taught primary school for a year before moving on to other things and it is just as well. I did my best but I know it wasn't good enough - although one of my former students became a mathematician it was no thanks to me. 
At university I had to do "statistics". It was a compulsory subject.
     "Cat, it's basic mathematics" the lecturer told me, "You'll be able to do it. I don't want you to draw anything."
No, only those strange Greek characters. (I did pass statistics - quite respectably.)
But serious "pure" maths and vital "applied" maths beyond all this is beyond me. 
The Senior Cat saw what I was attempting to read and asked,
    "What on earth is all that about?"
I tried to explain - and did not do a good job.
    "Well, what use it?"
I thought about that and then said,
    "I think it has an application for things like designing fabric for safety clothing and some building materials."
He nodded.
I might be completely wrong about that but he was happy with the answer...and so am I - unless someone wants to explain in Plain English.

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