The Magic of Maths


The phrase “The Magic of Maths” is a way of introducing a personal reflection on my relationship with maths and how I see its manifestation in society.

“Love at First Sight”

My fascination with maths started in my very first year at school when I learned about inches. It continued throughout my school years, and continues to this day. I am currently learning about number theory.

For some people, the motive to become numerate lies in being able to use that skill for personal advantage in everyday life. Budgeting for a holiday is one example. My own motive comes from a fascination with patterns – the consequent advantage of being numerate is in a sense a by-product of that fascination.

Hidden in Plain Sight

Some people see the world through rose-tinted glass. I see the world through maths-tinted glasses. This includes things such as:

  • When will the next train leave Midland Station?
  • If that child leaps out into the road, will I be able to stop this car in time?
  • Judging a safe distance to overtake a cyclist when I am driving.
  • Ensuring that all bills are paid when they are due.
  • Using a PIN with a credit or debit card.
  • Checking that the amount shown on an EFTPOS machine is correct. (I started doing that after I was inadvertently overcharged.)
  • Avoiding speeding.
  • Checking wind speed and direction for nearby bush fires.

While these may appear to be ordinary everyday questions and activities, they all have an underlying maths component that can be used when delivering learning in numeracy. I have wondered if there is anything that cannot be seen in this light. Human interaction, the stuff of sociology, is also susceptible to numeracy through its classification of types of behaviour, durations and interactions with others.

The Floating Iceberg

There is a lot of maths that is perhaps not quite as obvious as the bullet points above. They tend to be “behind the scenes” stuff, but there are great benefits to the wider community from the people who use their numeracy skills in these contexts. Examples include:

  • Ensuring the security and reliability of money transactions across the Internet, and that includes your cash withdrawals from ATMs.
  • Keeping petrol stations stocked with fuel. (Doesn’t it drive you crazy when your local petrol station runs out?)
  • Planning bus routes and timetables to meet social needs.
  • Calculating mortgage repayment rates.
  • Calculating insurance premiums.
  • Designing computer hardware.
  • Writing computer software, including the browser that you are now using to read this post.

The numeracy skills used here tend to be a bit more advanced than what might be termed “everyday mathematics”.

Sharing Maths

It has been my pleasure to help others learn numeracy. Two outstanding examples come to mind. The first was a woman who had been awarded the lowest grade possible for mathematics at school. My efforts helped her to gain a thorough grasp of numeracy which was a crucial factor in her gaining a degree in environmental biology as a mature student. The second was a youth at risk for whom numeracy was initially a waste of time and effort. He left college with a Certificate III in maths, and went on to become a productive member of society by harnessing his passion for cars at a local automotive workshop. (As an aside, the motor car turns out to be a very rich source of material for delivering numeracy.)

Where to from Here?

The answer to the question “Where to from here?” perhaps depends on what you think is the purpose of being an educator. For me, being an educator is about the empowerment of others. Different learners have the potential to excel in different areas. I hope that my passion for numeracy gives them a chance to make an informed decision about which area or areas they wish to go into in their own futures.

9 hexagons

9 hexagons

2 thoughts on “The Magic of Maths

  1. Hi Phil

    I’d like to share some of my story.

    I am indebted to my family, particularly my mother, who gave me numeracy skills at a very early age. Mum taught me games of solitaire (with Italian cards). We played Tombola (bingo) for money and card games such as Scopa – all before starting school. Although I learnt my early maths skills in Italian, I was well prepared for school. Helping with the shopping taught me weights and measures and telling the time was a skill I developed at an early age.
    I was always comfortable with maths at school. I loved the subject and always did more than required for homework. Before long (perhaps I was 9) I was helping the teachers during maths classes (my first experience with team-teaching!) and this continued to end of schooling and onto university.
    My passion for maths continues to this day. I love teaching maths and have been amply rewarded by the feedback from students, parents, teachers and trainers 🙂

  2. Hello Micky,

    Thanks for your delightful contribution. I particularly like your comment about team teaching at age perhaps 9! (No, that is not 9 factorial. 😉 )

    It perhaps raises the question of being comfortable with numeracy during those early years being a predictor of being passionate about mathematics in later life.

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