Taking Math to the Streets


For many people math is a scary subject. Only 39 percent of fourth graders and 34 percent of eighth graders scored at or above the proficient level. Hours spent in school or doing homework with word problems, algebra and geometry can create a math phobia for many students, who end up frightened by math as adults. Here is a way to look at mathematics in a different way and learn to love it.

However you might see the world — chaotic, peaceful, boring — mathematicians see it differently.

“As mathematicians we’re trained to identify pattern,” Robert Lewand, Ph.D., a mathematician at Goucher College in Baltimore, Md., explained to Ivanhoe.

Patterns that can be found nearly anywhere.

“So, these patterns occur not only among numbers and mathematical concepts, but also in nature and in architecture, and the building environment and the natural environment,” Dr. Lewand said.

Dr. Lewand shows us some hidden examples of math found around town that may often go un-noticed.

“There are so many examples of mathematics that even I wasn’t aware until I opened up my eyes and started looking for them,” said Dr. Lewand.

A common example is a tessellation, a complete covering of an area using one shape that does not overlap or have gaps. Examples are a brick sidewalk, hardwood floors, and most of the tile work in your home.

“Most everyone’s tiled shower in a bathroom is an example of a tessellation because the wall is completely covered by non-overlapping squares,” Dr. Lewand said.

Math is found in nature, this plant is an example of a fractal — it’s a geometric shape that repeats itself. If you cut a piece of this plant, you would have a smaller copy of the original plant.

“So, every shoot basically looks like the whole plant itself,” Dr. Lewand explained.

Outdoors or indoors, math is all around town.

Having a career as a mathematician was rated as the number one best job, according to a study ranking the best and worst jobs in the U.S. According to the study, mathematicians fared best in part because they typically work in favorable conditions — indoors and in places free of toxic fumes or noise.

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