Guest Post: Math Stigma and a Study

Jodie Larsen has a BS in applied mathematics from BYU-Idaho. In addition to teaching at AcerPlacer, she tutors students on several topics in math

“When will I ever use use this?” A question we, as mathematics instructors and connoisseurs, hear on a near-daily basis. You may have heard your past math teachers say such things as, “You’ll use this every day!” or simply look at you like they just cannot comprehend how anyone would NOT use math every day of their lives.

The truth is, math is all around us and we all use it, to varying degrees, more often than we may even consciously realize. I know people such as welders, electricians, and musicians who upon first consideration may not seem to need math, but it is shocking (especially in the case of the electrician) how often they utilize different types of math in their careers. Even if someone isn’t in any sort of math-related field, they will inevitably end up using such math as taxes, tips, and discounts. That’s not to say the average person will likely use properties of logarithms and population models on a daily basis, but it is quite helpful to know where those types of things are applicable. In my studies of Applied Mathematics and Biology, I was constantly surprised and pleased about just how many correlations could be made. Following, you will find one of my favorite such studies which I was a part of.

For this particular study, we headed out to a region which grew sagebrush and various other scrubby types of bushes and weeds. We started at a certain point and would measure out pre-decided lengths, say 10 feet, in random directions (if it is actually possible to be random which many studies claim isn’t – but that’s an entirely different story). At each 10 foot length, we would measure and take note of different diagnostics of the area such as the height and density (which we estimated visually) of the surrounding plant cover. The idea is that we could then create models for whatever type of animal (be it rabbits, voles, prairie dogs, etc.) and state how much cover said animal would have when needing to hide from predators. We created models which related the height of the animal to how protected that animal would be in that particular region. We also analyzed how visible those animals would be through certain vegetative densities, which of course would also show how visible they would be to predators. Animals which were too tall or too large wouldn’t have as high of a population density in that region due to the inability to hide properly. There are, of course, many variables and things to consider but having a lot of data allowed us to analyze a plethora of correlations and hypotheses.

As stated in the opening paragraph, one misconception about math is that “I’ll never use this.” I, along with my colleagues, aim to break this stigma by finding many practical applications and perhaps, just maybe, finding a niche in which each student can and will apply this beautiful thing we call math (or ‘maths’ in some parts of the world) and think of us whenever they calculate and realize…. we were right…. and that they’re actually enjoying it.

 

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