Everyday Application – Everyday Mathematical Ability

How Math Weaves Into Our Lives – Delve into the insightful column by Mickayla that unravels the mathematics in our daily routines, showing that mathematics is not just for the academically gifted but for everyone.

Illustration by Elham Ghaedi

The International Mathematical Union directs an annual project; the International Day of Mathematics, celebrated on March 14th; for which the theme for 2023 is “Mathematics is for everyone”. Marco Zarco Rotairo of the Trece Martires City National High School in the Philippines, who suggested the theme for the annual celebration, voiced that he ‘believe [s] that Mathematics should be for everyone because all of us have mathematical ability, but only with varying extent and degree’ and went on to say that the belief that Mathematics is only for the ‘clever’ and the ’intellectual’ must be changed’. If we take a moment to think about how often we, unknowingly, apply mathematics to our daily lives, we will start to question just how much mathematical ability we possess as individuals, regardless of the extent or degree.

Mathematical ability, as described by Karsenty (2014), is the ability to perform mathematical exercises and to constructively solve given mathematical exercises. I believe that mathematical ability can be described as trying to solve a mathematical problem, even if it ends in failure and to keep trying to improve instead of simply solving the problem. Moreover, it can be described as the ability to apply mathematical principles to any situation you may find yourself in; any calculation you make, any problem you may need to solve, anything you may need to or try to decipher.

Mathematics involves many principles, many laws, and many strategies, many of which we may be unknowingly applying to our everyday habits or simple human experiences. Let’s assume you, like most human beings, follow a routine when waking up. Let’s assume that you use an alarm to wake yourself in the morning, or any time of the day for that matter. Provided that you need to prepare yourself to be somewhere (work, school, university, etc) after waking, you would need to plan out your schedule to determine your time of departure before even setting your alarm. The act of setting an alarm based on the time you require to get yourself ready for your day ahead involves calculations of time, and preparations ahead of time – it involves mathematics.

Let’s review something that occurs more frequently in our day-to-day – consumption of food, sustenance, as well as the preparation thereof. Preparing food involves measurement of ingredients, even if you’re eyeballing them. Purchasing the ingredients to prepare a meal requires analysis of money available to use and the expense of said groceries. Even the act of dishing your food requires calculations based on your appetite. The above instances use methods of calculating, problem-solving, planning, analysis – methods which are used in and picked up whilst doing mathematics.

Illustration by Liani Malherbe

We use Mathematics more often than we realize and can go as far back as our preschool years to review our connections with Mathematics. Clements (2001), author of ‘Mathematics in the Preschool’, wrote that pre-schoolers ‘possess informal mathematical abilities and go on to show unpremeditated interest in Mathematics’ explaining that many pre-schoolers expand their geometry and number abilities which extend from counting of numbers to forming shapes before entering further schooling. Our ability to grasp concept at a fundamental level, even at pre-school level, implies mathematical ability.

Memories of fitting shapes into their appropriate moulds, scrutinizing and fitting puzzle pieces together to perfectly recreate the guideline picture on the puzzle box come to mind. Memories of preschool years where bean bags were thrown into a bucket a short distance away, after aiming and calculating for the perfect toss. Simple games or ways to develop analytical skills? The fitting, the scrutinizing, the analysis of the puzzle pieces, all deductive measures used to succeed at play. Though this may not have been everyone’s experience, the aim is only to paint a picture of how one’s earliest experiences could have been disguised as an introduction to mathematics. This might be read into too deeply but try to think about it for a moment. Think about your experiences, and how mathematics may have been involved.

But what happened the shapes did not fit perfectly, the picture was not recreated using the puzzle pieces, or the attempt to make the perfect toss failed? You tried again, right? You learned from that mistake and tried to improve; however, mistakes often lead to despondence with regards to mathematics. Many of us self-diminish our mathematical ability based on the presence of mistakes in our mathematics, that our mathematical ability is tied to the absence of mistakes. Our mistakes should be embraced. Our mistakes help us improve, slowly but steadily. Might it be added that even some of our world’s best, most respected academics have made mistakes! For example, British Mathematician, Andrew Wiles had proved Fermat’s last theorem, which states that no three positive integers, namely a, b, and c, can satisfy the equation an + bn = cn in 1993, after working on his proof for seven years. Unfortunately, a flaw or gap in the proof was found in 1993. Wiles then went on to correct his proof by 1995. One of the world’s best mathematicians made a mistake, in a subject he had been doing, practicing, almost all his life. Even those who are masters at their crafts make mistakes. They are still human. Their abilities are not questionable due to faults. Their faults lead to more opportunities in which to succeed.

Our ability to do mathematics will always be within most of what we do. We need just do, see, think, read, write, and explore what every day has in store for us. We need just see the world through the mathematical lenses. The column concludes with a quote by Shakuntala Devi, popularly known as a “Human Computer”, and writer, “Without mathematics, there’s nothing you can do. Everything around you is mathematics. Everything around you is numbers.” We all possess mathematical ability, and mathematics is for everyone.

Mickayla Cummings

Special Student in Science


American Psychological Association. (2023) Mathematical Ability. Available from: https://dictionary.apa.org/mathematical-ability [Accessed: 05 March 2023].

Clements, D. H, (2001) Mathematics in the Preschool. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. 7(5), 270-275. [Accessed: 06 March 2023].

International Mathematical Union. (2023) International Day of Mathematics March 14 [Online]. Available from: https://www.idm314.org/ [Accessed: 07 March 2023].

Karsenty, R, (2014) Encyclopedia of Mathematics Education. Mathematical Ability, 372-375 [Online]. Available from: https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007/978-94-007-4978-8_94#citeas [Accessed: 07 March 2023].

Lei, C. F. (2012) Error Analysis in Mathematics, Technical report no.1012, Behavioural Research and Teaching (University of Oregon), Eugene. [Online] Available from: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED572252.pdf [Accessed: 11 March 2023].

Prodigy Education. (2019) 60+ Brilliant Math Quotes Every Teacher Needs to Read. [Online] Available from: https://www.prodigygame.com/main-en/blog/math-quotes/ [Accessed: 11 March 2023].

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. (1998) Britannica. Available from: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Andrew-Wiles [Accessed: 11 March 2023].

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