Lessons that came with mathematics

Explore the transformative power of mathematics beyond numbers and equations in Jade Daniels’ thought-provoking column. Discover how mathematics has shaped her problem-solving abilities, reasoning skills, and even her capacity for communication and connection, offering valuable life lessons that extend far beyond the classroom.

Illustration by Michelle

I used to think about where mathematics would take me as a child. Would it send me to Pluto the dwarf planet? Would it take me to Korea or Japan? Would it lead me to become a neuroscientist or even a mathematician? Or would it teach me something that would make me feel more human?

Now you may ask what I mean when I say it may teach me something that would make me feel more human? It sounds silly because how can I, a human, feel more human?

Here I’m referring to skills that I could need or use for later in life. For example, it taught me to problem solve. But problem solving is a given because without it how would we actually manage to solve equations and sums in maths. That would make our lives more difficult than it needs to be.

You may wonder why or how it relates to the skills maths teaches us for later in life. We could use this skill when it comes to any problem we have in life. For example, I love to shop, looking for clothes that are my style and buying them gives me a thrill because who doesn’t love new clothes once in a while. But this is where problem solving comes in. I know I only get paid a certain amount and of course I cannot spend my whole paycheck in one day just on clothes. So I would use my problem solving skills to work out how much money I can actually use and this is where another skill I’ve learned from maths comes in, reasoning. Sometimes when I shop, some unnecessary stuff will catch my eye and I reason with myself saying “do I need this, would it benefit me at the end of the day, would I have enough money left over for the rest of the month”?. If the answer is no, then I do not buy it.

As an introvert, it’s hard to talk to people and open up. Although I’m still an introvert, I’ve learnt to open up and communicate. But how does this relate to mathematics? Mathematics taught me communication. It taught me not to sit still and keep quiet when I have a question. In the beginning of my first year at university, I was shy and introverted. I was thinking that Stellenbosch University is a very big place and it would require a very huge adaptation from my side. Being a big place, I felt very intimidated because I did not know the area, I don’t know the people and I know I would most definitely keep to myself instead of making friends and asking for help if I’m struggling.

When my second semester started, I realised just how much I was struggling in my first semester and I realised that I needed to communicate with my math lecturer because I needed help and I didn’t know what else to do. From then on I spoke to other lecturers regarding questions that I had, and eventually I started speaking to people who have the same subject as me. From this point I realised that I had learned another skill from mathematics. I learned to communicate and connect.

Illustration by Liani Malherbe

With mathematics, it’s not just about figuring out what X+Y is or evaluating the integral of ∫ xsin(4x)dx, it’s about the skills we learn from it such as problem solving, reasoning, and even patience. When it came to certain equations, it took a bit of time to figure out the solutions. I didn’t have much patience growing up, so there were a few times I would get questions or equations wrong due to me not thinking the equation through. Like, what is the question actually asking me? Or how should I go about finding the answer? There are many routes to reach the solution of an equation. Some of these routes would not work for me and I had to think, take it slow and sometimes just wait patiently, although most of the time I couldn’t wait patiently because time was always limited. What I’m trying to say is that I couldn’t just dive head first into an equation, I first had to think about what the question was asking me, finding the best route for that question and applying what I knew about that certain question.

What I learned from mathematics so far regarding skills is really going to benefit me in my future, it’s already benefited me now with meeting new people. Who would have thought numbers and equations would help me adapt and become a better version of myself? Definitely not me.

Jade Daniels

First Year BSc Biomedical Mathematical Science Stellenbosch University

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