Maths and Social Media: Friends or Enemies?

In this thought-provoking exploration, Vinicio Gomez delves into the intersection of mathematics and social media, offering a fresh perspective on how educators can navigate this digital landscape. By posing engaging questions and promoting critical thinking, Gomez advocates for harnessing the power of mathematics to bridge divides and foster meaningful dialogue.

Illustration by elham ghaedi

Young people spend a significant amount of time on social media. Math teachers often find themselves in competition with the captivating images, sounds, and rapid interactions that dominate various social media platforms. However, all is not lost. There is a chance for teachers to harness the power of social media by creating appropriate content rather than trying to compete with it. So, how can this be achieved?

 

There is no universal recipe for success in this endeavor. Some people are extroverts and naturally excel on social media platforms, possibly even becoming influencers. In such cases, I recommend exploring pages like Imaginary or Quanta Magazine, or YouTube channels like 3blue1brown, Derivando, Numberphile, and last but not least, the Jos Leys YouTube channel. On the other hand, introverted individuals may struggle with social media interaction despite their mathematical skills.

On social media, many people are constantly collecting vast amounts of data, often referred to as big data. Math teachers can engage their students by posing thought-provoking questions such as: 

– How can one extract valuable information from these data sets?

– What are the most effective search terms for web queries?

– Can social networks be harnessed to facilitate mutual aid, especially in times of crises like the pandemic?

– Is it possible to use social networks to gain insight into the perspectives of others, even those with opposing views? Think about topics like Brexit, the war in Ukraine, or the situation in Palestine.

– How can one distinguish between truth and falsehood on the web?

Mathematics can provide partial answers to these questions, which can be highly beneficial for students beyond just earning a grade. But what kinds of partial answers can mathematics offer? Here’s an example:

 “Scientists and Antivaxxers on YouTube”

Illustration by Liani Malherbe

Divide the students into two teams: one representing the Antivaxxers and the other representing the Scientists. Ask them to watch YouTube videos presenting their respective arguments. Encourage them to identify the most persuasive points from each side. Can members from both teams articulate these arguments in a roundtable discussion? Are there any hard numbers or data points that both sides can agree on? Does historical evidence, independently verifiable, shed light on the events in question?

 The idea is to engage students in problem-solving, open dialogue, and critical thinking to arrive at conclusions collaboratively. While changing some individuals’ minds may prove difficult, it is worthwhile to create a space where diverse perspectives can be heard. Mathematics offers a common ground where agreement can be reached despite differences.

Prof. Vinicio Gomez

Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

Editor of the article: by Elham Ghaedi

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