Stepping into mathematical theatre: A personal story

This note draws up a bit of my story with maths, the difficulties I faced during my involvement with mathematical theatre and how limited financial resources were a limiting factor in my career.

Illustration by Cayla Basson

I was born and raised in the south of Mexico. My city is one of three cities in Mexico with less access to education and basic services. My parents only received a basic education.  This means our resources were limited, and I had to attend public schools in Oaxaca where there wasn’t adequate infrastructure nor capable teachers.

I was at high school when I became interested in maths. With little attention from my teachers, I sought refuge in books and learned by myself. I used to look for basic books and repeat the training problems over and over until I was sure I had learned everything before I would go to the next subject.  At school I helped my classmates, so they didn’t stay behind in mathematics. It was then that I realized that, when people say they hate maths, it is because they don’t understand it.

I decided to study a degree that involved mathematics because I wanted to discover what was behind all the formulas that teachers used to show us at school. I knew that maths wasn’t just solving the perfect square trinomial, there was a whole world to discover.  Besides, teaching mathematics came easily to me.

I had to convince my parents to let me study a degree in Applied Mathematics at the University of Isthmus. My parents feared I wouldn’t get used to the schedule and they were concerned that I would have to take a one-hour bus ride to get to university. They thought it would be expensive and that I will go crazy because it is such a difficult degree.

Because of my poor education, I faced many difficulties to develop my mathematical skills and to understand new mathematical concepts. I remember that I used to cry a lot, but I never gave up. In my fourth year I  contacted Dr Gabriela Araujo from the UNAM Math Institute in Queretaro to do a three-month professional stay, since the university required it. She invited me to attend workshop on “Women in Mathematics in Latin America: Barriers, Advancements and New Perspectives”. There I not only appreciated the work and projects that many mathematicians carry out, but I also could identify with them.

I grew up with the idea that science was no place for a woman and if there was a place for her, she would have to play a less important role than that of a man. Thanks to the workshop I realized that I can apply my mathematical knowledge in biology, medicine, astronomy, just to mention a few. It is important to instill in girls the knowledge that they can do science and that there should be no gender barrier.

Another difficulty I had to face was working over weekends in order to pay  a huge part of my school expenses. I had been doing this since high school, so the fact that I had to travel to another city only to be able to carry on my studies and research was very difficult to me.    

Illustration by Liani Malherbe

During my career I created a mathematics theatrical group with university students. The objective was to show the attractive side of mathematics and that it is possible to learn maths through arts, because making maths is art. Inspiring and motivating students has always been my principal objective, but the lack of financial resources limited my project.

The following video is about the work titled “Cero Estrés”, a short film in Spanish written by Maria Caputti. It presents the condition of zero because it is a singular number, through a therapy in which it reveals the properties that make it so particular. This is a video that I have presented on several occasions, and I am very grateful to Maria Caputti for her permission to use it.

I have always been interested in learning in mathematics and have researched some authors who tell stories with mathematical concepts. I wanted to stage a show since theatre is known as a pedagogical strategy that contributes and dynamizes the teaching and learning processes.

People will say that it is impossible, but I strongly believe that it is achievable to change the mentality of students who say that mathematics is unworthy and boring. I would like to change this perception.

With a degree in applied mathematics, I am currently partially dedicated to teaching online. I am in a phase where I have forgotten what I want to do with mathematics and I am still limited by my circumstances. But I am not quiet, I keep learning from other areas, and I link them to mathematics. 

Guadalupe Martinez Ruiz


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