A Math Professor Makes the Case for Revisiting Algebra as an Adult
Skip the gym membership and enroll in a class
It’s time again for New Year’s resolutions — eating healthier, getting in shape, or kicking a bad habit. Unfortunately, statistics suggest you probably won’t succeed — as many as 80% of people fail to meet their resolutions by mid-February.
But there’s something you can do to up your odds. If you haven’t landed on your resolution yet, or you’re looking for something outside the norm, try dedicating your 2020 to brushing up on a discipline that will advance your career goals in the new decade: math.
What better way to improve your life than with a resolution that cultivates the skills Forbes suggests for the future workforce? In its recent list of the top 10 soft skills for the future of work, Forbes included change management, storytelling, and building communication skills — all talents math can enhance.
Math teaches the concept of change and consequently fosters the highly desired skill of “change management,” the quality that helps employees respond to change effectively. The mathematical subject of calculus is, in fact, the language of change.
The two key concepts of calculus, the derivative and the integral, measure instantaneous change and total change. This means that if Apple produces 100 iPhones, the derivative helps determine the cost to produce the 101st iPhone. On a chilly night, if you leave the sink dripping at a rate of 2 milliliters per minute to keep your pipes from bursting, the integral helps determine the total amount of water that will appear on your utility bill.
The more than 800,000 high schoolers taking calculus already have a foundation in the concept of change and are beginning to understand the critical importance of the skill. But since calculus hinges on algebra, this new year, let’s encourage our middle schoolers to embrace the power of the unknown in the form of the variable x. The very word — variable — suggests change. Gaining familiarity with this changing quantity will set students up for success in the long run. And while we are encouraging our students, we can also challenge ourselves.