I told my wife the other day, “it has to be so, … I checked the math.” This was to figure out an equal number of days during a time span of 2 weeks between 2 people. “Well,” I said, “it has to be 4 nights during one week and 3 nights during the other week. That equals 7 nights. That’s half of the 2-week’s 14 nights.” Makes sense, and the math adds up, but I still am meeting resistance with this concept(not from my wife, btw). I understand that I have a degree in mathematics, and I might understand some of the deeper mathematical concepts bandied about in the science journals, but hey, we’re talking simple addition and division here.
This situation made me think of how inadequately our public education system teaches mathematics. Don’t get me wrong. The schools are adequate (or better) at teaching the mechanics of math. What they don’t do well is teach the application of math. At least, the application of math outside of the school or business environment. Perhaps it’s best if I give an example. I’ve taken a lot of calculus classes. I know how to calculate the volume of a vase. But, have I ever used calculus in my personal life? And if not, why not?
I’m happy to report that I have indeed used calculus recently. The need arose from my research during writing a science fiction novel, Dominion, that will be published in November 2016 by Double Dragon Press. The novel is science fiction and is set in 2075. The Moon is colonized and travel to and from the Moon is commonplace. But I needed to know how fast a ship could travel from low Earth orbit to the Moon. I knew that an acceleration of 5 or 6 G’s was too much. Fighter jet pilots can’t handle it for short periods of time. And so I wondered how fast a person could travel to the Moon if that person accelerated at 2 G to the halfway point to the Moon, then turned the ship around and decelerated for the rest of the flight.
Well, hidey-ho! This could be solved simply with calculus. I forget at the moment what I considered a safe high-G acceleration for the trip to the Moon, but I got an answer of 3 or 4 hours. The flight would not be easy. It would be like experiencing the acceleration of a downhill slope on a roller coaster for a period of 3 to 4 hours, but for someone in good physical condition and with a pressing need to get to the Moon, it’s not too much of a reach to imagine it’s possible.
But the point is, I used calculus. And I was well into my 50s at the time. It kinda makes me wonder what other uses of math is out there that I haven’t realized yet. And that made me think that I wasn’t prepared very well for using math in my everyday life. But in any case, could we teach our young children to use math in their everyday lives? Please!