Why
do we study maths in the first place?
I won’t
lie to you. The chances of you ending with a job that requires you
to use Sin, Cos and Tan every day, or know all six circle theorems,
is pretty remote. And when you are older, the chances of a gorgeous
woman/man coming up to you and saying “I would love to go
out with you, but if you could just tell me four properties of a
trapezium first” are pretty slim as well.
But
that is not why we study maths. We study maths
because it teaches us a way of thinking. It provides us with
a method of solving a whole host of life’s problems away from
the classroom.
Firstly,
there are the obvious ones like making sure you have enough change
for the bus, deciding whether those pair of jeans that are in the
sale are actually the bargain of the year or not, and working out
whether buying the 2kg packet of salted peanuts is actually better
value than the 200g one, and debating whether you need 2kg of salted
peanuts in the first place.
But
there are much bigger and much more important problems than that.
I am talking about problems such as deciding where is best to go
for your holidays, how big a mortgage you can afford, which new
car should you buy and what type of vehicle financing is available,
should you go on a diet, should you take that new job, is this person
really going to be the love of your life?
These
problems may not appear to have anything to do with the maths you
study in school. But they do. All problems we encounter every day
have something in common. They all contain a certain amount of information
which must be weighed up, sorted out, and then processed in a certain
order. And once that information has been processed, it must be
interpreted so that an intelligent decision can be made. All this
requires planning, logical thinking, maybe a bit of experimentation,
and then some evaluating and testing to make sure that the decision
you have reached is the best one.
Well,
believe it or not, many of these skills are needed and developed
when studying maths. Imagine you are presented with nasty looking
question about a tower casting a shadow across the ground, and given
some information about the length of the shadow and the angle of
the sun, you have to work out the height of the tower. Sounds like
fun, hey?
Now,
let’s just think about what you would need to do to get the
answer. Firstly, you would need to weight up all the information
and decide what kind of problem this was. Once you are happy that
it is trigonometry, next you need to present all the information
in a simple, manageable way, maybe by drawing a rightangled triangle.
Next up you must decide what formula you need to use and what calculations
you need to do. This then requires skills such as multiplying, dividing,
rearranging formulae, calculator skills, and rounding. When you
have your answer, you must then check it makes sense by putting
it back into the context of the question. Does it make sense for
the tower to be 3,569m high? Probably not, so you may have made
a mistake, so you go back and look through your working to solve
it.
That’s
a lot of processes involved in answering a question, but studying
maths teaches you to do all of them automatically, without even
really thinking too much about what you are doing. Studying maths
trains you up to be an expert problem solver, and if you can solve
life’s many problems, then you will be doing alright.
Don’t be fooled by Statistics
A specific reason for studying and understanding maths is so you
don’t get fooled by statistics. Advertisers just love throwing
statistics at us every time we turn on the TV or the radio, or pick
up a magazine. And if we are not careful we will end up being scared
into buying everything they have to offer.
What
about this one: “7 out of 10 women prefer
our hair conditioner to their old one”
Sounds
pretty convincing, right? But before you rush out and snap up twenty
bottles, just have a think for a minute. Let’s ask ourselves
some questions that the advert doesn’t answer:
How
many women were asked, and where did they come from? If the company
literally asked just 10 women, and they were all from that company,
then I would be a little worried.
Did
those 7 out of 10 women think the new conditioner was absolutely
fantastic, or just a teenyweeny bit better than their old one?
What
exactly did they prefer: the shape of the bottle, the smell, the
special price they paid which was only valid for the fist couple
of days?
And
what about the other 30% of women, what happened to them? For all
we know, all their hair might have fallen out and their scalp turned
green.
Here’s
another one for you: “8 out of 10 people
with a healthy heart eat this breakfast cereal every day”
Great,
I’ll take 10!
But
just hold on a minute. Just because 8 out of 10 people who munched
that cereal every day had a healthy heart, doesn’t mean that
the cereal somehow made their heart healthy. It could be that the
people they asked did 2 hours of exercise every day, never ate chocolate,
and lived in the south of France. If you weigh 40 stone, eat chips
and chocolate for your tea every night, and your idea of exercise
is changing channels on the TV, then tucking into a couple of bowls
of cereal probably isn’t going to improve the condition of
your heart.
This
is an example of a correlation, and is the number one way advertisers
try to con us with statistics. Correlations are just relationships
between two things, but they certainly don’t mean that one
thing causes another. There is often a third factor coming into
play.
Here
are some others:
“People
with bigger feet are better at reading”
There
is not some magical thing in the sole of your foot that determines
your reading ability. It is far more likely that people with bigger
feet tend to be older, and the older you are the more experience
and practice at reading you have had.
“As
the number of people owning televisions increased in the 1940s,
so too did the number of car accidents”
This
doesn’t mean that the more you watch TV the more you are likely
to have a car crash. Again, what is more likely is that more people
having television is a sign that society was getting richer, which
would also suggest more people were buying cars, and the more cars
on the road the more car accidents!
The
more you understand statistics, the more you can question the statistics
you are fed, and the more informed decisions you can make!
Pretty cool jobs using maths
Whenever
you think of a job involving maths, you probably automatically think
of an accountant, or a bank manager, or something like that. And
unless you are into that kind of thing (and most of my friends from
uni seem to be), that can seem a little boring. But here are few
another jobs that require the use of maths which might seem a little
more appealing:
Jet
Fighter Pilot
What is a G? How high am I flying? What is my maximum speed? How
much fuel do I have? How far can I fly on a full tank? If an enemy
is at 2 o'clock, what does that mean? What direction and speed is
the wind? What's an F14? How many missiles do I have left? Which
direction am I flying? What speed is super sonic? What is an altimeter?
How many degrees of banking do I need? How far am I from my target
or base? It's all maths!
Sports
Commentator
What is his batting average? What percentage of his wickets are
LBW? How many goals per game does he score? From how far out was
that last shot? How fast was that last shot? What is the score?
How much time is left in the game? Where will this result put them
in the league? Can they still be promoted? How many fouls has he
made? It's all maths!
Radio
DJ or Radio Engineer
How many minutes is that next song? When is the next commercial?
How many watts does this radio station generate? What does FM or
AM mean? If a station is at 106 FM, what does that mean? What time
is it? Can I really play 40 minutes of nonstop music? It's all maths!
Racing
Car Driver
How fast was that last lap? How many seconds am I behind or ahead?
How many laps can I go on a tank of gas? How fast can I make a pit
stop? How much horsepower am I making? What is horsepower? How many
RPM's can my engine make before the redline? What is an RPM? How
much air pressure do I need in my tires? What is my oil pressure?
What do the numbers on all these dials mean? It's all maths!
Movie
or TV Camera Operator
What size lens do I need? How far away should I be? How much light
is there? What angle should I be shooting from? How far should I
zoom in or out? How much film do I need? How much tape do I have
left?
It's all maths!
Astronaut
/ Working in the Space Industry
What is escape velocity? How high does the Space Shuttle orbit?
How much time until launch? How many flight hours do I have to have
to qualify? How cold is it outside the earth's atmosphere? What
is a g force? How much thrust should the booster rockets have? What
is the earth's diameter? How faraway is Mars?
It's all maths!
Many
ideas for that above Maths jobs came from the wonderful website
Earth Link (click here)
For a load more jobs that you may not realise use maths, pay a visit
to the excellent Careers in Maths website
by clicking here.
