What is Mathematics?

To a lot of people, mathematics is only about numbers and calculations. They also believe that, apart from the basics, a lot of the more difficult areas taught are pointless and will never be used outwith maths class. It’s emphasised that mathematics is all about finding the one correct answer and has been stated to be all about “remembering and applying the correct rule when the teacher asks a question; and mathematical truth is determined when the answer is ratified by the teacher” (Lampert, 1990, p.30). However, maths does not only consist of numbers but is made up of rhythms, sequences, patterns, time, etc. Marcus du Sautoy considers maths to be in the world around us – nature and man made.

Mathematics can be found in various areas throughout the man made world. It can be seen in shops and supermarkets through the use of prices, amounts or weights, VAT, or even calculating the total and change due. It can be found in buildings or building plans through the number of windows and doors the building consists of, if the building is symmetric, or even the use of the golden ratio in order to create sizes for rooms – without mathematics, architectures would not be able to create successful structures. Artists have also used the golden ratio in order to create proportionate artwork or interesting designs and spirals.

The golden ratio can also be found in nature within the spiral of sea shells and plants. Other ways mathematics can be seen in the world around us is through patterns created within plants and flowers or even the hexagonal shapes within the honeycomb of a bees nest.

Overall, mathematics is not only about numbers but holds many other components which can be seen and used within everyday life. Mathematics can’t fully be used everyday, however, basic aspects can such as number, sequence, pattern, etc.

Lampert, M. (1990) ‘When the problem is not the problem and the solution is not the answer: Mathematical knowing and teaching’, American Research Journal, 27(1), pp.29-63.


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