Math Inspirations: Why Study Mathematics?

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What teacher hasn’t heard a student complain, “When am I ever going to have to use this?” Didn’t most of us ask it ourselves, once upon a time?

And unless we choose a math-intensive career like engineering, the truth is that after we leave school, most of us will never again use most of the math we learned.

But if math beyond arithmetic isn’t all that useful, then what’s the point?

If you or your student is singing the “Higher Math Blues,” here are some quotations that may cheer you up — or at least give you the strength of vision to keep on slogging.

We Study Mathematics…

To Understand Creation

I don’t want to convince you that mathematics is useful. It is, but utility is not the only criterion for value to humanity. Above all, I want to convince you that mathematics is beautiful, surprising, enjoyable, and interesting. In fact, mathematics is the closest that we humans get to true magic. How else to describe the patterns in our heads that — by some mysterious agency — capture patterns of the universe around us? Mathematics connects ideas that otherwise seem totally unrelated, revealing deep similarities that subsequently show up in nature.

— Ian Stewart
The Magical Maze

That vast book which stands forever open before our eyes, the universe, cannot be read until we have learnt the language in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language, and the letters are triangles, circles, and other geometrical figures, without which means it is humanly impossible to comprehend a single word.

— Galileo Galilei
quoted by Clifford Pickover, A Passion for Mathematics

To Train Our Minds

The investigation of mathematical truths accustoms the mind to method and correctness in reasoning, and is an employment peculiarly worthy of rational beings.

— George Washington
quoted by William Dunham, The Mathematical Universe

I told myself, “Lincoln, you can never make a lawyer if you do not understand what demonstrate means.” So I left my situation in Springfield, went home to my father’s house, and stayed there till I could give any proposition in the six books of Euclid at sight. I then found out what “demonstrate” means, and went back to my law studies.

— Abraham Lincoln
quoted by William Dunham, The Mathematical Universe

To Understand History

In most sciences, one generation tears down what another has built, and what one has established another undoes. In mathematics alone, each generation adds a new story to the old structure.

— Herman Henkel
quoted by Noah benShea, Great Quotes to Inspire Great Teachers

Biographical history, as taught in our public schools, is still largely a history of boneheads: ridiculous kings and queens, paranoid political leaders, compulsive voyagers, ignorant generals — the flotsam and jetsam of historical currents. The men who radically altered history, the great scientists and mathematicians, are seldom mentioned, if at all.

— Martin Gardner
quoted by G. Simmons, Calculus Gems

I will not go so far as to say that constructing a history of thought without profound study of mathematical ideas is like omitting Hamlet from the play named after him. But it is certainly analogous to cutting out the part of Ophelia. For Ophelia is quite essential to the play, she is very charming. . . and a little mad.

— Alfred North Whitehead
quoted in The Viking Book of Aphorisms

To Appreciate the Beauty

The mathematician does not study pure mathematics because it is useful, he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful.

— Henri Poincaré
quoted by Theoni Pappas, More Joy of Mathematics

A mathematician, like a painter or poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas. The mathematician’s patterns, like the painter’s or the poet’s, must be beautiful. The ideas, like the colors or the words, must fit together in a harmonious way. Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in this world for ugly mathematics.

— Godfrey H. Hardy
A Mathematician’s Apology

And Most of All, to Play

Mathematics is a world created by the mind of men, and mathematicians are people who devote their lives to what seems to me a wonderful kind of play!

Constance Reid

At age eleven, I began Euclid, with my brother as tutor. This was one of the great events of my life, as dazzling as first love. I had not imagined there was anything so delicious in the world.

— Bertrand Russell
The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell

I love mathematics … principally because it is beautiful, because man has breathed his spirit of play into it, and because it has given him his greatest game — the encompassing of the infinite.

Rózsa Péter
quoted by Rosemary Schmalz, Out of the Mouths of Mathematicians

Did you enjoy these? You can find plenty more on my Math & Education Quotations page.

  • I would LOVE to hear YOUR favorite mathematics, education, or inspirational quote. Please share in the Comments section below!

 photo exploreMTBoS_zpsf2848a9a.jpgNever Ending Math Problem photo (above) by Danny via Flickr (CC BY 2.0). This post is part of the #MTBoS #MtbosBlogsplosion blogging challenge.

howtosolveproblemsWant to help your kids learn math? Claim your free 24-page problem-solving booklet, and you’ll be among the first to hear about new books, revisions, and sales or other promotions.

My Favorite Math Games

matching 10

Take a break from textbook math and enjoy yourself!

I like to use games as a warm-up with my co-op math circle. Some homeschoolers make every Friday a game day, and some turn gaming into a family lifestyle.

favorite-math-gamesIf you’d like to add more play to your family’s day, check out Cait’s 2017 Gameschooling Challenge.

“Playing games with your kids offers a host of educational benefits, plus you build relationships and make memories. I am constantly amazed by the amount of learning that happens when I sit down to play games with my children.”

—Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley
Gameschool Challenge

Family Games for All Ages

“Games put children in exactly the right frame of mind for learning difficult things. Children relax when they play — and they concentrate. They don’t mind repeating certain facts or procedures over and over, if repetition is part of the game.”

Peggy Kaye
Games for Math

Accessible to Young Children

“Coming back from winter break can be hard. Everyone is sleepy, unfocused, and daydreaming of the holiday gifts that await them at home after school. And that’s just the teachers!”

—Andrew Gael
Beat the Back to School Blues…Play a Math Game

For Elementary Students

“If you play these games and your child learns only that hard mental effort can be fun, you will have taught something invaluable.”

Peggy Kaye
Games for Math

Middle School to Adult

“Mathematics is mental play, the essence of creative problem solving. This is the truth we need to impart to our children, more important than fractions or decimals or even the times tables. Math is a game, playing with ideas.”

—Denise Gaskins
Let’s Play Math: How Families Can Learn Math Together—and Enjoy It

Your Turn: What Are Your Favorite Games?

They don’t have to be math! Please share in the comment section below!

 photo exploreMTBoS_zpsf2848a9a.jpgThis post is part of the #MTBoS #MtbosBlogsplosion blogging challenge.

howtosolveproblemsWant to help your kids learn math? Claim your free 24-page problem-solving booklet, and you’ll be among the first to hear about new books, revisions, and sales or other promotions.

How to Build Your Math Blog’s Audience


New Year, New Blog!

The first way to make your math blog grow is to write posts. Here’s an #MTBoS blog challenge that seems doable: Only one post a week, so maybe even I can keep up.

With the start of a new year, there is no better time to start a new blog! For those of you who have blogs, it is also the perfect time to get inspired to write again! Please join us to participate in this years blogging initiative…

Click Here for Details

Join the Math Education Blog Carnival

Once you’ve got your post blogged, please share it with us!

The Math Teachers at Play (MTaP) blog carnival is a monthly collection of tips, tidbits, games, and activities for students and teachers of preschool through pre-college mathematics. We welcome entries from parents, students, teachers, homeschoolers, and just plain folks…

Click Here to Learn More

[Spiral fractal photo (above) by Kent Schimke via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).]

howtosolveproblemsWant to help your kids learn math? Claim your free 24-page problem-solving booklet, and you’ll be among the first to hear about new books, revisions, and sales or other promotions.

Hidden Figures Teaching Resources


Are you taking your kids to see the movie Hidden Figures? Check out Raymond Johnson’s blog post for references and teaching ideas:

If you know of any other resources, please share in the comments below. And as I find new goodies, I’ll add them to the list here:

Background Information

Before computers were machines, computers were people who computed things. This complicated task often fell to women because it was considered basically clerical. That’s right: computing triple integrals all day long qualified as clerical.

— Samantha Schumacher
Hidden Figures Movie Review

howtosolveproblemsWant to help your kids learn math? Claim your free 24-page problem-solving booklet, and you’ll be among the first to hear about new books, revisions, and sales or other promotions.

2017 Mathematics Game


Two of the most popular New Year’s Resolutions are to spend more time with family and friends, and to get more exercise. The 2017 Mathematics Game is a prime opportunity to do both at once.

So grab a partner, slip into your workout clothes, and pump up those mental muscles!

For many years mathematicians, scientists, engineers and others interested in mathematics have played “year games” via e-mail and in newsgroups. We don’t always know whether it is possible to write expressions for all the numbers from 1 to 100 using only the digits in the current year, but it is fun to try to see how many you can find. This year may prove to be a challenge.

Math Forum Year Game Site

Rules of the Game

Use the digits in the year 2017 to write mathematical expressions for the counting numbers 1 through 100. The goal is adjustable: Young children can start with looking for 1-10, middle grades with 1-25.

  • You must use all four digits. You may not use any other numbers.
  • Solutions that keep the year digits in 2-0-1-7 order are preferred, but not required.
  • You may use +, -, x, ÷, sqrt (square root), ^ (raise to a power), ! (factorial), and parentheses, brackets, or other grouping symbols.
  • You may use a decimal point to create numbers such as .2, .02, etc., but you cannot write 0.02 because we only have one zero in this year’s number.
  • You may create multi-digit numbers such as 10 or 201 or .01, but we prefer solutions that avoid them.

My Special Variations on the Rules

  • You MAY use the overhead-bar (vinculum), dots, or brackets to mark a repeating decimal. But students and teachers beware: you can’t submit answers with repeating decimals to Math Forum.
  • You MAY use a double factorial, n!! = the product of all integers from 1 to n that have the same parity (odd or even) as n. I’m including these because Math Forum allows them, but I personally try to avoid the beasts. I feel much more creative when I can wrangle a solution without invoking them.

Click here to continue reading.

In the Beginning Was the Word …

John 1:1-5; 8:12 recited in English, Cantonese, Japanese, Spanish, Croatian, Turkish, and French.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
… Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Playful Math Carnival #103 at Math Misery? Blog


Check out the new carnival of playful math for all ages at Math Misery? blog. You’re sure to enjoy this month’s collection of mathy fun.

The carnival features prime numbers, self-referential logic, calculus puns, word problems, Pythagorean triples, arithmetic games, geometric coloring designs, and more.

Click here to go read the carnival blog!

Past carnivals are still full of mathy treasure. Check them out:

howtosolveproblemsWant to help your kids learn math? Claim your free 24-page problem-solving booklet, and you’ll be among the first to hear about new books, revisions, and sales or other promotions.