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Maths in Everyday Life

From Robin, published on 27/06/2017 We Love Prof - UK > Academia > Maths > How Mathematics Shapes your Daily Life

Mathematics! – The discipline that sends many a student into a cold sweat, from primary school to sixth form; from passing GCSE maths to A-levels. Some students brave it and venture into maths in higher education, at degree level or beyond.

Maths is everywhere. Whether you aspire to study sociology, psychology, physics, biology or even economics, maths is held in high regard, and you will be called on solve various maths problems, as part of your work.

Many students and adults never think to use the maths they have learnt, or are still learning in their everyday lives. In this, they are wrong for many reasons!

First of all, as we will see, mathematics is present in many aspects of your daily life, from a trip to the bank, to cooking and even doing DIY.

Another point, not to be taken lightly, is that learning maths, and more broadly all the ‘hard’ sciences, trains your mind and conditions you to think and analyse problems (not necessarily mathematical ones) more effectively.

In addition to the purely technical elements, mathematics also teaches you methods of reasoning, and a certain rigour in how you approach your work. Why do you think it is that the highest A-level pass rates are found in the scientific disciplines? It’s because these students have learned intellectual rigour, and have developed analytical skills well beyond the sphere of maths.

It is time to recognise the importance of maths, and to get over your reservations about the topic!

Thomas

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Maths: An Essential Part of our Lives

Advanced mathematical theorems describe the ways the world works Whether you’re studying for a maths exam or not, complex equations play a big role in your life (Source: Flickr.com – Eric Hacke)

You may well have already asked yourself questions such as:

  • “How will trigonometry help me in the future?”
  • “How, and why, should I draw up variation table?”
  • “Why should I learn to calculate with negative numbers if this will have no use in my work?”
  • “What is the use of working out a vector, a differential equation, Pythagoras’ theorem, confidence intervals, algebra questions, or the graphical analysis of a function?”

Pupils and students often ask such questions, and as a maths teacher or tutor, it can be hard to give a convincing answer without drawing on practical everyday examples.

To avoid resorting to retorts like “actually, square roots are very useful: To pass your exam and succeed in maths!” or “I’m sure the Minister for Education would find your point of view very interesting!” let’s look further than simple exam success, and explore some concrete examples.

Did you know that about 1 person in 10 is at a disadvantage in their daily lives thanks to their poor knowledge of maths? Let’s not leave them behind!

Here are some examples which show that maths is essential in our lives and serves us in many important ways.

Shopping

Maths surrounds you the minute you step through the doors of your favourite supermarket!

Indeed, the automatic doors and security scanner you pass through are composed of electronic systems that could never have been designed without maths.

Then, when you start shopping, you fill your trolley with products labelled with barcodes, which reference the manufacturer and the specific identity of each product. The products, thanks to the barcode, are scanned at the checkout with a laser. All you have to do is pay for your purchases by check, credit card or cash: All of which, again, are possible thanks to mathematics!

All these steps and operations use mathematical concepts, like those taught in the classroom.

Another example would be if, while shopping, you realise that the store has a 30% off promotional discount, and that this reduction increases if you purchase 2 items. You understand, however, that a 10% off the first product and 20% off the second do not make a total discount of 30%!

The value of knowing some basic mental calculation can be very useful when out shopping.

Cooking

Maths games can extend to the kitchen Even when you’re cooking, maths is there! (Source: Pixabay.com – Daria-Yakovlev)

The use of maths in cooking is almost inevitable, and it is often the famous rule of 3 that is applied, when you have to convert the proportions of a recipe for 6 people to a different number.

It’s important to calculate and adjust the quantities for the recipe to turn out well.

Similarly, you should know the basic rules for converting weights (grammes to pounds and vice versa), temperature (between Celsius and Fahrenheit, depending on where you get your recipes from) or simply to add or divide ingredients. For example: “Mix 2/3 of 500 g flour, add 2 eggs, and milk, then add the remaining 1/3.”

Buying a House or an Apartment

Buying property is among the most significant and practical examples of using maths in your everyday life. Given the importance of such a purchase, it’s better to pay attention to all the details, to be sure of a favourable transaction.

In fact, when you borrow money, you are offered a repayment plan that accounts for interest rates, sometimes fixed, sometimes variable, but different depending on the length of your loan: The rate differs whether you borrow for 2, 10, 25 or 30 years.

To know how much you’re going to pay overall, what you need to save and what you have to repay, interest rate calculations prove to very important.

If you’re going to build a house, then besides the loan you’re going to take out, you’ll need to draw up plans.

For this, you should know how to use a ladder, measure angles and provide for furniture to scale, to finalise your plans. Here as well, the use of maths, and more precisely of geometry, is paramount.

Do-It-Yourself

Whether for small or large jobs, maths will be one of your best friends when doing DIY!

Whether you want to calculate the angles necessary to erect a partition or work out the number of tiles needed to decorate a bathroom, you need to know how to use the rule of three, how to calculate angles and the hypotenuse of a triangle, and be at ease calculating surfaces in square meters and volumes in cubic meters.

Examples like these are so familiar that it’s easy to forget that maths comes into play so often when redesigning or transforming the interior of your home!

Travel

Nowadays, GPS receivers are found in so many cars and smartphones. There, too, maths is at work!

Before all this technology came along, we had the compass, protractor, sextant and the astrolabe: It’s with triangulation that we can determine our distance from a fixed point, and direction of movement.

Triangulation (today greatly improved with satellites) with its calculations of angles and distances has always been a mainstay of cartography and navigation.

Just ask someone sailing around the world, how they would manage if they were not able to identify their location on a map!

Maths and Gambling

As the best players know: Maths is essential to maximise your chances of winning in a card game! Keep in mind maths, at the card table (Source: Pixabay.com – Skitterphoto)

Although chance does play a role in card games, mathematics gives the best poker and bridge players an advantage over average players, who don’t use probability or calculate odds to give themselves an advantage.

In poker, if you can grasp a few statistical notions and keep in mind some other factors, like the hand you hold or the pot size, you will be able to play more consistently. Moreover, for any great card player, the expectation of gain is not calculated in the short term, but in the long term. While it may not be possible to win systematically, it’s important to be systematic in the long term.

As such, good poker players are all familiar with the law of large numbers, even if only implicitly.

The law of large numbers tells us that the more frequently you toss a coin, for example, the more the observed result will approach the theoretical mean, in this case 50% heads and 50% tails.

This helps to explain the legendary calm shown by some players when losing large sums: Because they know that in the long run, they will.

Music and Videogames

On an audio compact disc, the sounds you hear are coded by a mathematical sequence into a string of 1s and 0s, which are grouped into 8-bit words. So that the recorded sound is more resilient to damage to the medium, duplicate packets of data are added to the disc, so that the decoding device (a CD player) can detect and correct the sequence, if dust or scratches obscure some of the data on the disc.

This branch of mathematics has a name: theory of error correcting codes and is found in many other applications such as data transmission via satellite, and even the Internet:

Without you even knowing it, maths makes it easy for you to access your favourite websites!

Maths in Professional Life

Beyond universal applications that touch everyone’s lives, mathematics is very much a part of our professional lives. Much more so if you are an accountant than a literary critic, granted, but applications abound in many spheres of work. Here are some examples.

Mathematics and Sales

Having at least a basic understanding of maths while working in sales is an indispensable asset.

As a salesperson, it is important to practice mental calculations to stay sharp Maths practice is important for the workplace (Source: Pixabay.com – ArtsyBee)

Whether calculating prices in Excel, working out sales percentages, commissions, a discount or converting currencies, maths is a central part of the daily life of all who are involved in sales. However, you won’t have your maths teacher alongside you, so be sure to practice properly!

Maths and Accounting

You don’t need a maths degree to become an accountant or a secretary, or even to plan your monthly household budget, however, you need at least some knowledge of maths to successfully navigate your day’s work.

To manipulate an Excel table, do basic statistical analyses, evaluate a forecast budget, balance your books or determine management thresholds to assess the health of an organisation: Maths is everywhere!

Geometry and Architecture

Maths, with its formulas for area and volume, is widely used in architecture to represent buildings in three dimensions and to create perspective views of a plan.

Thales’ theorem also allows us to calculate hard-to-measure distances, such as the height of a pyramid.

The design of complex buildings relies on mathematical principles Architecture draws heavily on geometry (Source: Pixabay – 3093594)

Maths can even be found in video and animated film design, through 3D special effects and image morphing software.

In fact, it’s impossible to manipulate 3D images in space, create representations of surfaces or curves, or distort images without a minimum knowledge of maths.

Maths and Economics

Most economic models use mathematics. Broadly, economists are interested in production, productivity and the distribution of wealth in a given country.

The range of applications of mathematics is as broad as the economy itself, from simple calculations like the aggregation of a company’s payroll, to more technical notions such as share price updates and concepts found in macro- and microeconomics.

However, one of the most interesting aspects of maths in economics, though far from the easiest, is their use in predictive economic models.

Maths allows us to store data that will allow us to anticipate, to some extent, the future fluctuations of a phenomenon we are attempting to explain.

There are other subjects closely related to both economics and the application of mathematics which fulfil other roles. One such sub-discipline is econometrics, which seeks to demonstrate mathematically whether variables are relevant in explaining phenomena.

It could be used, for example, to attempt to determine whether and how the number of years of education that a person has acquired is related to his or her salary.

Maths: The Lingua Franca of Science

Just as English is the international language of areas like business and geopolitics, mathematics enjoys the same prestige in the realm of science.

From economics, as we have just seen, to physics, biology, health or neuroscience, the application of maths in the sciences is omnipresent. If you are keen to embark on a career in any of these areas, and many more, you should be aware that your maths abilities will be closely scrutinised by recruiters: Just one more proof that maths is present in many professions.

How can Maths Change your World View? 

Learning Intellectual Rigour through Maths

Beyond the practical applications of mathematics in your everyday life, it’s worth mentioning some of the discipline’s more rarified benefits. In fact, when you practice maths a regular basis, you train and hone your mind in a number of ways.

The holistic benefits of mathematics, unlike its practical, everyday applications, are skills that can be exercised in all kinds of situations.

Indeed, if you are able to reason more effectively and remain consistent and rigorous in your thinking, it is a good bet that you will be able to make better decisions than someone with little or no mathematical rigour. Just like studying philosophy, argumentation and rhetoric, mathematics is a tremendous tool for structuring your thinking.

To then declare that mathematics makes you more intelligent, as one sometimes hears, is for us a step too far, however, it’s true to say that you will likely be more comfortable with the “consistency” and “logic” components of reasoning.

Maths in Learning Patience

To put it bluntly, it would be quite difficult to be effective in mathematics without a minimum level of patience!

Through practice, you will realise that this discipline is a true therapy for patience. At times you will need five or six steps of reasoning to answer a single question or solve a puzzle formulated of only a few words.

Over time, you will learn how to formulate your reasoning, make your own shortcuts and, above all, stay focused from beginning to end, on an exercise, problem or puzzle.

Other Places where you find Maths in Action

  • In psychology and sociology: Data are analysed and compared using mathematical or statistical methods
  • In fitness classes, such as aquagym: You need to keep count to stay in synch with the sequence of movements.
  • In biology: Maths has numerous applications, for example in finding the number of molecules produced in a chemical reaction
  • In sewing: Maths is applied when using axial symmetry, to calculate angles and make the correct cuts to create an accurate pattern.
  • At the theatre: Maths helps you to locate your seat, to predict the duration of a spectacle, or to calculate light intensity.
  • Chess: To anticipate your opponent’s moves and calculate the displacement of your own on the board.
  • In scuba diving: To stay safe underwater, to evaluate depth, the amount of air remaining, the surface interval (time between dives), you must have a logical approach and a grasp of some of the basics of maths.
  • Playing your favourite sport: To evaluate a distance, to make a play, to calculate an angle.
  • In love: Maths and seduction are intricately linked!
  • To organise yourself day-to-day: To count days and months, or evaluate the time needed to perform a task.
  • To calculate your taxes
  • For your household budget: To give pocket money to your children, to make a monthly budget for family expenses. or plan for major purchases like a new house, car, holiday, etc.
  • Getting from A to B: To estimate the distance and time involved in getting to a destination.
  • Playing billiards: The application of symmetry.
  • Painting and drawing: Knowing how to create given shades of colour by correctly mixing different pigments.
  • Browsing Facebook and other social media: Have you ever noticed that thanks to your friends and interests, social networks and the website you surf provide an experience ever more closely aligned with your tastes over time? Behind this “phenomenon” lies a raft of algorithms that would not be possible without advanced maths.
  • And finally, to solve puzzles and other mental maths games!

Summary

  • As you can see, mathematics has many real, practical applications in our everyday lives: Whether in relation to cooking, shopping or buying a house.
  • Whether you or not you aspire to become a mathematician, this discipline is a science in its own right, and one that has a great importance for everyone. Without maths, a great many technological innovations and inventions would never have been born.
  • Maths is also an essential part of your professional life, even if yours is a non-scientific job! An administrator needs to know how to use Excel, a salesperson; to do mental calculations, and an architect; to calculate angles.
  • Finally, maths can teach you to be more patient and rigorous. Give it a try, you might be pleasantly surprised!

Perhaps even without knowing it, you are already using mathematics on a daily basis! It just might be time to rethink your relationship with the topic!

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