Professors: Math does serve real-world purpose

By Lillian Bowe

PNT staff writer

lbowe@pntonline.com

April is mathematics awareness and education month, which brings an understanding and appreciation for math and those who teach it, according to Mathaware.org.

Combined, Brian Pasko (eight years) and Regina Aragon (21 years) have been teaching math at Eastern New Mexico University for nealry 30 years.

 

Why did you become a mathematics professor?

Pasko: I found my love for math as an undergraduate and my love for teaching as a graduate student.

Aragon: I became a mathematics professor because mathematics is fun to me, I enjoy helping others, and I value education.

 

What are some of the classes you teach?

Pasko: College algebra, calculus 2 and 3, along with some upper division mathematics courses.

Aragon: Typically I teach college algebra, trigonometry, foundations of higher mathematics, abstract algebra, real analysis, and history of mathematics. Some other courses that I have taught include calculus I and II, ordinary differential equations, introduction to statistics, mathematics for general education, and advanced calculus.

 

Do you have any struggles when it comes to teaching mathematics to college age students?

Pasko: I think the most difficult part of teaching is finding different ways to explain the same idea. Often what seems clear to one person requires a different viewpoint for another person to understand. It is a fun exercise to come up with unique ways to answer the same question.

Aragon: The biggest obstacles to a college age student learning are personal situations that make it difficult for them to find time to focus on studying. This is my biggest struggle.

 

What is your approach to teaching mathematics for students who struggle with math?

Pasko: At some point, everyone struggles with learning mathematics. I try to provide lots of examples looking at the same idea in slightly different ways. I have found that most people actually like mathematics, or at least respect it. While it is often a difficult subject, people like the confidence of its answers and its reliably predictive way of describing the world.

Aragon: To help an individual student that is struggling in mathematics, I would help them identify the mathematical gap/misunderstanding, try to deepen the student’s understanding of the relevant concept, and then give them the opportunity to apply their understanding.

 

A lot of people say about math is that you will never use it in the real world, how is that not true?

Pasko: Mathematics is everywhere in our modern, technological world. For example, newspapers often relay information via graphs, charts and tables. Being able to accurately read and interpret these displays is vital to being an informed member of the community. A little math can go a long way in making good decisions for a small business or what aspect of your baseball team’s game is producing wins (or, losses). Personally, I think the most valuable outcome of learning mathematics is learning how to reason, how to think critically about topics in an orderly, disciplined way.

Aragon: Mathematical knowledge can create opportunities in many fields such as cryptography, business, physics, chemistry, engineering, computer science, biology, and any field in which statistical studies are done. If there is mathematics that is not being used in the “real world”, it is because nobody has thought of how to use it yet.

George Boole’s mathematical discovery from the 1800s is the basis of the modern computer.

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