On the same page

I want to share something with you. Mathematics shares an equal-sized place in my heart with the English language.

I don’t remember being read to or being taught to read. (I’m sure that I was; I had attentive parents.) My memories of reading as a child are of being deep in a novel or at the library. I read on the school bus, in the car, and while walking. I read in bed, in the bath, and on the loo. Growing up on a rural property with three younger brothers, I had a lot of chores. I would try and do chores while snatching a few pages at the same time. (Why I didn’t wait to the end, I have no idea.) My outdoor play was strongly influenced by what I read (Narnia, The Faraway Tree, Terabithia, Famous Five, Nancy Drew, …). My dad wouldn’t let me read at the breakfast table, so I read the back of cereal boxes instead. I did cryptic crosswords, agonised over word choice, and delighted at puns. My superpower is spotting a spelling mistake on a page of text at a glance1.

As I finished high school and contemplated university, my love of words drew me to language-rich careers such as law and journalism. I was attracted by the opportunities to express myself through careful crafting with words. But I also loved mathematics, in particular, the problem-solving aspect — everything seemed like a puzzle to crack.

After a year of mulling it over (which included repeating my final year of high school; perhaps a story for another post), I decided to follow mathematics, with a ‘back up plan’ to also do computer science, because I didn’t know what kind of job I could get in mathematics, but I knew that I could be a programmer … .

Looking back, I didn’t realise at the time that ‘Mathematics’ or ‘English’ was a false choice. Now, as a mathematician working on industry problems, as a teacher aiming to meaningfully connect with my students, and as an advocate for my profession, communication is key. I need to choose my words carefully in order to have the most mathematical or educational impact. My love of the English language immeasurably enriches my mathematical experiences.

Explaining ideas — to myself and to others — clarifies and deepens what I think. (Which is why I eventually began this blog.) It’s why I care so much about building communication skills in my students. I look forward to elaborating on this in future posts.


1. I’m well aware that readers are now more likely to point out my glaring spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors!


One thought on “On the same page

  1. Pingback: Wrapping up the #MTBoS30 challenge | Wonder in Mathematics

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