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The Magic of Math

I've had a mathematical brain for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is of the vintage math text book my first landlord gave me as a child. He also gave me a real fur hat. The hat was alright, but the book got me giddy. There were almost no words in it, not much in the way of arithmetic drills, either. Instead, it used pictures to demonstrate key concepts. Though I didn't have the technical vocabulary yet to formally describe the mathematics contained within, I understood. Math was beautiful.

A couple of days ago, a friend linked to an article from The Atlantic titled "5-year-olds Can Learn Calculus". As a math enthusiast and parent to toddler, I clicked on the link immediately. The article was full of fascinating information that got me thinking about my own parenting. But there was one comment that resonated with me on a personal level:

“It’s not the subject of calculus as formally taught in college,” Droujkova notes. “But before we get there, we want to have hands-on, grounded, metaphoric play. At the free play level, you are learning in a very fundamental way—you really own your concept, mentally, physically, emotionally, culturally.”

Maybe part of why I was always so good at math was because I thought it was fun.

Both of my parents dropped out of high school so that they could go to work. I've read the articles about the learning gap and its risk factors. Statistically, I was starting at a disadvantage. However, it's the details that matter in these situations. And, despite circumstances pushing my parents to terminate their formal education early, they still placed high value on education. I never went to a fancy pre-school, or even Headstart. But I did have access to books, toys that encouraged free play, an older brother who loved to show off what he had learned, and a mother who was always interested and encouraging.

I built structures with blocks, Legos, and Ringa-Majigs. I made pictures with Spirograph. I learned how to crochet. I helped measure ingredients for cooking and fabric for sewing. I counted and rolled pennies. I played card games and board games. The world was full of patterns and sequences and relationships--and it was so much fun! Once it was time to learn math as a formal discipline in school, it was just an extension of all this fun stuff I already did.

Math, I later explained to a friend in high school, was just a game. You were given a few fundamental rules and then it was just a matter of figuring out the patterns.

These days, I don't remember much in the way of trigonometry or calculus--I've been out of practice for too long. But the mathematical brain remains. It comes in handy when I'm stringing beads or folding origami. I use it to organize my living space and pack my suitcase. It makes me a darned good knitter. Still, sometimes, I wish I could stretch my proverbial math muscles a little more.

Which probably explains why I am newly obsessed with hyperbolic crochet. Advanced mathematical concepts modeled through yarn craft? Count me in! So now, when I have a little bit of down time, I find myself enthusiastically hooking pseudospheres and hyperbolic planes for my 2-year-old. Hopefully, in a few years, she can learn how to make them herself. And maybe she'll marvel at the math that surrounds us, too.


( 50 murmurs — Talk About the Passion )
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Mar. 6th, 2014 04:36 pm (UTC)
The hyperbolic crochet is slightly terrifying. I'm doing good to make a magic circle without screwing it up. Increasing and decreasing is a bit beyond me right now.
Mar. 6th, 2014 05:31 pm (UTC)
One of the fun things that has come out of hyperbolic crochet is the coral reef crochet project. And that involves a little more free-form crochet. If you don't get the increases exact, it doesn't matter--because nature isn't always mathematically exact, either. I've made coral and seaweed and an urchin...
(no subject) - snarkerdoodle - Mar. 6th, 2014 09:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cacophonesque - Mar. 6th, 2014 11:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 6th, 2014 04:37 pm (UTC)
I wish I had a better math brain. I can do money, but I wish I could do that better and w more confidence. AW
Mar. 6th, 2014 05:34 pm (UTC)
Maybe it's not too late! Maybe you already have a math brain, but you haven't found the branch of math that you're good at. Although... I think I remember that you do Zumba or some sort of dance? That's math, too--sequences or patterns of steps. And of course, music itself is mathematical--even if you don't have the skill to play it, if you're able to follow the rhythm, you're using your math brain. :)
Mar. 6th, 2014 06:47 pm (UTC)
Hey you.
Mar. 6th, 2014 11:39 pm (UTC)
It's me!
Mar. 6th, 2014 08:48 pm (UTC)
Hyperbolic crochet scrubbies and dishclothes in multicolored cotton yarn is one of the things I do when I'm feeling like I want to make something neat, but don't want to think much about it. Once you figure out your increases, it's just repeat-repeat-repeat, and it turns out great. It's fantastic for cons. :)

This is a great intro - getting a peek into both your past and present through the way you think is a fabulous approach!
Mar. 6th, 2014 11:45 pm (UTC)
It's so soothing. And it's also a great way to use up random yarn remnants. What do I do with this yarn? Ooooh, it can be kelp.

I figured that in terms of Idol, the best sort of introduction should include elements of where I come from and where I'm at--but most importantly, it should highlight how my brain works. (Well, one of the ways). The details of how I construct my identity are always in flux... but the underlying mechanics of how my brain works seem to be constant.
Mar. 6th, 2014 09:12 pm (UTC)
I love that hyperbolic crochet. And I love that you have a mathematical brain, you Claw you! I adore math. I wish I'd had the opportunity to take more of it because it's such a wonderful subject
Mar. 6th, 2014 11:50 pm (UTC)
The hyperbolic crochet forms are so beautiful. If you do a Google image search, you'll find some even more amazing stuff. I'd love to just take math classes for fun--if only I had the time and money!
Mar. 6th, 2014 09:43 pm (UTC)
Now I really wish I was better at math.
Mar. 6th, 2014 11:53 pm (UTC)
I think that most people are better at math than they think they are--they just think of math in terms of series of tedious drills instead of something that infuses the world around us. As toddlers we learn and absorb all sorts of natural math... but at the time we don't think of it as such.
Mar. 7th, 2014 12:08 am (UTC)
I have zero capacity for the stillness that crochet requires, but I am most definitely passing on that link to a friend who lives for it. I, too, love math. My aunt gave me a book of tricks and tips one summer (after 3rd grade or so? Somewhere around then) and I remember using it happily to get ahead when school resumed.
Mar. 11th, 2014 01:59 am (UTC)
I find that crochet and knitting are good hobbies for those moments when I have to be still. (Or when I have low energy due to a round of depression). I like to take a project with me any time I have to wait for an appointment, and also when I go on long car rides. It keeps my hands busy, at least.

I used to beg my mom to buy me math work books when I was in grade school--and always for a couple levels above what I was doing in class. I wanted to actually be challenged!
(no subject) - kecharasmoon - Mar. 11th, 2014 02:41 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 7th, 2014 08:59 pm (UTC)
So I just came across this song today, and thought of you and your mathy brain. Had to share. :)

Mar. 11th, 2014 02:01 am (UTC)
I still haven't had a moment to listen to the song yet! I need to find where I stashed my headphones. But I love that you saw something online and thought of me.

You thought of me! ♥
Mar. 9th, 2014 01:14 am (UTC)
Math! Hyperbolic crochet sounds amazing. I fell in love with everything about math, it all made sense and I really like the concreteness of it. Everything made sense in my world when I was learning math. I think when it got theoretical and complicated in university I felt distanced from it but I do miss it. I really liked how math was the base of so much in my life. In all life. Well, math and physics. Just looking around and seeing that math was used to build everything in throom.

Oh good times. Hi Destiny! Sorry I didn't realize I was logged in as Hannah until just now.

Yay Lj Idol!
Mar. 11th, 2014 02:05 am (UTC)
I posted a couple photos of my crochet on my FB today. Or maybe just one that had all the things.

Oddly, I find the theoretical math easier than physics. People would always be confused when I told them I was rocking Calc and struggling through Physics, because isn't Physics just applied math... But I think I took one of those learning personality tests once that told me I was "Abstract Random" (You can be Abstract or Concrete and then Random or Sequential). So, I guess I'm better with theory than application. Might explain why I am also good at learning the grammar of languages, but crap at the actual vocabulary.

I was just going to roll with it... Hey Hannah, what's up? Haven't seen you since 6th year.
Mar. 9th, 2014 04:05 am (UTC)
After reading this, I feel like maybe I need to relearn math. Or... learn math to begin with.
Mar. 11th, 2014 02:07 am (UTC)
The good part about doing it now is you can choose what parts you want to learn and how deeply.
Mar. 9th, 2014 06:45 am (UTC)
Some really fascinating concepts here. Thanks for opening this up. I'm one of the people who not only doesn't understand Calculus, I don't understand how anyone can understand Calculus! But now, it makes a bit more sense in that math really is like learning a language and that if you get it early, it really is almost second nature. For some reason, Geometry always made sense to me, but Calculus was like slogging through hip deep mud. But then again, I was playing with Geometry when I was a in 4th Grade and didn't even hear the word Calculus until high school. Maybe it's not too late to develop a math brain?
Mar. 11th, 2014 02:12 am (UTC)
There's a lot of math in the world to marvel at and appreciate. It's a big part of music, and dance. As I mentioned above, the patterns aspect is also a big part of knitting and crocheting (particularly lacework or afghan squares). Part of developing a math brain, I think, is to just start to notice how the different branches of math manifest in the world around you. And to let go of the need to be able to do the actual calculations and instead think about things on a more theoretical level.
Mar. 9th, 2014 04:48 pm (UTC)
Math AND the magic of being able to write. You are blessed with many gifts indeed!
Mar. 11th, 2014 02:13 am (UTC)
Aw. Thanks!

Many gifts, perhaps, though all under-utilized.
Mar. 9th, 2014 11:29 pm (UTC)
There's a lot more math to knitting and crocheting than most people realize, I think. It's part of what attracts me too.
Mar. 11th, 2014 02:16 am (UTC)
There is SO much math involved! And I love it. Once I can see the pattern and how it works, I can just zoom through lace work--I can't always memorize the actual K4, yo, P3 stuff, but I can remember where stitches are supposed to go in relation to each other.

I think that a lot of people are probably innately better at math than they realize; they just can't let go of their idea of "Mathematics" as formally taught in most high school classrooms.
(no subject) - beeker121 - Mar. 12th, 2014 10:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 10th, 2014 04:02 am (UTC)
I love spirographs too :)

I truly wish I had a more mathematical brain.

Your intro was extremely interesting. Thanks for sharing :)
Mar. 11th, 2014 02:18 am (UTC)
I'm just glad that I was able to come up with a fresh approach for myself after writing so many of these darned things.
Mar. 10th, 2014 04:22 pm (UTC)
This was so wonderfully descriptive, not only regarding your thoughts and feelings about mathematics, but also in how you grew up. Thanks so much for sharing, and best luck this LJI season.

Mar. 11th, 2014 02:21 am (UTC)
Thank you. Introductions are such tricky things. Especially after you've played a few rounds of Idol.
Mar. 10th, 2014 07:28 pm (UTC)
I've always found mathematical thinkers to be quite alien. As much as I try to understand the interest, it's a really hard bridge for me to cross. Your introduction definitely helped pave the way through relating your passion to your childhood and how you were brought up to see the world.

Loved the format of this as well as the originality. Can't say I've seen an intro post quite like it.
Mar. 11th, 2014 02:32 am (UTC)
One of the things I want for people to know is that having a math brain doesn't make me so alien. I'm still creative and artsy-fartsy. It's just that the math side of things shapes the artsy side of things. In reading/writing it makes me sharply aware of underlying rhythms. In bead work, it means that I'm always looking to create more subtly complex patterns. In knitting it means I'm thinking about how patterns can be adapted to create new patterns through the shifting of a stitch sequence.

The format is strongly influenced by how my brain works. "Here are three things that I want to write about. How can I connect them into a single entry?" I was happy with the result and I'm glad to see that it's worked for others.

Strangely, I never considered that in a writing game, discussion of a love of math might not be the best way to relate to others.
Mar. 11th, 2014 06:00 am (UTC)
There's a mistake in the poll but I think this is your topic 0 entry? I loved it, anyway ;-)
Mar. 11th, 2014 06:34 am (UTC)
Loved this!! Do you know my sister blueashke? When we were kids and I still dreamed of being a ballerina or a pretty pretty princess, she wanted to be a mathematician. She is rad.
Mar. 11th, 2014 04:17 pm (UTC)
Nice! I learned the basics the hard way, and was pretty surprised when pre-Algebra rolled around and all of a sudden I was good at math and no longer needed a tutor. It really is much more intuitive to play with the concepts instead of memorizing everything.
Mar. 12th, 2014 12:14 am (UTC)
I miss crocheting, and your link may re-inspire me in that direction.
Mar. 12th, 2014 02:17 am (UTC)
oh, I love this. I'm a fellow math nerd and a crocheter, though. :3
Mar. 12th, 2014 10:46 am (UTC)
Interesting...:)..tho I hate maths but i never looked at it like a game...a nice perspective. Best wishes!!
Mar. 12th, 2014 03:43 pm (UTC)
i was always good at math in school but i never liked it. now of course i think it's really cool, and i don't understand any of it any more. >.< that hyperbolic crochet is fascinating. math i don't understand and crocheting i don't know how to do, but man do i want to learn.
Mar. 12th, 2014 07:08 pm (UTC)
As a non-math person married to a math person I say--HURRAY for math! I will not be taking up hyperbolic crochet, but I can see the appeal!

Good to read you again!
Mar. 13th, 2014 01:52 am (UTC)
Wow, very intriguing, my 7 year old loves math and takes to it very quickly. I never would have thought about calculus though.
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( 50 murmurs — Talk About the Passion )

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