Upcoming KPU Course Encourages Students to Find Beauty in Mathematics

MATH 1216 will illustrate abstract mathematics visually

(Nicola Kwit)

A quantitative course that will be offered at Kwantlen Polytechnic University this spring, MATH 1216, aims to encourage more students outside the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) to take an interest in math.

“In the math you normally take in school, they have you doing trigonometry and algebra—basically marching you towards calculus—and honestly, it’s kind of boring,” says Allyson Rozell, Chair of the Mathematics Department at KPU. “Calculus is a highly useful, but in my opinion, not a terribly interesting part of mathematics. There’s so much more mathematics that most people never see.”

Students in the course will focus on mathematical concepts that can be expressed visually, many of which are naturally occurring in the world around us, such as the way leaves arrange themselves on plant stems.

“With visual objects, you can introduce people to it in a slightly less abstract way and they can see some of the different areas of mathematics,” says Rozell.

Due to the visual nature of the course, many concepts will focus on geometric applicability, such as with fractals, Fibonacci sequences, and the golden ratio. Students may discover that while “math” indeed encapsulates the thought processes you use to compare values while shopping, it can also be thought of as a language that describes the natural world and the patterns found within it.

The course covers a breadth of mathematical subjects that typically wouldn’t be encountered by students outside the STEM fields. For instance, an understanding of symmetry groups, a highly abstract geometric concept, would likely only be taught to a math major.

That doesn’t mean that the concepts are difficult to grasp, however. Fibonacci sequences might sound daunting, but they’re made quite simply by the addition of the last two numbers in a series to produce a third number. When expressed graphically, these figures can be depicted in the form of something like a blooming flower.

“To me, there are no numbers involved at all,” says Rozell in regards to some of the more abstract concepts. “I did my graduate work in model theory, which is a branch of mathematical logic, and really, there’s almost no numbers at all. It’s completely abstract. Applied mathematics tends to have a lot more calculation and stuff, and that’s where the numbers are, whereas abstract mathematics doesn’t.”

Rozell hopes that students who take the course come away with a deeper appreciation for mathematics, even if they decide not to go any further with math. She wants her class to understand not only that math “can be seen in art, but [also] that there’s an art to mathematics itself.”

“Anyone can do mathematics,” she says. “There are no ‘math people’ and ‘non-math people’. Anybody can do it. They just need it presented in an approachable way.”

She hopes that KPU will introduce a similar quantitative course that looks at the math in music in the future.

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