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Communicating Using Mathematical Language

Ziyan Li

University of California, Santa Barbara

May 8, 2017

Communicating Using Mathematical Language

Most people see mathematics as a topic only involves of numbers, and complicated

formulas. Yet, communicating mathematic well is an important part of doing mathematics. In

my current class, Transition to Higher Mathematics, professor trains student to develop a firm

foundation for future study in mathematics by introducing new symbols, leading into various

methods in solving problem consist of the new symbols and set forth to how to write clear,

readable proof. Based on my observation of the class, interview with the teacher assistance, and

the journal article on mathematic; I found that mathematician must be familiar using several

important literacy practices. In my current class, transition to higher mathematics, students need

to be familiar with basic mathematical symbols, know the correct technique to solve problems,

and interpret different mathematical theory when writing proofs with objectivity, and clarity.

Understanding and being familiar with mathematical symbols are crucial for student to

succeed in math. Without a doubt, symbols not only enhance understanding, but also provide a

universally perceivable way to show a certain math function or illustrate a sequence. Students

need to know how each symbol works and how it relates to other, as well as how to apply the

concepts to situations in our world. An example of these is the congruent symbol which is

denoted using three lines (). The definition for congruent is if two numbers a and b have the

property that their differences b-a is divisible by a number m, then a and a are said to be

congruent modulo m, and the statement is written mathematically as a b mod m. After knowing

the definition of congruent symbols, can you find me a number that is congruent to 4803 modulo

24, 4803 ? mod 24? You probably cannot figure it out and argue that you dont know what is

modulo. A modulo is the base with respect to which a congruence is computed. Yet, giving the

definition of modulo might not necessarily help you to solve this problem either. In fact, the

definition of congruent and modulo doesnt serve you too well in solving the problem 4803 ?

mod 24. To do this problem, we need understand the functions of these two symbols and their

relationship with each other. It is best to understand functions of symbols, and their relationship

with other symbol via real life example. For instance, if I tell you to find the time in 4803 hours

from now given the time is 12:00 am right now, you probably will divide 24 since there are 24

hours per day by 4803 which is 200 and left with a remainder of 3. Not surprisingly, 3 is the

number congruent to 4803 modulo 24, but not the only one since 27 and any multiple of 24 plus

three would also be solutions. Which method do you find more appealing in solving the

problem, knowing the definitions ways of the two symbols or interacting the two symbols with

real world scenarios? Understanding mathematical symbols and relating them with real life

experience are essential for ones to have the correct technique to solve mathematical problems.

Everything in math has to do with logic, knowing the correct technique of solving

different types of problems can make life much easier in doing math. As such, knowing what are

the corresponding technique of different type of questions can decide the consumption of time

when responding to homework exercise and exam questions. For example, there were few

exercise problems that were quite time consuming if I didnt know the right technique. One of

the problem ask me to find the number congruent to 12 to the 651 power (12 multiply itself for

651 times) modulo 13, which can be written as 12^651 ? mod 13. No one likes to write out 12

to the 651 power by hand since it is going to be huge with hundreds of digits. Yet, this is a totally

workable problem without using google, a calculator, or even solving what is 12 to the 651

power if you know the right technique. However, for the technique to make sense, you have to be

familiar with the symbol and mod which I had presented to you in the previous paragraph.

Ignore the 651 power for now, the problem become finding the number congruent 12 modulo 13.

The answer could be 25, 38, -1, etc., These are the all obtainable solution once you are familiar

with the symbols. However, building upon the symbol, the technique would consider -1 to be the

best solution among all the other ones. The technique for this problem is using the fact that a to

the n power is congruent to b to the n power modulo m. In another word, raising the solution

obtains in 12 ? mod 13 to the 651 power is the answer to the problem 12^651 ? mod 13.

Without a doubt, -1 would be the best solution since -1 to the 651 is still -1. Without having the

knowledge of this method, solving this problem will be impossible or extremely time consuming.

In broader terms, having the correct technique can lead to the solution of a problem with

minimize time. In this case, knowing the right technique for different problems are important to

connecting pieces successfully in the class and in the discipline. In addition, these skills are

essential when writing proofs for various type of mathematical proposition.

The most important literacy practice in my class, transition to higher mathematics is

writing different types of proof via various of mathematical propositions. Mathematician and

professors value objectivity when expressing idea. In order to obtain objectivity, mathematicians

use author-detached language and an unbiased tone when giving lectures, writing proofs and

authoring journals. For example, the journal article On the Algebra of Elementary Embeddings

of a Rank into Itself, the author states that the paper is organized as follows. Lemma 1 through

Theorem 4 are preliminaries and we recall some results from [13]. In showing that, a number of

combination faces about A and P were proved. (Laver 334-346). Using the passive the paper is

organized instead of we organize the paper and using were proved rather than we proved

drew a line between the author and the work to emphasize objectivity. Minimizing the first-

person pronouns, the author was trying to keep an unbiased tone. Along with objectivity, my

professor value clarity in writing proofs. My teacher assistance, Nancy Scherich says when

writing proofs forget what you learned about math, and image the person reading your proof is

an elementary school kid who just have some basic information about math, and do lots of

practice problems on topics that you confused on. (Scherich, Personal Interview). Doing lots

of practice problems definitely helps to clear confusion on new materials or hard concepts. In

addition, the textbook of a math class aimed for clarity by using a predictable structure. The text

book of the course A Concise Introduction to Pure Mathematics is divided chapters, every

chapter has a title and a brief summary of the chapter in the first page, and every chapter are

being divided into several parts via subtitle. The structure of the text aimed for clarity and was

created to guide student through the book and find what they are looking for easily. Being able to

write different proofs to interpret mathematics principal is crucial for communication in math,

and by extension, the discipline of the class.

In conclusion, the literacy practices of a math class are mainly construct by three things:

familiar with basic mathematical symbols, know the correct technique to solve problems, and

interpret different mathematical theory when writing proofs with objectivity, and clarity. The

base of the literacy is being familiar with mathematical symbols which allows student to develop

good logic thru connecting math with the real world. The next block of literacy practices in math

is knowing the correct technique to solve problems, in doing so, students can save a lot of time

when working on hard problems and improve their problem-solving ability. The last and the

most important piece of literacy practices in math is being able to interpret different

mathematical theory when writing proofs with objectivity, and clarity. This piece allows students

to communicate effectively in the classroom, to people that know little about math, and to

mathematician. All of these literacy practices are presented in Transition to Higher Mathematics

to help student to develop a firm foundation for future study in mathematics which is the ultimate

aim of the class and the professor.


Reference Page

Laver, R. (1995). On the Algebra of Elementary Embeddings of a Rank into Itself. Advances in

Mathematics, 110(2), 334-346. doi:10.1006/aima.1995.1014

Scherich, Nancy. Personal Interview. 2 May.2017.

Liebeck, M. W. (2011). A concise introduction to pure mathematics. Boca Raton u.a.: Chapman

& Hall/CRC.