Many people perceive mathematics as a subject that is hard, abstract, stifling and uncreative. These negative connotations pose a big problem for people who teach mathematics, such as Dr. Aminmohamed Adatia, coordinator of statistics in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science.
Numbers can turn away some students and create what Adatia calls “math phobia,” or a chronic fear of numbers.
Adatia, originally from Uganda, moved to England to complete both his undergraduate and his master’s degrees in applied mathematics. His next move was to Canada, where he completed a second master’s degree, this time in statistics at the University of Saskatchewan, and a PhD in statistics at the University of Western Ontario.
Adatia says that he became good at math at an early age, and his natural aptitude led to an interest in the subject.
“It’s actually quite fun,” he says. “Math is like a challenging puzzle. You get to play with ideas, which can be quite stimulating.”
Adatia says students become bored in courses when they can’t understand the subject matter. He feels that if students in primary and secondary school “get” math, they will begin to enjoy math.
“The trick is that teachers must do something to make math meaningful,” explains Adatia. “Once students enjoy math, they will want to solve more and more difficult problems until eventually they want to solve problems that have never been done before.”
Adatia is trying his best to bring meaning to math at the university level. The introductory statistics text that he co-authored, Statistics: A First Course, is a testament to his effort.
The textbook reveals the relevance of statistics in everyday life. “Statistics are so useful and so important; they are used everywhere,” he says.
All of the information in the text is presented in a meaningful context, so students learn about statistics while they learn about subjects like crime, voting behaviour, lotteries and economics. Adatia explains that providing this context allows students to actually apply the statistics to a practical concept and provides clarity to their understanding.
“Students come in with this math phobia, and it is rewarding when you can help them to relax enough to become interested in the subject matter,” he says. “We all hear about math phobia or stats phobia. I want to create an environment where students can feel free to enjoy statistics.”
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