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Ever since first grade, the vast majority of my teachers would tell me the same thing: math is crucial to everyday life. With the only exceptions being to calculate financial necessities, I never truly believed them. The world I lived in then, however happy, was unfulfilling and academically boring and unchallenging. Since I didn't use much math as a kid, I maintained this belief that the subject was useless. Even when my classes became more difficult over the years, I was still bored and apathetic with them. Why did I have to learn a subject that made me agonizingly chisel formulas to memory? Despite my lethargic attitude, I still maintained a stellar academic record.
My conventional philosophy towards math spiraled into a different path when I first met my sophomore math teacher, Ms. Xiaojie Zhang. Even though she had also told me that math was the most useful subject, she offered me a different style of learning, deviating from a traditional route: conceptual learning. She challenged me to think outside the box in order to figure out how and why such formulas and equations worked by making me look at real life applications of math, rather than simply making me memorize a bunch of formulas like most other teachers. Instead of just trying to attain the highest score possible, I began studying math to deliberately understand the material presented to me. As my interest in math finally cultivated, I began to have fun with it and was able to focus better on the work at hand. I was fascinated each time I stumble upon a challenging problem and thought long and hard to figure it out in order to thoroughly understand the content.
Following my sophomore year, I had the pleasure of continuing my mathematical growth with Ms. Zhang as my AP Calculus AB teacher. This class revolutionized my ways of thinking and seeing. At the end of each new lesson, Ms. Zhang would have my peers and I see how we could use our knowledge to apply to real life situations. For example, after learning to calculate the maximum and minimum values of an equation, I was able to use that knowledge to construct a box with a maximized volume out of a sheet of paper with defined measurements. Additionally, I am now able to look at cars and watch their changing speeds and calculate the distances traveled in a set amount of time. These real life applications have been so useful to me since I learned them. I was even able to apply my newfound knowledge in an internship I had this recent summer working on Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) trains as I fixed mechanical and electrical parts such as DC motors and electric circuits that required the math.
Overall, Ms. Zhang has made a huge impact in my life. I used to look at toys and such and think, “Oh, look, a ball. Cool,” and then move on with my life, but now, my world has changed and I see the construction and mathematical processes in everyday objects, and I question those I don’t understand or recognize. I would look at tables, newspapers, soda cans, and such and think about the complicated processes taken to address each issue and factor in the making of each product. What is the point of imaginary numbers in real life if they’re imaginary? How do people create absurd shapes that resemble a 3D doodle? How much math is there to actually learn after calculus? Honestly, I just want to explore this humungous world of mathematics.
With each new conceptual lesson presented by Ms. Zhang came a stronger drive to simply learn, a feeling that I had longed for as a child. She taught me that math is the most useful thing I could ever learn and I cannot be anymore grateful for that. I don’t see things as simply objects anymore; I see them as products of a series of equations and measurements. She made me want to learn more and helped me realize that I want to become an engineer so that I am able to leave my footprint onto this world, similar to how she greatly influenced and enlightened me.