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Uma Menon – My World of Mathematics

It was already past 10:00 PM on Friday night, but my seven-year-old self sat there, glued to the edge of my seat, as I scribbled away. My mother laughed at the latest British Comedy, and my father scanned the newspaper. My classmates had just begun their multiplication tables, but I was already learning my perfect squares. From this young age, I was fascinated by math, but even more so by the possibility of discovering math for myself. I embraced multiplication as a means to determine the number of chocolates in the box without having to count them all. Now, as I studied my perfect squares, I was intrigued once more. To multiply twelve by eleven, I could just add twelve to one-hundred-twenty. But how could I get from thirteen-squared to fourteen-squared? I wrote and wrote until I discovered the principle that would change my whole outlook on math. I created a list of all the perfect squares from one to twenty and subtracted each of them. Four minus one, nine minus four, and I kept going until I realized the pattern: the difference was always the next odd number. One, three, five, seven, I wrote beside each of the squares. I realized, that if I took the difference between each of these, I could find even still a pattern, the difference would always be two.

With excitement from this knowledge propelling me, I ran towards my mother, and shared with her this new concept I had taught myself. My parents, teachers, and those around me were all amazed, as I taught myself the basis of quadratic equations as a second-grader. And thus, I carried this knowledge along with me throughout my elementary, middle, and high school years, taking math classes years ahead of my peers. I understood, math made sense to me because the world made sense to me. I saw math as the chocolate I ate, and the world that I saw, and I valued the ability to apply the world to math rather than math to the world. Seven years later, as I immerse myself in college calculus, it is this same ability to apply the world to my math that has saved me on the eve of tests.

I have often considered that day as truly my Eureka moment in math. I realized that math was simply a touch away from my fingertips. Throughout fourteen years of my life, I have learned many great math lessons, but none could be as incredible as one which I could teach myself. They say that one has mastered a topic when they can teach it to others, but more so when one can teach it to themselves. Such a lesson is the most valuable one that can be received.

As I entered sixth grade, surrounded with the changes and opportunity presented by the large middle school environment, I discovered yet another bridge to mathematical knowledge. Placed into a high school math class, I was recommended to the school’s math club. I knew not what to expect, but an extra hour of math on Thursday afternoons was enticing enough. That Thursday, I walked into a classroom of several eighth graders and joined a team that would change my entire middle school experience. We practiced math every Thursday, but it was distinct from what I did in the classroom. We practiced word problems that took math further into the world than any class could. MATHCOUNTS simply made it count. I was ecstatic when I made the school’s team for the competition. We worked hard, practicing and preparing for the competition. Saturday morning the competition came, and Saturday evening, we went home with a trophy. This experience further propelled my interest of the power of applied math. For my next two years of middle school, I acted as the Captain of our MATHCOUNTS team, leading my school to the state tournament in my eighth-grade year. I continue to actively participate in math competitions as a high school student, founding an honor society and a competitive team at my high school.

I often hear my peers questioning the necessity of advanced math knowledge, seeing it to be beyond any use. After all, why would one ever need to find the integral of a polar curve? I believe that once one can understand the world is formed of such mathematical patterns, the numbers make more sense. Math is a language. We create language to explain and understand the inner workings of the world, but these ideas and concepts exist prior to the creation of language. Math is not created to confuse us with numbers, but rather to explain the world, thus, learning to apply math is the greatest lesson to be learned. When the gap between math and reality is closed, we can truly understand why it counts.

Uma Menon

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