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Burk Math Autobiography

Burk Math Autobiography

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Published by occam98

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Published by: occam98 on Aug 21, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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07/16/2014

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John’s Mathematical AutobiographyI can remember my first calculator. It was a calculator watch, and Ithought I was the coolest person in the world for owning it. Iremember discovering that “07734” turned upside down spelled out“hello” on its primitive LCD display. I also remember what I did toearn this watch in 3rd grade—I completed a whole book of multiplication and division problems my parents got me.Much of my childhood memories of math revolve around either theidea of climbing a ladder to get to the next thing in math, or competing with other students to be the fastest/best student in the subject. I can remember feelingthat I was really good at math because I could finish my elementary school math tests faster thanmost of my classmates. In middle school, I started attending math competitions, and there, our team’s success hinged on our ability to solve problems faster than our competition.In high school, almost Algebra II and Trig to me felt like a race to figure what the next button onmy calculator did. I can always remember myself wanting to get on to the next thing. That’s whywhen as a junior, I had the chance to take both calculus and trigonometry at the same time, I jumped at it, and signed up for two math courses.But even as a high school student obsessed with grades, getting ahead and viewing math only asa tool, there were small hints that I saw math as something more. When I wrote my collegeapplication, I had just discovered the equation editor on my computer, and so I wrote up an“equation for John Burk” that spanned the entire page, and I came up with with what I thoughtwere some pretty beautiful mathematical insights, like the ideathat the integral (a particular type of sum) of experience iswisdom. I still think that’s a profound insight for my 18 year oldself, and wish I had kept that essay.Through most of college, I think my interest in math took a backseat to my interest in science and physics in particular. Ienjoyed math, but I never really took the time to peer beneathit’s surface and really see its beauty—it was always just a tool tosolve a the next problem. Even using really powerfulcomputational packages like Mathematica to plot the orbital of the hydrogen atom wasn’t enough to get to really dig into the beauty of math.I developed a far greater appreciation for the beauty of mathwhen I began to teach. I saw it first through physics, when Icould help students to get past simply plugging numbers into

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