Maths + inspiration = innovation

Ever thought your high school maths could some day build a brighter future for Australia?

Let’s look at some of the issues limiting Australia’s growth (boundary conditions – as any good engineer would say) and what is needed to overcome this.

We need greater automation.
We need more smart jobs.
We need new modes of transport and technology to increase labour mobility.

What we really need is more innovation and what innovation needs is maths.

In everyday life, we encounter numbers. The first Tuesday in November centres on the thrill of the thundering hooves, fascinators rather than factors, favourites beaten by the long-odds and bookies banking the bucks as punters part with their pay-packets.  Accepting the alliteration you can count on the numbers:

A scarily large but incalculable percent of the population won’t understand how the odds they receive compare to the permutations, combinations and probability of outcomes.

Gambling will remain one of Australia’s largest and most profitable industries – employing some of the brightest mathematical and information technology minds and taking advantage of the more limited numeracy of the large percentage of the population who don’t understand odds.

One thing is certain, the winner will have the square root of 16 legs.

If maths is so apparently essential in almost all knowledge roles, even in placing a bet on the Melbourne Cup, why does its importance and relevance diminish as we move through high school and particularly into university? Is it perhaps that we focus too much on the derivation of formulas and rote learning equations?

It was a surprising leap for me as a person who struggled in high school with physics (a subject built on maths) with its rote learning of formulas, little practicality and rather dry content to become a Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering student designing water rocket launchers, determining the kinetics and dynamics applicable to roller coasters, and designing below-the-knee prosthetics.

What was the key difference between my high school and university experience? Seeing the bigger practical picture rather than the agony of rote learning formulas without any understanding of their much sexier applications.

If we instil a sense of excitement of maths in all its practical glory to the next generation of high school students we will have our next Professor Graeme Clark, Dr David Warren, or Dr Fiona Wood.

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