The Algebraic Inspiration

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The Algebraic Inspiration

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I had discovered, while teaching my son, a student of Class VI the pathetic lack of rigour in teaching mathematics and algebra in contemporary schools. I could not blame my son for his outright conclusion : “these formulas and notation are manufactured to torment my souls.”. To support his theory, he told me a story – an interesting story :

“In late paleolithic age, an angel had injured his wing and fell somewhere near a human habitation. A young boy caught hold of the fallen angel and removed the other wing. In despair of losing his only hope of freedom, the angel died and before he died, he cursed the paleolithic boy in Hindi : “Meri Atma Tujhe Hamesha Satayegi”   [My soul will torment you forever]. From the angel’s last word, the words M.A.T.H.S or Maths was born and true to the angel’s word tormenting schoolboys ever since.

A discussion with him for 30 mins while I watched his text book and school copies, I was convinced that the angel’s curse was time-bound and since the method of teaching MATHS (algebra to be precise) was almost Paleolithic variety,   it was bound to fulfill the angel’s prophecy.

I could detect the symptom of nausea as soon as I started teaching him algebra in the same method. In earlier times, algebra victims vanished from the class, escaping into playground or putting the alibi of stomach cramps. Now they fantasize of video games and deliciously interesting you-tube videos.

What to do ? Below is the excerpt of a discussion on algebra with a 12 year old boy :

Algebra is like detective work. Consider X is something you need to find out. How ? Based on some rules. Very very complex these rules can be. Or they can be very simple.

Is algebra an English word ? It is Arabic word and is part of an Arabic book title written some five hundred years back. Where ? In the Middle East.

Where is Middle East ?  Geography diversion followed by Crusaders, Knight Templar and mention of Temple tube station in London.

Solving an algebraic equation. Why do I need to memorize so many formulas ? You need not.

Introducing the long series of Newton’s binomial series. Do you see the power now ? You are just putting n=2,3,4……. and the series comes up. Can you write a program ?

OK. Do you know Pythagorean theorem ? Oh, yes, I do. (the boy writes the formula and draws a right handled triangle)

Just draw a triangle of  1 inch of side “a” and “b”and then calculate what is c – the hypotenuse.


Can you now measure the line C using a scale ? He measures.

How much ?

Somewhere between 1.4 and 1.5 inches.

√2 is being measured using a plastic scale.

“You shall be never able to make a scale that can perfectly measure √2,  even in next million of years”

“Oh my god, why ? I can see this line in front of me but cannot measure it perfectly?”

“That’s right. It is right in front of you, but you cannot measure it accurately.”

“Is this some magic ?”

“Yes, absolutely.”

A short brief of Pythagorean music of sphere followed.

Just at the door-step of Plato’s Academy, we stopped while we saw the signage.

Next session : Geometry.

[ The fellow is asking me when will be the next session]


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