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of the
March - April 2005
Math Cats
Writing Contest:
What is math?

The contest was introduced like this:

Recently we got this message from a girl named Frances:

Dear Math Cats,

What is math?
Is it fun or is it not fun?


The more we thought about it, the bigger the question grew. We've gotten other messages asking, "Where's the math at Math Cats?" Another recent message suggested, "Hi Kittens, your website is okay but I think it needs like math quizzes! After all it is MATH CATS."

Do we all agree on what math is?  What is math???

You might like to do some research. We found some interesting and varied answers on this page of Ask Dr. Math. One of the answers begins: "If you asked a dozen mathematicians... what math is, you would probably get a dozen answers."

Be sure to write your own ideas in your own words!
You may write your entry as an essay, a story, a poem, or a reply to Frances.

This month our first place winner is an adult! We have also chosen first, second, and third place student entries and a photo entry worthy of special mention.

First Place Overall - "What Is Math?"   by Mr. Howard

Student Winners:

First Place    - "Math Is Life!"   by Gloria Wilson
Second Place - "What Is Math?"   by Irene W.
Third Place    - "Math"   by Whitney E.

Special Mention - "What Is Math?"  (a photo essay)  
                             by Renee Gregory and her Kindergarten class

Other Finalists

We're helping a special friend of Math Cats, too!

* First Place:

"What Is Math?"
by Mr. Howard, an elementary school volunteer, U.S.

Math is more than a subject we learn in school.

Math is every breath we take and every second of the day.
From the moment we wake up in the morning, math is the core of everything we do.

The alarm clock wakes me up at a certain time, because time is math.

When I get dressed in the morning, my clothes fit because I have the right sizes. This is math.

When I watch the television to see the weather report - "Seventy-four degrees" - math tells me what jacket to wear.

When I eat breakfast - two pieces of toast, one bowl of oatmeal, five strawberries - my stomach is happy because of math.

When I call my friends on the phone, a magic seven- or ten-digit number lets us have fun by talking. That phone number is math.

When I use the Internet to send email, my computer talks 1's and 0's. I am happy to see a web page, but my computer is happy to speak math.

At school, numbers are happiness or sadness, too. When I see 100% on my school papers, math is happiness in any subject.
On the other hand, I sometimes get much lower numbers, and then happiness is not what that number produces, but math is still a strong feeling. It also is a motivator to do better.

Math is love. The number two is very special all around the world.
How about 2 and 14, or 2/14 or February 14th - a special number and date.
How about 12 and 25 or 12/25, or Christmas. Most people like this number.
How about birthdays. It's all about calendar math.

Winning is math. Every sport is about time, how quick, how many seconds, how many points. Math could also be called the game of winners.

Sports stars win with geometry. Baseball players win on triangles. A fair ball is within the triangle. Football and soccer players win by kicking the ball inside goal posts. Golf and basketball are about getting the ball to travel along the necessary angle to the basket.

Every time I listen to a CD or the radio, math is music. Every note, every sound is a vibration. The quicker the vibration, the higher the pitch. I love the music, but a CD is really a disk of numbers.

Math can be very healthy. When you go to the doctor, he or she does tests. The results that come back are numbers that let you know that you are healthy, or what you need to do to get better.

Math lights the entire world. Every morning the sun rises. Sunrise is about circles. Earth is a big sphere. Every day the sphere rotates 360 degrees. Should we call it sunrise, or completing another 360 degrees?

Can you think of "What is math"?

Math is everything!

* Student Winners

First Place:

"Math Is Life!"
by Gloria Wilson
age 13, grade 8, homeschooled, Paso Robles, California, U.S.

If we didn't have math the world would be nonfunctional. We need math for everything we do. So why is it so hard to answer what math is? Math is complex. Math is the entire world simplified on a piece of paper. People take the paper and decode the problem into something they can use, whether it's to buy a candy bar or to check the time.

Years ago there were great people who through numbers and symbols were able to make math more understandable and clear for us. If we didn't have signs and equations math would still be here. We may not have been able to use it, but it has been surrounding us long before man existed.

All and all I would say math is ingeniousness morphed into a tiny simple formula so that we can harness its fantastic powers.

* Second Place:

"What Is Math?"
by Irene W.
age 12, grade 6, Bethany Morrison Academy, Ms. Ariann Chambers' class
Taipei, Taiwan

Math is the universal language of the world. If you were an American and wrote a letter to a Japanese in English, they might not understand you. But if you wrote "2 + 2 = 4" to them, they would know that you mean to tell them that four is the answer to the equation two plus two.

Math means different things for different people. To scientists, it could be the solution to a problem of life and death. Maybe one day a deadly chemical infects the White House. The scientists have to figure out a counteract chemical to solve this problem. They have to start doing calculations to do this, such as:

Chemical X = 2L [N195 (67) íV SN23V(X)]
SN23V(SO - X)

Then they have to figure out a formula that counters this. See how math can help in such cases?

Math, to math teachers, is a major part of their job. They teach math to people almost daily and get a salary according to this. To kids, learning math is part of preparing us for the adult life. Adults use math all the time. When we go to the grocery store, you add up the prices of your purchases. Let's say they equal about $40. Then you go to the cashier and she tells you to pay $80, without tax. If you know your math, you'll be able to know that something is wrong.

You look around your room. Maybe you see some piles of clothes. Two piles plus three piles equals five piles. Or maybe you've got some books in groups. Five books in each group, with six groups total. Thirty books in all. Or maybe you want a more challenging example. Ok, let's say you're hosting a formal tea party. You have to shake hands with every guest and you require every guest to shake hands with everyone else. Four guests come. You need to figure out how many handshakes will occur at your party. Well, in this case a diagram would be useful.

G1=G2, G1=G3, G1=G4, G1=You
G2=G3, G2=G4, G2=You
G3=G4, G3=You

Counting up the number of combinations, you see that there are ten combinations, or ten handshakes.

Math can also be fun. There are lots of math games that can be played by yourself or with some friends. Also, math doesn't always have to be boring old numbers. Think shapes or geometry. No calculations are needed, unless you want to figure out the area or something like that. Basically all you need is a pen, paper, and your imagination.

New maths are being discovered every day. Is math fun? You bet it is!

* Third Place:

by Whitney E.
age 11, grade 5, Bel Air Elementary School, Mrs. Crewe's class
Martinez, Georgia, U.S.

You could ask a mathematician what math is, you'd probably get something like: math is the relationship between figures and forms. They're right, of course, but when you hear that definition does it tell you anything?

To my dog math means how many doggie bones he will get today. To my mom it means balancing her checkbook. To my dad it means how much he'll get paid this month. To my brother it means how many more points he'll score on his new Nintendo game. To my sister it means how much more of her allowance will she still have after she buys her favorite very cherry lipgloss.

No one can live without math, it means different things to different people. But to me it means love, liberty, learning, I could keep going but to sum it up, math is my life.

* Special Mention:

"What Is Math?"
by Renee Gregory and Kindergarten Room 27
Kathryn Hughes School, Santa Clara, California, U.S.

Colors and Shapes

Math Stories


Addition and Subtraction

High Achievement, Friendship, Happiness!

Time, Graphing, and Counting

Making Beautiful Pictures

Counting Numbers

* Other Finalists:

"What Is Math?"
by Claire H.
age 8, grade 3, Roxbury School, Mrs. Raymer and Ms. DeSantis's class
Allentown, Pennsylvania, U.S.

Jamie loved math. It was her favorite subject. She always looked foward to math at the end of the day.

One day in math class, Jamie's math teacher, Ms. DeSantis, asked the class to do a homework assignment. The homework was "What Is Math?" to be handed in on Friday.

Jamie thought and thought. She thought all the way home. When she sat down to do her homework, she did that first. She wrote:

"Math is important to all of our daily lives. We can use it to count our allowances. We can use it when we go to the grocery store. We can use it basically everywhere. Math is fun. Math is important. Math is math."

When Jamie got her essay back, she looked at the score. She had gotten an A+.

"What Is Math?"
a poem by Cristie C. Hetrick-Bennet
first grade teacher, Century Park Elementary School, Inglewood, California, U.S.

Math is you.
Math is me.
Math is everything we see!
and beyond our wildest dreams
Math encompasses all extremes!

"What Is Math?"
by Kayla Piehler
age 13, grade 7, Valley Middle School, Mr. GoldRick's class, Oakland, NJ

What is math? Math is everything. Shapes and numbers and prices and even cookies!

Math is all around us. Everywhere you turn, you find math. A simple thing like driving a car is all based on math. The simplest of ways is in the tires. They are circles. That's a geometric shape. Then you could go farther and think about gas for cars. How many miles per gallon does your car get? That's how many miles can you drive on one gallon of gas? And if your car holds 18 gallons, you use an equation to find out your miles per gallon. But what about the cost of gas? Say $1.89 per gallon. You need to fill a whole tank of gas. Your car tanks holds 18 gallons. That's 18 * 1.89 to find the total price. More math!

Another example of math is baking. Say your recipe calls for 3 eggs. But you want to make double the recipe. That's 3 * 2 to find your new amount of eggs. More math!

Math could also be your birthday. Every year you get one year older. That's 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 for each year you've been alive.

Math can be anything at all. It can even be fun. Math can result in games, like a game of Spinner. You have a game spinner that goes up to 6. You take turns spinning to land on a certain number or get an exact number order. That's probability. What's the probability you'll land on a 5, then a 6 then, a 3?

One more way math can be fun is Mathcats! offers tons of games involving different types of math and logic as well as crafts.

Still not satisfied? Well, think of it this way - put math into questions that make you think. Here's one that's been suggested to me:

Was math here before humans or did we invent it?

My response to this is that math was in fact here before mankind. It just took mankind to discover it and make it what it is today. So ask around, the answers may interest you.

So math can be fun, help you out, or just be part of everyday life. You probably don't notice it but you do a lot of math in one day. So what is math to you now?

"What Is Math?"
by Emad Al-G.
grade 4, Kuwait National English School, Mrs. Hardgreaves' class
Salmiya, Kuwait

"20 divide by 4, ok 5...
21 divided by 7, ok 3...
54 multiplied by 2, mmm i think it's 100...
145 divided by 27... oh my gosh, I don't know the answer, mmmmm."

I was sitting on the sofa doing my math homework. I looked up as I reached the last problem. It was the hardest one of all. And I didn't know the answer. I sat there thinking about how to solve it, than I flipped on the TV, but my mom heard the TV. She yelled from the other room, "Alex, do your math homework!"

Math is everywhere. Wherever you go, whatever you do, whatever you see, all has some math in it and has to do with math. If we lived in a world without math, it would be confusing, out of beat, annoying, boring, people would be late to work, there would be no way to keep track of time, or wake up in the morning, etc. and etc. Math is used whenever you read your clock, or set your alarm, or count how long it takes to get to school, or wonder when would class finish, or set a time to meet your friends, or keep a tempo whenever you're playing an instrument or singing, or see how much money is in your bank account.

Than as you look at it, the more types of math you know, "the more you know, the more options you have available." My sister said that was true. She explained that if she goes to college then she would have to pick something to study, and she isn't sure of what she wants to study. She said that if she knew several types of math problems then her options would be more open - she could study dentistry or economics or business or engineering or architecture or whatever she wants. As i looked at it, it's kind of true; her options would be more broad, because she already knows how to deal with several things that use math.

Math is basically counting, numbers, decimals, percentages, multiplication, division, adding, subtracting, to guide you in your life and help make it easier to live and fulfill your life.

* Prizes

The first place prize (for the adult winner and the student winner) is a Math Cats T-shirt. The first through third place entries and the special mention entry receive large Math Cats certificates. The other finalist entries receive a small certificate.

* We're helping a special friend of Math Cats, too!

Wendy of Math Cats is making a donation to the IFOPA in honor of the overall winner and in honor of Jasmin Floyd, a young friend of Math Cats. You can learn about this worthy cause on the main contest page.

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© copyright 2005 -   by Wendy Petti of Math Cats.   All Rights Reserved.