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Tips & Advice

The Art of Problem Solving

The sun is emitting brilliance more exuberant than usual. Harmonious melodies from birds set a soothing tone for the day. Children joyfully frolic outside. Yesterday was Pi Day--March 14th or 3.14. Pi Day boasts significant international celebration and festivities among geeky subcultures everywhere through pie eating, recitation showdowns, pi vs. tau debates, etc. Of course, to most people Pi Day is simply another day, and if anything more, a day that tends to recall suppressed memories of awful, bland memorized formulas and equations. But Pi Day reminds me of the importance of utilizing math to tackle major issues of our generation.

But shockingly, math is not about formulas or equations.  It’s about thinking. The degradation of math to a plug and chug level is one of the largest, systematic, uniform, dare I say “standardized”, destructions of art ever taken place. Read Lockhart’s Lament.  More importantly, send Lockhart’s Lament to all your old middle school and high school teachers in rage at what you missed out on.  Just kidding, it’s not their fault.  But in the spirit of pi and pie and combating misrepresentation of math, here is my manifesto of resources any aspiring young mathematician should know of.  

By manifesto, I really just mean one site: Art of Problem Solving.  Because everything else; books, classes, contests, camps, problems, etc; can be found through AoPS.  Their online forum sort of makes them a hub for all things math-related, several other math sites (like NIMO) have been started as a result of discussion on AoPS.  The difference between AoPS and other traditional resources is that it truly is math taught the right way. AoPS doesn’t teach you the solution, it teaches you to reach and hunt for the solution.  

Although methods to make problem solving easier has gained quite a lot of fame and created a prominent community, I am still surprised that teachers do not know encourage others to get involved.  I can’t even imagine who I would be without sites like AoPS because I learned more than equations, I learned the perseverance and dedication, creativity and insight I needed to tackle problems. That’s what math is about and that is why math is useful to anyone. So to celebrate Pi Day, let’s spread the love, share an interest in math, and start tacking community problems!