7 doors to loving math

scott kim
3 min readOct 24, 2022

I’ve heard hundreds of people tell me how they fell in love with math. There seem to be 7 doors that open up a love of math.

Games and puzzles. I fell in love with math by reading puzzle books when I was a kid. Board games like chess and puzzles like Sudoku are the playful side of math. By playing games and puzzles, children learn to think logically, play by the rules, and persist in developing strategic thinking skills. Videogames are enormously popular with kids everywhere and to various degrees develop problem-solving skills. Mathematical puzzles like Sudoku, Ken Ken, and Logic Puzzles are especially popular with kids.

Art & music. For many kids, the door to math is through the arts: drawing, crafts, dance, origami, sculpture, music, and poetry. The arts appeal to the senses, engage creativity, and touch the emotional soul.

Dancer Lila Salhov says: “I always liked math — it was like doing puzzles — but I always thought of it as black and white, right or wrong, and there was a lot of memorization. But now I see it involves much more: imagination, creativity, thinking in new ways, it’s a lot bigger. It’s in how we subdivide a rhythmic phrase to make a tap dance [she taps], how we organize the dancers in patterns on the stage, how we flow through shapes in space and time.”

History & biography. English majors often find their way into math through stories, including fables like The Phantom Tollbooth, biographies of mathematicians, and history books. For me, the book that opened the door to mathematical thinking was a kid’s The Story of Numbers, which reconstructed how early humans developed the concept of numbers. It taught me that mathematics is a human creation that evolves in response to the demands of society, that different cultures approach it differently, and that is a living subject that keeps changing.

Teachers. Great teachers can awaken the desire to learn in their students. When students recall memorable moments in school, it’s usually the influence of a teacher who stirred their imagination. These days some of the great teachers are on YouTube or on the web.

Using math to do something you care about. If you use math practically, say in cooking or carpentry, math becomes part of your thinking. Numbers and equations become practical tools to be mastered and applied. For high school students, calculus often comes alive through its use in physics to understand motions and forces. I use math in my working life when I do graphic art and animation — I’m constantly working with coordinates, proportions, rates, and angles.

Studying math in school. Conventional math education works for kids who fall in love with the ritual of carrying out procedures and calculating answers. In Japan, there has been a resurgence of interest in the abacus, which turns arithmetic into a tactile experience. It feels good to master a skill, and that self-confidence can lead a child to want to learn more.

Doing abstract math. Finally, some kids (like me) are entranced by the beauty and drama of pure mathematics. It feels like touching timeless truth. My friend Rebecca Ifland calls mathematical discoveries “treasures”, and indeed each math concept we learn in school is the result of hundreds or thousands of years of human effort. I find these treasures magical and almost mystical.

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scott kim

I’m an innovation coach at gamethinking.io, puzzle designer, ambigram artist, and math education evangelist. Connect with me at http://linkedin.com/in/scottekim