I Will See Beads Once More by Jacob Mynatt, MSH alumni

I have noticed that creativity has found little room in the classroom today, and this makes me wonder about the ill-fated effects of removing such an essential skill from center stage.  Creativity is pivotal in the development of one’s mind, for without it, the world would simply be lifeless. Inadequate creativity makes one weak, intellectually vulnerable from self-inadequacy. The concept of creativity is intriguing to me, and its standard definition is bipartite: creativity requires both originality and effectiveness.  If something is not unusual or unique, then it is commonplace or conventional. It is not original, and therefore not creative. Yet, originality is not sufficient; originality is vital, but must be balanced with fit and appropriateness. Mathematical creativity is the fundamental tool through which all else is not only discovered, but also its very aspects are uncovered, thereby unveiling the vast opportunities that life offers: science, architecture, and bringing learning to life.

Luckily, my upbringing allowed me to unlock the creative side of my brain, the same side of my brain that has made me the man I am today.  My upbringing was, in part, composed of a pivotal element: Montessori School. From a very young age, I excelled in mathematics. Montessori allowed me to take full advantage of my newly discovered ability. You see, Montessori’s unique teaching system instructs by way of beads for counting, not solely relying on the conventional pencil and paper combination. The use of a visual aid such as beads unleashed my mathematical creativity; I saw beads in my mind. Thereafter, my mind continually searched for different, novel ways of not only learning, but also applying my mathematical talent. On several occasions at the bank with my mother, she would somewhat lazily ask me to do the adding for her, as though she could not derive the total check balance by her lonesome. Today, I realize that she was only allowing me to utilize my abilities, building my confidence in the process, and therefore enabling a sense of poise, a belief that my creativity had merit (i.e. usefulness, value).

Shortly after attending Montessori School, I took my studies to a slightly different environment: my home. With instruction happily provided by my mother, I began homeschooling. I was given a math book and told to read a lesson, then do the correlating problems; in a way, I was my own teacher, not being told how I must do something, but only being guided by a book. As long as I could machinate correct answers, both my mother and I were content.  My mathematical creativity was original and effective: my creative methods expedited and simplified math.

Unfortunately, all eras of greatness must be accompanied by a downfall, a downfall that ensued itself upon me ever so gradually. Come eighth grade year, I enrolled in middle school and, though it was a private school, it was quite different. My math teacher taught rigorously, forcing his students to strictly adhere to the mathematical methods that he thought to be correct. Indeed, no room was left for potential creativity, my potential creativity.  At first, I did not detect the issue. I thought it would be easier to merely learn one method of doing things and call it a day. Later, I recognized the dilemma: it is difficult to remember every single method that I have been taught, for I did not discover any of them on my own.  Having mathematical creativity stored in my mind was not dissimilar to having a personal mathematical encyclopedia in my mind, always readily available, never causing me to have to search for the lost memories of strictly adhered-to methods. Today, if I had to share my thoughts with my eighth grade math teacher concerning the value, originality, and effectiveness of his teaching, I would be very brief in my wording, “Be more creative.”

In a high-tech and rapidly globalizing economy, proficient education in science and mathematics is more significant than ever. At the same time, high levels of creativity and innovation, most often mistakenly seen as the antitheses of science and mathematics, represent equally important assets.  Mathematical creativity, as the stepping stone to scientific creativity, is more essential today than previously imagined; the same old teaching methods are not best for the maturity of the economy. Improved creativity would open new doors not only in the world of science, but also in the macrocosmic world.

The mathematical language is continually being altered to fit new results, to simplify new techniques. Spoken language does not allow for the bending of words to indicate refinement of their old images. Rather, human thought is bent by the accumulated meanings of words. Mathematics is not held bound by this constraint; mathematics is creative in nature. Mathematicians often use their creativity in discovering new techniques and uncovering new possibilities; mathematics is always in a state of creative flux. Thus, like other creative areas of study, including architecture, mathematics allows a great deal of speculative freedom.

Architects are the paradigm of mathematical creativity, exemplifying both originality and effectiveness in their work.  Architects use mathematical proportions to shape buildings. They also exemplify applied geometry through their bending of shapes to create architectural greatness in the form of buildings and magnificent cathedrals. With increased attention to the teaching of mathematical creativity in schools, architecture has the potential to excel exponentially, thereby creating a more beautiful world.

Mathematical creativity is the fundamental tool through which all else is not only discovered, but also its very aspects are uncovered, thereby unveiling the vast opportunities that life offers: science, architecture, and bringing learning to life.  I plan to take full advantage of the numerous opportunities offered by Birmingham Southern College. When I go to Birmingham Southern College, unlearning mathematical conventionalities will be my principal objective. Figuratively speaking, I will learn to see beads once again; but this time, I will not veer off of the road of my mathematical creativity. Instead, I will continue paving my road until I achieve prominence.

Jacob Mynatt, a former MSH student, would like to dedicate his essay to Dola Ghosh and Kathy O’Reilly. He will be attending the honors program at Birmingham-Southern College next fall.


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