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Jan 21, 2017 06:02 AM EST

How A Liberal Arts Lecturer Makes Math More Desirable

How A Liberal Arts Lecturer Makes Math More Desirable
Eugenia Cheng, math professor and liberal arts lecturer at the School of Art Institute of Chicago, uses baking to teach the principles of math.

(Photo : Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Math is like baking - messy but fun. This is the metaphor used by an art teacher and scientist from the School of Art Institute of Chicago to let her students appreciate the beauty of math.

Eugenia Cheng is the senior liberal arts lecturer at the Art Institute. She loves using the baking analogy to teach math principles to her undergraduate class as well as to artists who take her classes at the institute.

Using food to teach math is not surprising coming from Cheng since her background is as interesting as the analogy she uses. She is also a pianist and a mathematician.

When asked why baking, Cheng said that math is similar in many ways. There are many desserts with the same ingredients which you can put together in different ways to produce different results. So it is with math - you take the basic ingredients, such as numbers, and put them in different ways getting fantastic results like the desserts.

In her book, How To Bake Pi," Cheng used the same analogy to explain math. In one section of the book, she baked chocolate lava cake and said that the first principle in baking is to never memorize the ingredients but all you have to do is begin measuring the ingredients in equal weight.

She added that if you are really familiar with cooking and baking, even if you don't know what to feed your guests for dinner, you can just take any ingredient in your kitchen and put them together to create something.

In the same way, if you know the basic foundations of math, you can mess around knowing which principles you can mess with and which ones you can stick to. Cheng said that math should be all about this - inventing and discovering in order to understand the most complex ideas.

She said that one of the reasons why people don't like math is because they only think about it as numbers. However, if people begin to see the principles behind the numbers, then it will be easier to work with things that are not numbers.

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