woman looking down at textbook studying in her home

Decoding Math Anxiety: Building Your Confidence

Get ready to explore the enchanting world of mathematics with our distinguished guest, Dr. Igor Subbotin. A mathematician of repute, researcher, and an inspiring teacher, Dr. Subbotin will be your guide through the maze of numbers and equations. With him, we traverse the captivating plains of math, highlighting logical reasoning, and solving intriguing problems. Be prepared to be amazed as Dr. Subbotin uses everyday examples, like the equitable division of a pie or the paradoxes of the barber and liar, to bring alive the magic of this universal language.

We also venture into the impact of mathematics on brain development. Dr. Subbotin illustrates how this discipline, often seen as complex, can shape our personalities and brains in an astonishingly positive manner. With math, we are able to foster critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and abstract reasoning. Join us as we underscore the significance of perseverance and patience when tackling math, and its powerful potential to enhance creativity and communication skills.

Finally, we address the elephant in the room – math anxiety, and discuss engaging ways to overcome it. We highlight the importance of a comforting learning environment, celebrating small wins, and introducing fun through interactive games and puzzles. In conclusion, we turn the spotlight on the omnipotence and relevance of math. Embrace the language of mathematics with us, and you could find yourself understanding the world around you with a fresh perspective. So, come along, unleash your inner mathematician, and let’s conquer math anxiety together!

Show Notes

  • 0:03:07 - Overcoming Math Anxiety (29 Seconds)
  • 0:09:46 - Impact and Overcoming Math Anxiety (140 Seconds)
  • 0:18:11 - Struggles With English in the former Soviet Union (88 Seconds)
  • 0:25:23 - Importance of Gym and Mathematics (58 Seconds)
  • 0:41:09 - English's Importance in Research and Communication (80 Seconds)
  • 0:47:52 - Recognition of Cultural Importance in Mathematics (42 Seconds)
  • 0:50:16 - Ukrainian Algebra Conference (143 Seconds)

0:00:01 - Announcer

You are listening to the National University Podcast.

0:00:10 - Kimberly King

Hello, I'm Kimberly King. Welcome to the National University Podcast, where we offer a holistic approach to student support, well-being and success - the whole human education. We put passion into practice by offering accessible, achievable higher education to lifelong learners. On today's episode, we're talking about math anxiety and what to do about it. I'm sure we all have this right, or those of us that maybe didn't do so great in math.

And joining us is National University's Dr. Igor Subbotin, and he earned his PhD in mathematics at the Mathematics Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. Before joining National University, he taught mathematics at the most prestigious university in Ukraine, Kyiv Polytechnic Institute. At National University, Dr. Subbotin regularly teaches different mathematics classes and supervises mathematics courses. Dr. Subbotin's main area of research is algebra. His list of publications includes more than 170 research articles in algebra published in major mathematics journals around the globe, and he's also had the privilege to collaborate with several world-class mathematicians from different countries. He has authored more than 50 articles in mathematics education, dedicated mostly to the theoretical base of some topics of high school and college mathematics, and he's also published several books. Wow, where were you when I was in high school and college? I wish I had you right next to me. We welcome him to the podcast. Dr. Subbotin, how are you?

0:01:50 - Doctor Igor Subbotin

I'm fine. Thank you very much. I am happy to be here and talking to you on the most important for my life subject, of course, of the family. After family, family is first, mathematics, second.

0:02:02 - Kimberly King

I love it, so obviously this is your passion. I wanted you to see if you could fill our audience in a little bit on your mission and your life's work before we get started.

0:02:13 - Doctor Igor Subbotin

I am a professional mathematician and professional mathematician and professional mathematics instructor. I spent - it's scary to say how many years - teaching and research in mathematics. I just would like to tell you that I started in 1967, my research and my professional teaching in 1972. So it was long time ago. All my life I am doing all the mathematics. I am just in mathematics my source of living. Also, I am very happy that I am doing this because this subject and this science provided me the opportunity to have, in my opinion, a luxury life. I mean, do research and teaching this subject.

0:03:01 - Kimberly King

Well, I love that and I can just feel your passion for this and you know, I think you're probably an amazing teacher. I can already see that as well. Today we are talking about how to overcome math anxiety. So, Dr., what is mathematics?

0:03:17 - Doctor Igor Subbotin

It's not an easy answer. There are many different answers. We can find out on this way. The quote attributed to Galileo Galilei is “mathematics is a language through which God has written the universe”. And mathematics source is a language that helps human understand and describes the nature of the world and the universe underlying patterns. Mathematics develop and refine mathematical theory, create new mathematical concepts and apply this idea to solve practical problems of theoretical puzzles.

Mathematics is not only a tool for understanding the world, but also a discipline that intrigues, beauty and intellectual appeal. It's- to study mathematics requires a real great fantasy, passion and many skills that we will talk a little bit later that mathematics study provides. I mean mathematics study needs to be done. Mathematics is about understanding underlying principles, developing logical reasoning skills, providing proving theorems, solving problems, exploring abstract concepts. Mathematics is only one science where proof, idea of proof, is real. I will give you a very brief example. In physics, the physicists just provide us experiment. He just, or she just, repeat this experiment 500 times and 495 times, it was the answer “yes,” and only five times “no.” And the physicists have oh, we have a new law. It's proven. In mathematics you can do. You can do experiment million times If one time. One time it says no for you, it's wrong. So there is only one science who just crystallize and study real truths with mathematics.

However, I will give you examples. What is mathematics to me? I just choose three examples that I really like. One is examples is very simple. This is a mathematics without numbers, without anything. We have two persons, we have a pie, let's say, circle, pie, whatever and you need to create a rule that, when this pie will be divided by two pieces, both of the persons will be happy and cannot complain that they got smaller pieces. Listen, this is very, very different. I didn't ask how to divide the pie by two pieces, having equal things. I didn't ask this. I asked the happiness for both persons. It's very simple algorithm- One person cut, the second person choose, make a choice. Nobody will complain.

If you cut wrong, it's your problem. If you choose wrong, it's your problem. So everybody has. This is mathematics. This is mathematics. Yeah, another mathematics that I would like to bring to your consideration. It's a mathematical paradox. We have many mathematical paradoxes, which is a very serious issue.

Paradox is not a sophism. Sophism is something covered like false. Paradox is covered through truth. Look, very famous is the barber paradox. This paradox involves a barber who is said to shave all those, and only those, who do not shave themselves. The question is whether the barber shaves himself. If he does, then he must not, because he could shave himself. He doesn't have to do it, and if he doesn't, then he must shave himself. It's a paradox. There is no way of solving this easy way. Another way a feminist paradox, a liar paradox. It's very simple but amazing. The liar paradox involves self-referential statement. For example, I say this statement is false. And now tell me, is this true or this is false? If I said this is true, what is said? This statement is false, so it's false. If I said this is false, does this is true? It's a paradox, and this is not a sophism, it's a paradox.

Another very famous thing in mathematics that also, I believe supposed to be. Everybody was really impressed of, and especially it was when Pythagorean people, who believed that in harmony of numbers, were faced the discovery. This is a diagonal of a unit square cannot be expressed as a ratio of two integers. So if you have a unit square with the side one, the diagonal square root of two, square root of two, cannot be expressed as a fraction, as a rational number. So there is no other ruler with the unit that you can measure precisely the site and the diagonal of the square. There is no, but there is exist diagonal. You can just look at any square, you will see this there is exist diagonal. What is that? It was a huge catastrophe in this time for the school of Pythagoras and it was a tragedy not forced in the mathematics history, by the way.

It would be wrong to think that mathematics is absolutely, perfectly okay. Some people even say the mathematics is already built up and we don't need to do anything in order to explore something new. It's wrong. Mathematic exploration became more and more and more intense, more and more people involved, and even it's enough to look, for example, in China, whereas for the last 30 years it became one of the, let's say, one of the champions in study mathematics and let me tell you that most of the people just studied mathematics in the United States and America and after that back to China. China became very, very advanced in this study and look at the results innovation in many different areas.

Napoleon said some ways that the development and the flourishing of the country is tightly connected to the mathematics development in this country, and I don't want even to talk about that. This is just because mathematics has a lot of different applications in all subjects, in all science, in language, in music, in physics, in chemistry. There is no any subject without mathematics, not because of type, because of calculation and so on, just because of idea. The most important thing in my opinion mathematics. Mathematics forms the personality of the people who studied mathematics. That's good.

0:11:40 - Kimberly King

That's good, that's fascinating and oh my gosh. Okay, I guess we're really overall talking about overcoming math anxiety as a whole, and I know a lot of people do have math anxiety and maybe it is the way it's taught here in the United States, versus where you were just talking about everywhere else in the world. But what is? I guess? My next question is what is the role of mathematics study in brain development? Is that kind of what you were saying, how it really affects who we are?

0:12:14 - Doctor Igor Subbotin

Yeah, that's a very important issue. This is, I believe, okay. Many of my students told me you know, even some of my alumni. They said we really appreciate your teaching as mathematics, but I never applied this knowledge, I never did it. For what you spent so long time? And my answer is the mathematics develop is shape you as a personality and shape your brain in the right way. What the main benefits we can find for the persons to study mathematics? For the brain development, first of all, mathematics this is the best subject for developing great critical thinking. Critical, which means consider the problem for all possible sides. Do not reject any sides on any ideas.

Without deep study of this idea and trying to apply that, mathematics brought you to abstract reasoning. You play with the subject that you cannot feel and you even sometimes you cannot visually represent. For example, I said that my area of expertise is algebra, modern algebra. This is totally different science than the algebras that you study in school, because this is not about equation. This is about structure. We are studying a variation and this is totally abstract discipline. We cannot have an imagination or intuitive approach to any subject like that. By the way, one interesting thing the subject was created in 1830 years by 16 years old guy, 16 years young man, a various galore. He created the whole science to solve the problem about equations in real, in the regular algebra. But the science that he created finds the application to many different disciplines and now this is one of the most important tools to study, for example, quantum physics, to study cosmogony, to study many different ways.

First, problem solving skills. Problem solving skills they teach persons, the students, that if you cannot approach to the problems once, you need to repeat it twice, three times, go a different way. It's that problem solving skill you needed in your life more than anything else, because in life, you know, it's very difficult to solve life, real life problems and we need to be very creative for this. Physical skills, analytical skills, attention to details it's very important- Attention to detail. Sometimes small detail change completely the picture and mathematics teach this. Oh, very important quality of the personality is persistence and patience. If you cannot do it now, try again. If you cannot do it today, try tomorrow, try tomorrow. However, one of the best mathematicians ever academician said that if he couldn't solve the problem for 10 days, he left the problem without solution. It happened to every mathematician. Non-solve problems, let's say the variety of non-solve problems are much wider than the variety of solved problems.

Okay, structural thinking, structural thinking, structured thinking, and you can follow logical sequences and structure process. Creativity. Creativity to solve any problem in mathematics, you just need not only the, let's say, some kind of prescription. Do this, this, this. You need to try and create a new idea, a new approach. Sometime in algebra, for example, algebra 2, you have many different approaches to the problem. You need to make a nice problem. You need to create; you need to apply.

Pattern recognition is part of mathematics and communication skills. Try to explain the mathematics idea to your friend. After that you will be a proficient in this idea and your friend, if he or she will understand you, would be beneficial of it. And this is the best way of studying to explain to somebody confidence building when you solve the problem. This is the biggest fun that you ever experience. Everybody knows this. I'm not talking about only mathematics. When you feel yourself your winner, it's build your stamina, your personality, and in mathematics you have many problems to solve and be a winner.

And cognitive flexibility. I believe cognitive flexibility dealing with different branches of mathematics and their diverse methodologies can enhance cognitive flexibility. This is the stuff that mathematics really built up for every person. That's why maybe it's not so much important to know application of your study, algebra or geometry in school, of university, calculus and so on, but it's for you as a person as give you new horizons. You know, one of the subjects that I really struggled with was English. Back in Soviet Union, it was English. Okay, guys, it's very natural. Being in Soviet Union, you never can go abroad. No, it's like big concentration camps that you cannot go over. Okay, so for what English to me? I don't need it, and it was like something for some people that, for example, my daughter brought from the schools the following abbreviation of mathematics math, which is school kids translate like mental abuse to human.

0:18:54 - Kimberly King

Oh, that's probably what I would have said, though, too, back in the day.

0:18:58 - Doctor Igor Subbotin

I brought (up) it now because for me English was the same.

0:19:02 - Kimberly King

Oh, wow.

0:19:04 - Doctor Igor Subbotin

Yeah, for what? I don't feel the language. I don't feel it. I don't know what I needed. For what I will study? I don't know. If you come to the Soviet Union, former republics like Russia, Ukraine, everybody speaks English, everybody.

0:19:21 - Kimberly King

I was going to say your English is so much better than my Ukrainian or Russian, right, I mean, look at, and your brain is so well rounded because, as you're saying, you didn't like to take the English language. You didn't, you pushed yourself and you had good people there to you know, just like you do probably with your students with math. Actually, I love what you said in the very, very, very beginning, and that is that mathematics is a language and I guess, if we look at it that way, it's sort of like universal language, isn't it?

0:19:52 - Doctor Igor Subbotin

It's a language that nature speaks to us. Yes, nature speaks to us, and only one. I will tell you why. I will tell you why. Okay, if you would like to study some event in physics and chemistry, whatever, you see so many details that you cannot explain why it's happened. But you have thousands and thousands of details in this event- Electricity, for example, magnetism, something like that. I'm not talking about quantum theory and some quarks and so on. I'm talking about something that everybody deal with but we don't understand the nature because too many different details.

So, what we're doing using mathematics. We cut all non-significant things. We just study the stem, main ideas, main patterns. After that we start to place leaves, one by one, to make a picture as much as possible clearly. And Newton, who was a great mathematician. You know Isaac Newton, one of the biggest stars in mathematics history, but he also was a physicist, astronomer, but, very interesting thing, he was too short of his research, of his life he dedicated to study of the manuscript connected to the Bible and connected to the study of, let's say, I don't know how to say theology. Theology- too short, but one sort was dedicated to because he feels something interesting and distrust. I'm not talking about people, beliefs right now, I'm just talking about some interesting things that you will not be able to read in newspapers. That's why I would like to bring it up. We are coming to the idea of mathematical anxiety.

I didn't bring my example with English just because of fun, to say how it's happened, why English became one of the subjects that I love, why English was, why English opened for me a new world. Why English? Why I am pretty good in Russian I have no accent, by the way, and I write. I really am a good writer in Russian. I feel the language. I feel it. My feeling of language transformed to English also when I studied English after coming to the United States of America. It was a high level of study. It was even in my PhD school exam I passed with English. But up to now, I have a dream that I forgot to pass the exam in English. What are you doing in the audience if you didn't get your diploma? I haven't got English yet. It was some kind of terrible dream that I have all the time. It was a real shock, but I hated this. I hated the idea that I need to spend my time for this never be used language.

When I start to look at this with interest, when I start to look to the different writers, when I start to study different theory related to English, to understand how this is beautiful, and I start to smile to the language, the language smiles to me back. Yeah, and the same I say to my student you would like to overcome mathematical anxiety, the easiest way? Smile to the subject, smile. Don't take it- Don't take it as an enemy. It's your friend, maybe one of the most important friends in your life. You will never use calculator. Fine, you're gonna be a writer, fine. You're gonna be artist, ballet dancer, fine. But you need to form your personality, you need to understand.

0:24:00 - Kimberly King

You know what I was gonna say is I see that that you kind of really just are answering my next question about your, the teacher's role, in overcoming math anxiety. But I see what you're saying is that you had anxiety about the English language, so you know what that felt like, and then we're able to kind of transfer that or help your students who also had a different kind of anxiety toward mathematics. But, as you say, smile at that subject. I love that.

0:24:26 - Doctor Igor Subbotin

And number one you understand that you are not perfect in this subject, like, let's talk, mathematics or English for me, or some other subject. You need to understand that this long way, long way to build up understanding of this subject. But I promise to everybody, as the time when you just overcome the anxiety and start to look at this and this real thing that you can overcome, with, at the same time you will experience the feelings that you're a winner, which very important, especially in my opinion in the United States community. United States people, it is true, to be a winner. It's an American Idol- winner. For this you need to show yourself.

0:25:21 - Kimberly King

A pat on the back, right.

0:25:23 - Doctor Igor Subbotin

Look when every second day you, I believe, you come to gym, you see full gym, huge one, covered by people, American people, who just exercise. And Arnold Schwarzenegger once said that every single visit to gym is a struggle with yourself. It's not me, it's Arnold Schwarzenegger said so. But the results, it's your health, it's important. So the same, if you study mathematics in the same way, like you need to do this and no worry, you're the same, smart, like other people. You are not stupid. It's wrong to say you know- this is a cultural issue- If you come to any room to say I hate mathematics, mathematics, everybody say, oh, I also hate it. I've moved so far from it. Not good, not good.

My previous experience based in Soviet Union, and I used to teach there mathematics in the college level and school level, which I became a school teacher first, so I familiar with the schools. One day I became associate professor of the Kyiv Polytechnical, which is now it's an interesting fact for everybody. In fact they know it was a name Kyiv Polytechnical, Kapi. Kapi is number one for many years, university at Ukraine, number one, no questions. And by all these reports and statistics, study and so on. And now it's changed lately, something like two years ago. It's named Igor Sikorsky, Kyiv Polytechnical Institute, Igor Sikorsky. Do you know why? Do you know why Igor Sikorsky, in 1909, graduated from the school?

0:27:15 - Kimberly King

Oh, okay, okay.

0:27:16 - Doctor Igor Subbotin

There is this connections between America and Europe and say Ukraine, Igor Sikorsky, it's a really brilliant guy. He graduated from our school. I just would like to say that when I have very diverse experience in teaching mathematics and I believe that everybody can study mathematics not everybody are mathematicians, not everybody is mathematicians. Mathematicians some people have absolutely amazing skills and absolutely amazing perception to get mathematics. Some people does not like it. But never in my career back in Soviet Union -again, I was eight years in the regular secondary school, a teacher, and 12 years as a most prestigious research university there- nobody said I hate it, it's not good. It's the same like United States to say I hate gym. People will not understand you. It’s your health.

0:28:21 - Kimberly King

Yeah, it's true, and I love the way-

0:28:26 - Doctor Igor Subbotin

You can say I am not a lover of mathematics, I love more- I love music or I love drawing, or I love English or I'm Russian to study, whatever, whatever. But nobody say hate, it’s very bad to say hate.

0:28:42 - Kimberly King

Yeah, it's true. Well, so what are some of your main strategies for overcoming this math anxiety? So, I think, really meeting people where they're at, but then also teaching them to respect it just kind of what sounds like what you do.

0:29:00 - Doctor Igor Subbotin

It's number one to teach people to respect and to stop worried about it. And I promise to my student, always promise to my student that if they will go half of the way in study, I will go the second half to meet them and I will adjust my teaching and my experience and my teaching strategy especially for you, because some people likes when it, you know, visual teaching, some people likes lecture, some people just like reading. It's happened so, in National University, we try to provide in mathematics classes for our students all possible ways to study mathematics. Visualization, we try to provide reading lectures as any Cliff Notes, books, consultation, communication with instructor anytime. This is the main idea. Why? Because our brain works in very easy way - as many doors is open are open, as many doors are open for the embrace the idea as better knowledge, you will have better retention, better understanding.

Also, the person who has this anxiety is supposed to recognize that she or he has this anxiety and is supposed to be motivated to work on it. This is very important. Also, they don't- my students and person who would like to in general, to overcome anxiety- cannot say hate and cannot say something like mental abuse, to a person, to a human, no way. This is a beautiful subject. Sometime David Gilbert, very famous mathematician, has a student that became a poet. He left mathematics, became a poet. The reaction was like that he didn't have enough fantasy imagination to be a mathematician. It's a beautiful subject and not difficult to study, not difficult to understand. I believe that something revolutionary is supposed to done inside the student. Maybe as a teacher, you need to support it. You need to talk to a student like I'm talking to you and I'm doing with every my class. I talk to a student like that, and if a student experiences some kind of anxiety or just problems mathematics, it's okay, it's normal, it's normal. Don't think that everybody who teaches you just genius, who just takes everything, takes everything easy, no way. All of us in hard working situation. So why?

Why in the Korea, in the North Korea, also in South Korea, both of them, China and Japan, of course, and Finland, they have the best level of performance in mathematics in high school. Why? Because all of them understand by their culture, by their culture, that to get something it's a very long, difficult, hard working way. As soon as a person understood this, everything became different and also we need to celebrate every positive step. If the person, let's say, cannot add to fraction before because some of teachers or some obstacles, was not supported this study, and now this person can add the fractions, we need to celebrate this. We need to say you see, you are the winner. Let's do next step, step by step. You will overcome.

Calculus, by the way. Calculus has only three main ideas, three main ideas, beautiful ideas. Algebra, algebra two, algebra one that's cool. Regular algebra have tens, decade different idea. Your approach to each problem is a different way. In calculus, you have an idea. Your approach to each problem is one of three ways. Even though calculus is higher, mathematics is all- no way, no way. Calculus is a great thing. It's based on algebra and everything else is quite complicated in details, but the ideological is simple.

0:33:48 - Kimberly King

You make me want to take one of your classes. I'm literally getting excited about math. Well good, I'm going to look into this. But this is such great information and so inspiring. But we do need to take a quick break. More in just a moment. Don't go away, we will be right back. Okay, and now back to our interview with National University's math professor, Dr. Igor Subbotin, and we're discussing how students can overcome math anxiety, and it's been so fascinating. Really, passion is driving everything and I love to hear how you're working with your students, and especially those that have anxiety. But talk about a little bit of the fun and the practicing in hard mathematics studies and the connections and oppositional unities. What does that mean?

0:34:39 - Doctor Igor Subbotin

Okay, first of all, this is engagement and interest, incorporating interactive games, puzzles and real-life applications. Creativity- math can involve creative problem solving and you can ask students to, for example, to create their own problems in mathematics. That will be fall and this is simulating. The same will be fun. Collaboration- If the student explained to his or her classmate his ideas, how excited this person is and how excited the friend when he just recognized this idea. Don't be isolated. Work in the class. Communicate with the teacher. Visualization- When you start, for example, to study well-known Cartesian system of coordinate and you can visualize some curves or lines connected like ID card. ID card to equation. It's a big fun also to build up some kind of challenging puzzles.

Oppositional complexity mathematics can be inherently complex, requiring rigorous thinking and logical reason. The challenge lies in navigation through the concepts and proofs, practice and effort. You know when you practice in mathematics every single day, that's why we suggested to our students to work every single day. Don't do it on the weekends, take small time, and mathematics sometimes you know you don't need anything, you just have a problem. You work on the problem and the problem is in your mind. Sometimes you sleep and problem and your mind, unconscious, continue to work on it. It's a big fun when it's come up with a solution.

Persistence, persistence, when you do it persistently. You know some people- Let me tell you, true, I was. When I was young, I was not a big fan to go to gym, this is not Russian culture, for example, and Ukrainian. And I came here at the state to see everybody exercising. And one of my students came to my class at eight o'clock, and she said at five I was in gym. I cannot survive without that. So why? Because day by day, day by day, and this has become some kind of pleasure, body pleasure, to feel body. That body has muscle and you feel yourself healthy. Same mathematics If you just work persistently, you will experience the fun, but not bad.

But maybe the most important thing, the most important thing is I got this question how to make your lessons and mathematics lesson fun. First of all, mathematics is a hard job. Study mathematics and you're supposed to respect yourself that you're doing this hard job. Don't wait for the fun, wait for the success. When you work hard and you experience the result, you have result, this is a huge fun. So when my student, first time in his or her life, solve independently challenging problem in mathematics- This is fun, that this person never forget for all life. It's making more, let's say, self-confident, and self-confidence is a very difficult thing. If you say to someone, mathematics is you, you just attack yourself confidence, why your friend can and you don't. It's not right. It's not right, especially, you know, talking about American culture get to praise the winner. Don't be a loser. So work on it. Work on it.

I love American philosophy in this way. You know, you suppose in America, you know, back in Soviet Union, you're supposed to wait. Then the community will help you. It was the main idea. Everything that is community is good. You are nothing In United States. Everybody's single person is a person. Work around the person, which is good, which is good, but build up the personality that really will be the center of the universe. Build up it and, all possible, go to gym and go to the math class.

0:39:11 - Kimberly King

The mind and body and it has that great synergy. You know we do need to keep that-

0:39:17 - Doctor Igor Subbotin

Absolutely. I see why.

0:39:21 - Kimberly King

(Laughter) Exactly. What is the role of the students’ attitude in this process? I think you can help so many students, as you say. You know we feel like winners, we feel confident and we need that, especially in today's culture.

0:39:36 - Doctor Igor Subbotin

Also, you can be a lover of mathematics. You will be taught the mathematics puzzles and, by the way, in the United States you can find thousands of different books about mathematics puzzles that will be appropriate to study and appropriate to support your fun in mathematics and understanding. Not only a serious book, just teaching you step by step. But the most important thing here is you can love it or you don't have to love it. You are a different person. You don't like it, okay, but not hate. Not hate. Every single school, you need to graduate with algebra. Every single university has mathematics classes for everybody, maybe different- statistics, or calculus, or pre-calculus, or algebra 2, even in some places, but I mean college algebra. But you don't have to hate it. You need to place it in your treasure. You need to work with this class, keeping it, taking into account. This is not only knowledge. It's shaping your brain. It's shaping your brain. So never say I hate it, never say I need to do it. Why is this teacher pushing me to do it? I don't like it, I hate it, it's human abuse and so on, so on. No way like that. Why is it supposed to be positive? Listen, guys, I am based on my own experience.

My approach to English was the same. It was the same. I hate to do homework on English, I hate to talk in English. I did everything that escaped from this, but what did I do?

But sometimes, when I became a researcher, I cannot read any advanced research without knowing English. Moreover, I even read German, I read Italian, and what can I do? But now, everything written in English. It's like in Middle Ages, Latin. It's a language of science. So I don't want even to talk about communication, traveling and so on, where English is almost every not almost, but let's say some places is really advanced in some countries. But reading the literature, reading the news, understanding what happened around, it's English. So you became understandable that it's need to be done. But as soon as you started this a little bit, as soon as you started this a little bit, it's very interesting, but it's became very bright and very nice, beautiful, and the expression, that one word in English could compress a lot of ideas. By the way, also parallel with mathematics in poetry, mathematics and poetry has very, very common thing. If you change one word in the definition in mathematics, or you change one word and just Shakespeare poetry, the meaning will be changed.

0:42:53 - Kimberly King

So the same concept in there. You just you change it, which is actually kind of what you did too is you changed, you shifted your mind when you were learning English and you hated it at the time, and now you say don't hate it, respect it, and it's a mind shift right.

0:43:09 - Doctor Igor Subbotin

I love it. I love it now and, moreover, I love myself that I can express English words and I understand how this is, let's say, multi-lives.

0:43:31 - Kimberly King

It's actually psychology too, which I think that you could really boost so many, especially American kids that are growing up in this education system. We need you to teach at a younger level.

0:43:35 - Doctor Igor Subbotin

I'm doing this, but show me the person who say I hate psychology. There is no one. People understand how this is important. Trust me, mathematics is no less important and say psychology maybe even more, because psychology use mathematics.

0:43:51 - Kimberly King

Right, you're right, it really applies universally, it applies to everything, and maybe that's part of your positive approach and how you can really get to students and how they develop that learning of mathematics and that it's I mean, you're applying really logistic, it's logical but also compassionate. I think that's kind of what I'm seeing and hearing.

0:44:16 - Doctor Igor Subbotin

Especially now when we live in the artificial intelligence era and data science and so on. And you know, I thought what the majors will be disappeared sooner or later because of artificial intelligence. We have a lot of conversation with that in our university with any level, faculty students, so on, and I completely believe that mathematics never be substituted by artificial intelligence, because it's creation, real creation, and I believe that artificial intelligence can write a wonderful novel, but never the same like real great writer. Artificial intelligence can be a host in our conversation right now, sure, but never as the same way like you, Kimberly, do, because your personality brightened this.

0:45:18 - Kimberly King

Right, it's the human connection and I don't. And you're right, I agree with you and I hope that it really, I don't know. We're trying to figure out-

0:45:26 - Doctor Igor Subbotin

It's creativity. Creativity that artificial intelligence will have, but not at the same level as it's supposed to produce a new concept in mathematics, for example, or something genius like Beethoven down in music. I don't believe it. It's going to be close, it's going to be something close, but whatever it's already done, not new.

0:45:48 - Kimberly King

Well, what are the most robust approaches educators and psychologists can recommend?

0:45:56 - Doctor Igor Subbotin

I listed them already, by the way, sometime. But robust approaches. It's, first of all, recognize this is not punishment. This is the opportunity. Number one. It's psychological. This is the opportunity to shape yourself, to get new tools to solve life problems. Number one.

Number two you're supposed to understand this is a long way and this is hard work, but not harder than you work in gym. No harder. Because you're taking care of your brain. The brain is the same part of body, like your muscles, and brain work is the same way, by the way, the same way. You need to train this and you to exercise the brain, the same like you do in gym or work in heart with your body and the sort you're supposed to believe yourself, you're supposed to understood, you're supposed to trust that you can overcome this, and it's not even covered.

You can study mathematics like everybody else. Everybody else, of course, different level. I have friends who are the biggest star in the mathematics horizon. I'm serious, I have this guys with me. They are great guys, great human being, but they have much more power from their brains than other people. It's happened like some musician has more power in music, some speakers or some politicians or any human. Any human application has different needs, different skills, different approach, but at appropriate.

Okay, you cannot come to some job places. I cannot write. I hate writing. The same in mathematics the same. It's simple part of human activity. Simple to me, maybe not so beautiful to other people who are not studied this, but definitely supposed to be recognized. This is a big cultural thing. In another, one which is extremely important, mathematics has no boundaries, racial or geographical boundaries for mathematics. For mathematics, all intellectual work is one country- is a quote from David Gilbert. David Gilbert is a huge star who was mathematician in Germany in the middle of the last century. This is very important to me. I work, I have collaborators from many countries - Brazil, China, Ukraine, Russia, England, Germany, many friends. I collaborate with as many people. Spain, many times. And all these people have something in common- they love mathematics. That's it. It's enough for us to be collaborated, recognized and respected.

0:49:09 - Kimberly King

And it's universal, as you're saying. I mean it goes all across the globe.

0:49:11 - Doctor Igor Subbotin

Yes, and people can study this. All people could be one community, one cultural board for mathematics and mathematics done by people like that. You cannot say that European guys just developed mathematics. No, what about Chinese? What about India? India, this is the first place. Babylonian people, 12,000 years ago, also Greek. What can we do without Greek people which developed mathematics two and a half thousand years ago? German mathematics, England, Newton; German, Leibniz, Russian people with the golden age of Soviet Union, not Russian Soviet Union mathematics golden age 60, 70, 80s, last century. In every university of the United States and most department you will find somebody from Soviet Union, because it was a huge school that unfortunately, it's ruined right now. Ukrainian, oh, by the way, I participated in July. I participated in Ukrainian 14th international algebra conference. Listen, in Kiev. It was on Zoom, of course, because you know it's bombing there.

I never for my life I participated in many different mathematics meetings. I never been in the place I mean place, I was at home. But Zoom I never been in the conference so well represented. Four Fields Prize winners- Fields Prize is the same like Nobel Prize for mathematics- What Fields Prize winner was there? The brightest starts of our algebra horizon was there and developed. That everybody supported. That's political reason also, I understand. But I've been previously on this. All conferences and presence, not only in Zoom and so on. But I've been in different conferences in England, in Spain, in Germany. I never seen something, so let's say - representative. So mathematicians community unifying too, yeah, it's a community. It doesn't matter what nationality, what's your color, what's your race, it's community.

We respect each other, we are equal, even those huge stars right there, not comparable to anybody, for example, of the regular people, but they are real good people. I know them, not only in the conference, and some of them, and all the stars, all the stars also there, and they talk to you like you’re a friend because you are doing the same and you are loving the same. We have the same interests, even though I am not equal to the star. Let's say like that I'm just a professional, I'm a professional but not a huge star like I seen there. But these people respect each other because we are doing the same, we respect the subject, we respect ourselves. For my students I always say like that- Respect yourself, respect your instructor, your teacher and respect the subject and you will be successful. Three respects. Yourself -Number one. Don't allow anybody says that you cannot do this. Don't allow it. If somebody can, you also can. Period, this is your approach.

0:52:53 - Kimberly King

Yeah. I love that.

I Doctor, I could talk to you all day long and unfortunately, we're gonna have to wrap it here, but what a wonderful way to end and the way to respect yourself and respect the subject and, of course, respect the professor, and you're a rock star as far as I'm concerned. I wish that I had you as my professor, but maybe it's not too late, right? Thank you, you are welcome. Well, thank you for sharing your knowledge and if you want more information, you can visit National University's website at NU.edu, and thank you so much for your time today.

0:53:30 - Doctor Igor Subbotin

Thank you very much. I really appreciate it. Thank you for having me here. It's a great opportunity to meet to talk about something that I love. Thank you.

0:53:41 - Kimberly King

You've been listening to the National University podcast. For updates on future or past guests, visit us at NU.edu. You can also follow us on social media. Thanks for listening.

Show Quotables

"Mathematics is not only a tool for understanding the world, but also a discipline that intrigues beauty and intellectual appeal. - Igor Subbotin https://shorturl.at/bgln6 " Click to Tweet
"Respect yourself, respect your instructor, and respect the subject and you will be successful. - Igor Subbotin https://shorturl.at/bgln6" Click to Tweet