Calculus is the most dreaded and arguably least-loved branch of math subjects. It’s very likely you or someone you know like an older sibling has encountered a never-ending cycle of “finding the instantaneous rate of change” or what’s the limit of a function as x approaches y?! You might even be a high school student yourself with a first-hand account of the subject that left you terrified, wondering what more horrors await you. If I’m lucky enough maybe you’re just entering the arena, nervous but curious about this realm of math and all it has to offer. Do not fret, by the end of this article, I will give you the top five reasons why calculus is, in fact, the best math, and I’m confident you will gain a newfound respect for calculus and all its applications!
1. You can understand “gibberish” and become a mad scientist.
You may ask what reading gibberish and becoming a mad scientist may have to do with calculus? Well, most people you meet in public won’t know what they are looking at if they are shown calculus concepts such as derivatives, limits, integrals, etc. This was a thought that occurred to me while in class with one of my friends. While he was doing an equation on the calculator, he made the astute revelation that the equation looked like “gibberish.” A small thought spurred me to realize that to an average person, what we’re learning in the class may look like absolute nonsense. But it also occurred to me that if you take the time to actually learn calculus, you too can become a mad scientist that can read “gibberish” or look at it like it’s a secret code you and many other sane day-to-day who arent really mad scientists can understand. Ultimately, I think this lack of knowledge and enthusiasm highlights the issue of learning calculus not being prioritized in high school. It is usually taught your senior year, isn’t properly fleshed out, and is not given enough time to solidify your understanding of the subject. Even then if you wanted to properly learn calculus after high school it is gatekept by colleges. If an individual wish to further their understanding of this high-level math, usually their only option is paid college-level classes; I believe this to be one of the reasons why only a niche group of individuals are familiar with the subject. More importantly than just understanding “gibberish,” by learning calculus, you are widening this niche group, and I think that is an amazing feat. Khan Academy is a great place to start.
2. Calculus is extremely useful in STEM fields
Many STEM fields such as engineering (structural, mechanical, electrical, etc.), autonomous vehicles, construction, robotics, and more use calculus daily. Analyzing how something is changing and the impact of that change is essential. In fact, day-to-day situations/interactions can be analyzed and expressed through a calculus lens, as you will see later on. Motion is a big application of calculus and is important in robotics. With Calculus, robots can calculate their position, velocity, and acceleration. In autonomous vehicles, this is especially important for something such as obstacle avoidance. Later on, you will start to see other applications of calculus in STEM and the real world.
3. You can’t escape calculus so embrace it
As I stated previously, calculus is a concept usually taught in college, and not many high schoolers have the opportunity to learn it. If you plan to further your education, calculus will become more prevalent throughout your college career. To succeed without a headache, you should familiarize yourself with it, especially if you are a student heading into a STEM field. Furthermore, the faster pace at which content is covered in college may make such a complex topic seem almost impossible to learn. Being slightly familiar with the basics of calculus will prepare you for this new learning environment.
4. Calculus develops your critical thinking skills
Without looking at the actual math involved, the critical thinking skills you develop while learning a challenging subject like calculus are helpful. Exercising your brain to think and develop these essential skills is a must. For example, there are plenty of equations and methods for solving problems in calculus, and memorizing them is important. However, understanding the ideas behind these methods and why you might be using them to find the tangent line of an equation in one problem and solve a differential equation in another develops these skills. By pushing yourself to understand some of these ideas and not just memorize formulas, you start to push your skills to the limit and become a better student.
5. Calculus is better than Algebra
I think many of us students have, at one point, thought about knowing how to solve a quadratic equation, knowing about complex numbers, or truly any obscure math topic and have wondered how these things will benefit us. Unlike some of these more obscure topics, as previously mentioned, calculus is used on a daily basis, whether we realize it or not. For example, calculus can estimate the amount of accumulated snowfall in an area within a specific time frame. If you know the rate at which snow is falling and the length of snowfall, you can estimate the amount of snow on the ground from start to end with something called an “integral.” An Integral is basically a fancy “adding machine,” as my teacher puts it. It uses the rate of change of individual moments during the snowfall(the derivative) and the length of time, does some math, and adds everything to get the total snowfall. Calculus is built off of other areas of math, such as Algebra, for example, and improves on it. As such, I think it is a better version of many different areas of math: and it’s pretty fun.