I've always hated math. Since about the 6th grade, I've always felt behind and deemed myself "not a math person." As I get older, I'm realizing that part of my problem was how I was taught math. It always seemed like memorization and rules without context. I never had teachers that helped me develop a passion for math or see the the magic in solving problems. I wrote about this experience here.
Recently I learned about a series of thirteen blog posts that are meant for people like me. Steven Strogatz is an award winning mathematician from Cornell who has taken it upon himself to explain the magic of math on the New York Times Opinionator blog. Here's how it describes the genesis of the idea:
I have a friend who gets a tremendous kick out of science, even though he’s an artist. Whenever we get together all he wants to do is chat about the latest thing in evolution or quantum mechanics. But when it comes to math, he feels at sea, and it saddens him. The strange symbols keep him out. He says he doesn’t even know how to pronounce them.
In fact, his alienation runs a lot deeper. He’s not sure what mathematicians do all day, or what they mean when they say a proof is elegant. Sometimes we joke that I just should sit him down and teach him everything, starting with 1 + 1 = 2 and going as far as we can.
Crazy as it sounds, over the next several weeks I’m going to try to do something close to that. I’ll be writing about the elements of mathematics, from pre-school to grad school, for anyone out there who’d like to have a second chance at the subject — but this time from an adult perspective. It’s not intended to be remedial. The goal is to give you a better feeling for what math is all about and why it’s so enthralling to those who get it.
I've read the first few installations (he's posted 4 of 13 so far) and I'm impressed. It's not in plain English, per se, but he does a great job of using visuals and metaphor to explain math in a way that is new to me. Each post takes about ten minutes to read. All the current posts are here, and I encourage you to start at the beginning.
Thanks to Jay at Juxtaprose for letting me know about the series.