This is a continuation of my series of stories about my early interests in mathematics. See also Multiplication Tables.
In fifth grade we learned math by watching a series of shows on laser disc (the dinner-plate-size precursors to DVDs). There was something that we learned, and I don’t remember what it was, but I thought “how stupid. Why do I need to know this?” A few weeks later I found out that we needed it as one piece to something else we were learning that did make sense. I wished then that it had been explained why we were learning what we were learning.
Sometime in middle school I was introduced to matrices. They seemed ugly, awkward and un-useful. My how I’ve changed my opinion since then! Matrices, next to numbers themselves, have to be the most useful concept developed in mathematics. What could be more elegant than going from a set of linear equations to a single matrix equation?
By the end of middle school, I guess that the system was wining. My interest in mathematics was at an all time low and I was getting D’s in my math classes.