I attended public schools and learned math from my teachers the way everyone does, at least through 7th grade. While I was reasonably good at math in elementary school, I didn’t find math truly interesting until I had the chance to go to some weekend enrichment workshops at the University of Minnesota: there I learned about fractals and tessellations and the fourth dimension — beautiful, visual concepts — which were a lot more interesting to me than multiplication tables!
I like the patterns in mathematics because they’re pretty, but even more than that, they are something I can explore and discover that is outside of me. In that way they’re veryrelaxing, like Sudoku — mathematical art can help you get outside your own head. The patterns come from random processes with strict structures, and I can bring my own creativity to playing with the colors and the designs within those patterns. Isn’t that why everyone likes coloring books?
My interest in the visual beauty of mathematics has persisted since those middle-school days. It prompted me to switch from number theory to algebraic geometry in graduate school, and motivates what I choose to work on in my pure math research today. Growing up on the East Side of St. Paul, I didn’t really have any idea that math research was about patterns or beauty or about anything other than equations and numbers. How would I have known? I also didn't know that people like me could do math research for a living, as opposed to working in insurance or business.
Hopefully Math with Crayons will give you — the reader, color-er, and co-creator — a little window into a type of beauty you’ve never encountered and a kind of math that challenges our school-fostered image of math as arithmetic and algebra alone.