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Help Me Get My Math Back? 467

Posted by kdawson
from the we-can-forget-it-for-you-wholesale dept.
nwm writes "I am trying to refresh my math skills back to the point that I can take college-level statistics and calculus courses. I took everything through AP calculus in high school, had my butt kicked by college calculus, and dropped out shortly thereafter. Twenty+ years later, I need to take a few math courses to wrap up a degree. I've dug around some and found a few sites with useful information, but I'm hoping the Slashdot crowd can offer some good resources — sites, books, programs, online tutors, etc. I really don't want to have to take a series of algebra-geometry-trig 'pre-college' level courses (each at full cost and each a semester long) just to warm my brain up; I'd much rather find some resources, review, cram, and take the placement test with some confidence. Any suggestions?"
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Help Me Get My Math Back?

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  • by elucido (870205) on Saturday April 03, 2010 @09:43PM (#31720466)

    They want you to pass calculus for a reason. No matter what kind of scientist you plan to be, your knowledge of calculus will be essential. You'll never use statistics but you will need to use calculus every day.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 03, 2010 @09:45PM (#31720492)

      Hi,

      Working scientist here. Ph.D. I've been working 20+ years doing scientific research, getting grants, publishing papers in peer-reviewed journals.

      I haven't done ANY calculus since I was an undergrad.

    • by Garridan (597129) on Saturday April 03, 2010 @09:52PM (#31720562)

      Oh bullshit. Those are both overt and ridiculous generalizations. First off, many scientists use statistics every day (at the least, much more than "never"). Second, not all scientists use calculus "every day", and many use it almost never.

      As a calculus teacher, I can tell you this: you need skills in symbolic manipulation. Your algebra needs to be rock solid before you attempt college level calculus. In my experience, you need dozens of hours of practice before you get it. Buy an algebra textbook, and do every odd problem in every section until you are reliably getting everything right. My experience = flunked high school math and went back to college 10 years later, and am now working towards a PhD in math.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I was in the same situation as submitter. In fact, it was the reason why I switched majors from CompSci - being in a hurry to get a degree in a science and too much bullshit math I'd never use. I'll go back for Compsci when I can learn on my own terms, for fun.

        However, you were spot-on about this: Calc 1 is 90% algebra(with 20-30% of the problems involving trig)and you're gonna be fucked if you don't have a good grasp of algebraic manipulation. My recommendation to submitter is to take online calculus(whe

      • by zach_the_lizard (1317619) on Saturday April 03, 2010 @10:08PM (#31720690)
        Another thing that you might want to brush up, in addition to those things the parent post mentions, would be trigonometry. A healthy portion of the various calc courses I've taken have used trig identities fairly heavily. It also helps to remember the values of trig functions for common angles. Depending on the college, you may have to be decent at mental arithmetic. My school frowned upon using calculators in class.
        • by shdo (145775) on Saturday April 03, 2010 @10:26PM (#31720834)

          I would mod you up if I had any points. Sad as it may seem calculus was where I *learned* trig. For me, trig is one of those subjects that you beat your head against for months and years and one day *POOF* it makes sense. My first semester of college level calculus was were I learned trig. The second time I took that first semester of calculus - man I got it.

          Don't forget to brush up on the basics - algebra, trig, analytical geometry as well as your calculus.

          goes looking for an old text book just to tinker around with it.......

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by oldhack (1037484)
        Many scientists misuse stats.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        The parent is absolutely right. You need practice. Actually, you need what Anders Ericcson calls 'deliberate practice'. Solve every example in the book as follows:

        Write down the problem. Close the book and try to solve the problem. If you got it right, go on to the next problem. If you didn't get it, look at how the example is solved. Close the book and try again until you get it right. Repeat until you have solved every example in the text.

        Check out this article: http://www.conestogac.on.ca/~bcoons [conestogac.on.ca]

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by siwelwerd (869956)

        As a calculus teacher, I can tell you this: you need skills in symbolic manipulation. Your algebra needs to be rock solid before you attempt college level calculus. In my experience, you need dozens of hours of practice before you get it. Buy an algebra textbook, and do every odd problem in every section until you are reliably getting everything right.

        I couldn't agree more. My better students are invariably the ones who can do basic algebra in their sleep. Those who struggle are those who never learned high school algebra (or god forbid, arithmetic) well.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by rolfwind (528248)

        I suggest Schaum's Outlines myself. Cheap, comprehensive, mostly well-written.

    • by rubycodez (864176)

      you can't say such a thing without knowing what specialization a person would have. Statistics is the bread and butter of some work, for others just plugging numbers into formulas that have been known for a century or two (my job at national lab was like that for 10 years!), for others the heavy duty tensor calculus or partial diffy-Qs. Same situation in engineering.

    • Were did they say they were getting a science degree? Needing to take a few math courses to wrap up a degree implies that most of the course work is done. I can't think of a science or engineering major that would allow you take the required courses without having completed calculus first.
      • My dad got a degree in a technical field--CS or something related, IIRC--and he never even had to take a calculus class at all. He took classes overseas while in the military through UMUC [umuc.edu]. It does happen.
    • by GAATTC (870216) on Saturday April 03, 2010 @10:00PM (#31720636)
      As a scientist I learned a long time ago not to make general and unsubstantiated claims like "No matter what kind of scientist you plan to be, your knowledge of calculus will be essential." As a practicing molecular geneticist and cell biologist I use statistics quite often. I cannot remember ever having to (directly) use calculus in the last 20 years for any of my research. I really enjoyed all of the calculus (and linear and set theory and ...) that I took a long time a ago. When I look back at it what I really got out of all my math classes (and O-Chem too for that matter) was the the knowledge that I could learn anything I really set my mind to - if I have to.
      • by Sheafification (1205046) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @11:28AM (#31724358)

        As a mathematician with a statistician wife, I'm surprised by the number of responses like yours. Many people here are asserting that they never use calculus but constantly use statistics. Do they never work with a continuous distribution? No z-tests, f-tests, t-test, chi^2-tests? No exponential, gamma, beta, gaussian, log-normal, logistic distributions?

        Or maybe they just don't know that probability theory is based on integration, and every time they compute an expected value, correlation, variance, co-variance, skewness, kurtosis, regression, etc. they are using calculus-based techniques and results. That would go a long way to explaining why my wife is consistently busy consulting with scientists who have worked themselves into a corner with their data. They designed their experiment to produce sub-optimal data and can't do the analyses to extract the meager conclusions their design entails.

        Sorry, I don't mean to pick on you in particular, but to say that one uses statistics all the time and never uses calculus is preposterous.

    • by Vellmont (569020) on Saturday April 03, 2010 @10:26PM (#31720830)

      No matter what kind of scientist you plan to be, your knowledge of calculus will be essential. You'll never use statistics

      This has to be about the worst piece of advice about a science education I've ever seen. Like anything, it depends. Calculus is extraordinarily useful to someone in physics, but less so in biology. Statistics is insanely important in an experimental science (actually it's insanely important in just about any science I can think of). Hell, statistics should be a mandatory class taught in High School. It's far more applicable to everyday life than trig is.

    • by thenextstevejobs (1586847) on Saturday April 03, 2010 @10:35PM (#31720882)

      They want you to pass calculus for a reason. No matter what kind of scientist you plan to be, your knowledge of calculus will be essential. You'll never use statistics but you will need to use calculus every day.

      Are you wooshing me here?

      Having an understanding of what a derivative or integral of a function is a good insight to have, no doubt.

      But I would argue that statistics is much more broadly applicable, and extremely important for a clear understanding of scientific discourse and all the 'facts' that the poster will encounter.

      In reply to the original query, what you're going to need to do is a lot of problems. You need to look at this like getting in shape--you can't do it overnight.

      I returned to college after about 5 years off and needed to take placement exams myself. Turned out the test allowed using a Ti-89. I cheated myself out of really 'placing' myself by being able to approximate/calculate all the multiple choice answers and placed highly.

      After a few attempts in the classes I was placed in, in the end, I re-took precal and calculus.

      I could have avoided that if I had actually done a large volume of problems rather than skimming some books and looking at the answers and deciding that it was 'easy enough'.

      Never look at the answers of problems until you try them. Once you know the right answer, you convince yourself the problem was easy and that you didn't need to do it. This will fuck you over in the end.

      Find an approach to doing math that makes it enjoyable for you. One thing that helped me a lot was getting a large whiteboard. I find I enjoy doing math more pacing back in front of a board and whatever else comes along with doing work on a board rather than a piece of lined paper. Chalk would have been better.

      Lastly, ignore the assholes here who are going to berate you for not knowing what they think is simple, obvious knowledge. Math is rife with 'tricks' and non-intuitive methods to solving problems that come through experience. Someone who had a good experience with math through school and went straight into college is not going to understand your position.

      Good luck to you, and if you really want this, do problems and problems and more problems. Put on some music you love and shred through a book or two. Get help at local colleges. Bribe a friend to help you study, or just hire a tutor.

      Otherwise, you're going to end up doing it by taking the classes (as I did). One way or another, you have to do the work.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by haruharaharu (443975)

      You'll never use statistics but you will need to use calculus every day.

      Statistics is great for figuring out when you're being lied to, so go ahead and learn it or prepare for a lifetime of being easily manipulated with real-sounding BS.

  • by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Saturday April 03, 2010 @09:44PM (#31720482)

    Calc II, Calc III, Diff Eq, I II or III. Linear Algebra, Statistics,

    There's a huge difference.

    There's always MIT's Open Courseware. [mit.edu]

  • by smith6174 (986645) on Saturday April 03, 2010 @09:44PM (#31720484)
    This book uses programmed learning that goes step by step through everything you will need and more. It is designed for self study. There is also a sequel book that goes into some much higher stuff. I used just this book as preparation for classes requiring calc 3 as a prerequisite.
  • Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pushf popf (741049) on Saturday April 03, 2010 @09:45PM (#31720500)
    If you haven't needed a degree or calculus in 20 years, why bother now?

    If you're job hunting, your time would be better spent making yourself relevant to current employers or starting a consulting business than trying to match your calc and trig skills with a recent grad and get a degree.

    A degree is a nice "filter" when hiring new applicants, since it proves that they were able to deal with BS for at least 4 years, however with 20 years of actual job experience, you'll do much better off trying to differentiate yourself from the recent grads than you will if you try to "look better on paper."

    That said, if you want to do this just because it's "unfinished business" lots of community colleges have entire departments dedicated to getting us old folks "up to speed". Just stop by and talk to someone.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Darkness404 (1287218)

      If you haven't needed a degree or calculus in 20 years, why bother now?

      In case you haven't realised it, there is a recession going on, a -lot- of people are either unemployed, their spouse is unemployed or they need a way to secure their job. Rather than doing the rational thing of looking at productivity, most businesses hire and pay based on education. If his wife lost her job and he was expecting the income, the only way he can get a raise to keep up his standard of living might be through a degree.

      Most degrees are completely useless when done for a raise, but, money

    • Dunno - perhaps he wants to shift careers a bit, or enter academia?

      Sometimes a degree is useful when you want to leave one area of his career and enter another. For instance, perhaps the guy has been doing field engineering all this time, but now wants to do design? Maybe he's sick of working/running a lab, and instead wants to create and run the projects?

      Even in my own corner of the working world (IT), I find myself increasingly wishing that I'd taken more business courses as I leave behind being a server

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by pushf popf (741049)
        Even in my own corner of the working world (IT), I find myself increasingly wishing that I'd taken more business courses as I leave behind being a server monkey (and in one previous job, code monkey). Nowadays I'm routinely running my own budgets, doing the politics dance, and overseeing both people and projects. Mind you, I have no desire to get an MBA, but having to handle vendors, routinely run RFP's of six figures (one this year approached seven), while handling/syncing various execs' ideas of project m
  • This site helped me (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 03, 2010 @09:46PM (#31720506)

    This tutorial site helped me through 6 years of school. Hope it helps you too! http://tutorial.math.lamar.edu/

  • by FlyByPC (841016) on Saturday April 03, 2010 @09:46PM (#31720508) Homepage
    Helpful handouts [germanna.edu] from Germanna Community College's tutoring Center. (I used to work there a few years ago; these resources are not only helpful, but free.)
    Drexel's Math Forum [mathforum.org] (full disclosure: I'm a current Drexel employee and student -- but the Math Forum strikes me as pretty cool.)
    Project Euler [projecteuler.net](more oriented toward programming and numerical methods, but interesting site for developing your math skills. The problems range from not-too-hard to mind-boggling.)
    Purple Math [purplemath.com]
    • Interestingly enough, I used to take a handful of classes at Germanna. To add to the list, I would say that Wolfram Alpha can be helpful, because it can be used to break down more complicated integrals and derivatives into steps when you don't understand them. Just don't become dependent upon them. Also, one thing that can be helpful is to go to Yahoo Answers and answer math related problems. Break everything down into steps, explain the theorems needed, and bask in the knowledge that teaching is a good way
  • by nitroamos (261075) on Saturday April 03, 2010 @09:46PM (#31720512)

    Most text books have practice questions for each chapter, and some answers in the back. Why not just work through some of those on your own? Math is the kind of subject that you can only learn by doing problems, so I don't think there's any shortcuts. But I suppose if you work on problems, it's nice to have a teacher to help if you get stuck, but perhaps a reasonable substitute would be forums.

  • Just do Community college summer sessions or something similar, should be enough and they only cost like 60 bucks a class. Taking the college level calc classes would be good too at CC unless they are upper division differential equations or something as those are not offered.
    • I second the community college courses, but you might need to sift through till you get a good instructor. I lucked out in the ones I have had so far have been able to explain things quite well and have good homework polices. $60 a class is unreal though, mine cost about $350 per class.
      • by pieisgood (841871)
        Out here in California each unit costs 20$ and the average class was 90 minutes long and met twice a week adding up to 3 credits. So we paid 60$ a class BUT! the books ended up costing at least 50-120$ it was ludicrous.
    • by h2oliu (38090)

      I was going back to school to become a teacher. In so doing I had to take a Trig course. I did so online from my local community college. It really refreshed my math skills (that were ~20 years old).

      Keep in mind I had taken through Series and Diff Eq. in college, so I had mastered the material previously. (Don't ask why I needed trig. in spite of having had the upper level courses. Just a magic hoop to jump through).

      -Chris

      • Don't ask why I needed trig. in spite of having had the upper level courses. Just a magic hoop to jump through.

        In high school, I had that same sort of problem. I moved from one school system where you took World History in two parts, one in 8th grade (middle school) and one in 9th grade (high school), to one where the two parts were pushed up a year. Despite having completed both classes successfully, they made me retake history part I, because they just didn't trust that I learned anything. They also made me take the standardized test for the second history class, which I passed with a perfect score on, making thei

  • Krzysztof Wilczynski (Score:4, Informative)

    by kwilczynski (1684804) on Saturday April 03, 2010 @09:47PM (#31720522) Homepage
    Keith, I would start with YouTube. Crazy as it sounds, but there are many free training videos there. Especially, look up channels maintained by the universities like i.e. MIT or Yale, etc etc. They have recordings of lecture sessions available for free to watch, of course. And some of them are of finest quality. Anyway, that is just a start... Good luck, KW
  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Saturday April 03, 2010 @09:48PM (#31720532) Journal
    I don't know how bad you want this but I can tell you that nothing feels better than finishing something you started even if it comes two decades later.

    What you're mostly going to find in these replies are codices. Not teaching. Not knowledge. You're going to get information sources. What you do with those sources, that will be the teaching, the learning and the progress. No one's going to help you get your math back but you. You're going to get static nonliving information and it's going to be up to you to bring that alive. Frankly, on your part it's going to require the will of a volcano otherwise I suggest a tutor or precalculus class.

    The course I can refer you to echos my sentiments [mit.edu]:

    This material could conceivably be studied by a student on his or her own, but this seldom works out. Students tend to get stuck on something, and, having no goad to keep them going, they try to get past it with decreasing energy, and ultimately develop mental blocks against going on. Having an organized course prevents this by forcing them to face obstacles like exams and assignments.

    If you attempt this and get stuck, as is almost inevitable, you could try emailing us and we can try to unstick you.

    Did you catch that last part? You're going to need help. Whether it's bribing your nerdy friends with cases of beer or Star Wars Galaxy Series Five collectible card packs (*cough* *cough*) you are going to need guidance at certain points in time. Don't be afraid to ask those around you or -- and I recommend this only in dire cases -- dressing up like a student and rolling into your local university asking to see the precalc professor for help.

    Your codex might be Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]. Your codex might be Wolfram's MathWorld [wolfram.com]. My codex sits three feet in front of my face as I type this. My codex (and this is purely personal) Bronshtein et al's Handbook of Mathematics [amazon.com]. The binding is acceptable. The paper is not the greatest. The content is priceless. This is not a teaching device. This is my starting point. If I were you my ending point would be at my college's library pouring over all calculus textbooks. The great thing about this starting point is that I like how it lays out all the starting points leading up to that starting point in case I need to start backwards. Another great thing about this particular resource is that it has nearly everything imaginable and is well organized. The bad thing is that it costs $71.97. I think I paid $60 for mine but either way it's not free like Wikipedia.

    I don't know where you are comfortable starting from but if I were you I would simply research what your learning institutions pre requisites are and spend your free time now acquiring their books and notes in order to make sure you have them covered. All of my old University of Minnesota syllabuses are online [umn.edu] although I cannot find the Math department equivalent (aside from the registration listings).

    If you could name your courses, I'd suggest books like The Annotated Turing [theannotatedturing.com] which has been a page turner for me and actually starts with basic set theory to work up to automata. I'm guessing you're aiming for more Multivariable and Diff Eq type stuff. Let us know what the courses are and perhaps more human readable works can be suggested that aren't as laboriously mind numbing as reading a codex would be.

  • and check out all of the relevant math textbooks. Make sure there are exercises for each chapter for which answers are provided somewhere in the book.

    Then, read the chapters, and do the problems. Keep doing the problems until you get every . single . one . of . them . right and you understand what you've previously done wrong in each case.

    Pour over it until you really understand the relationships between the quantities.

    It is very hard work, but there is no shortcut to understanding math and science, and if

  • My advice is go for cheap and easy classes that count for your degree, especially if the classes are useless for your job (as most will be) try taking them at a community college, or see if a "degree mill" offers the course for cheap that will transfer. Many universities will take community college or other sub-par classes if they are for general education or basic requirements. Now, if you are, say, a biology major, taking all your biology classes through a community college might not transfer, but taking
  • Khan, MIT (Score:3, Informative)

    by chub_mackerel (911522) on Saturday April 03, 2010 @09:51PM (#31720556)

    You might like:

    Khan Academy http://www.khanacademy.org/ [khanacademy.org]

    (Get an account for the review software if you have forgotten college algebra skills as well.)

    MIT's Open Courseware http://ocw.mit.edu/ [mit.edu]

    Many of these courses now have full video libraries of lectures, homework and exam solutions, etc. You can buy a text and take the course.

    I am interested to see other finds out there, though.

  • Motivation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cosm (1072588) <thecosm3@EEEgmail.com minus threevowels> on Saturday April 03, 2010 @09:52PM (#31720558)
    In my experience in school, if you are motivated to pass, you will find a way to pass (most of the time). But if you are motivated to learn, passing the class will come as a pleasant side effect. Not knocking your stated intentions, but approach this as a learning experience, a thoroughfare in self-enlightenment, and you will reap the test-score rewards.
  • MIT Opencourseware? (Score:3, Informative)

    by kaiidth (104315) on Saturday April 03, 2010 @09:54PM (#31720584)

    Dunno about college placement tests, but to start thinking about maths in general there's nothing like just buying a couple of books and going at it (but make sure you have the answer booklet/solutions are in the back of the book). If you're feeling a little panicky you might even want to start with something really un-threatening ('Statistics for dummies' exists for that). You might want to see what the standard textbooks would be for the courses that are prerequisites for the ones you're looking to study, and perhaps ask which areas you would be expected to be comfortable with.

    Also, the MIT opencourseware site is probably your friend: http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/Mathematics/ [mit.edu]

    As regards an online tutor, depending on whether you currently live near a college/university/miscellaneous site of higher learning, you might want to see if there are any postgrads in applicable subjects who are willing to tutor. In my experience online tutors are seldom worth half as much as talking to a real live actual human being, and they are usually more expensive. YMMV - especially if you are extremely busy an online tutor may actually suit you better than scheduling another real live person into your week.

    Finally - good luck :)

  • I've found karlscalculus.org to be a useful site. for my brushing-up needs.

  • Sigh... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Digana (1018720) on Saturday April 03, 2010 @09:58PM (#31720618)

    I find it profoundly unsatisfying that you have to ask this question.

    It's not your fault; it's the structure of the educational system. You are clearly not interested in mathematics, since you just want to cram and pass some test. You don't specify exactly for what you need mathematics, but I'm guessing it's for some other thing, possibly something computer related.

    It's a big lie that you'll ever use calculus for anything except for specialised degrees (and if you were to use it for anything you personally would want to do in your future, you would already be interested in it). It's also profoundly strange that calculus seems to be pinnacle of mathematical education if you're not going to go on to study something like mathematics itself or physics.

    To put my frustration another way, why doesn't anybody ever ask similar questions for sculpture, or Schaum's Outlines on Basket Weaving or all the other myriad useless things we humans do for our edification? Why is western society obsessed with mathematics, deluded into thinking it's useful in general, and why are people so stressed over learning this useless and dryly-presented subject? Why aren't you required to achieve a certain level of chess expertise before you can complete a computer science degree? A lot of early computer science was concerned with chess playing, let us not forget!

    It's pointless. It's pointless to cram for exams about subjects you don't care about in order to satisfy requirements you don't genuinely need.

    My recommendation is, are you really interested in learning this stuff? If so, just spend hours and hours in your local university library in the math section browsing books you're interested in. If you're not really interested, go grab some Schaum's Outlines or the Complete Idiot's guide or whatever, and use that to pass whatever bureaucratic and pointless requirement your educational institute imposes before you're allowed to study what you really want to study.

    • Re:Sigh... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Z8 (1602647) on Saturday April 03, 2010 @10:10PM (#31720720)

      Why is western society obsessed with mathematics, deluded into thinking it's useful in general, and why are people so stressed over learning this useless and dryly-presented subject?

      Math is useful in general. And western society doesn't just stress about learning math. An even greater number are probably stressed about passing english tests [ets.org]. Society thinks language and math are important to education; your basket-weaving and sculpture not so much. I personally don't see the problem with this.

    • Re:Sigh... (Score:5, Informative)

      by clifyt (11768) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [rettamkinos]> on Saturday April 03, 2010 @10:17PM (#31720766) Homepage

      Because it is the basis of all fields of science.

      And quite a few fields of art.

      I *HATE* math, but I use it every single day, and in the areas I'm known for, I can do the math needed...mostly in my head. I've also found that as I've tried to branch out of my areas of expertise, that I can't rely on the few areas of math that I know fluently, because I'm starting to bang my head against the ceiling.

      For instance, I took a few basic undergrad courses recently (I have a masters in psychology), and I couldn't remember the damn quadratic equation...I could get the answer just fine -- if I wanted to spend 15 minutes solving it (or as I did, write a quick plot app on my laptop to show the answers figuring it out computationally as opposed to mathematically)...and it was only after one of my twenty-something classmates looked at me and said Dude, Why Don't You Just Use The Quadratic Equation that I realized how much I had forgotten (I had no use for math 20 years ago and slept through this).

      It is funny how knowing the simple concepts can make your life simple. Anyone can brute force just about anything.

      If you don't want to do anything science based...and this includes almost any social science even if people think these are not real...or any advanced art (I have a friend that does weavings, and to get what she wants, and for the patterns to work out in real life, not just paper, she needs to know math to get these to work)...math is the basis for all of this. Oh and the chess algs? it is all math...pretty advanced math...it isn't chess these guys were after...it was computational mathmatics to attack a human problem.

      This summer, I am signing up for a 100 level math course and getting the basics back again...I wish I would have done it before...it sucks that I can get results from Mathematica or SPSS, but I can't do simple algebraic equations. You might not think it interesting or necessary, but then again, I can't tell if you are being serious or if your humor is just VERY dry...if you are serious...wow...

    • I was told how much math I'd need since I wanted to get in to technology. Math teachers always kept on about how important it was. Well, they are dad wrong. I need a good understanding of arithmetic, and some basic algebra is also useful. Past that, I use nothing. Had I stuck with CS, linear algebra would be good (since a lot of programming relates to it) but certainly not calc. Knowing calc is kinda neat, it allows me to understand how some things are done, but they aren't things I need to do, a program do

    • Re:Sigh... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Flavio (12072) on Saturday April 03, 2010 @11:08PM (#31721070)

      Why is western society obsessed with mathematics, deluded into thinking it's useful in general, and why are people so stressed over learning this useless and dryly-presented subject?

      Essentially because:

      1) Everyone should learn logic and disciplined thought. Otherwise you'll end up with adults who can't read instruction manuals, have an attention span of 5 year olds and can't see their own mistakes and contradictions due to disorganized thought processes and hubris. Math can have a humbling effect on people.

      2) Proper mathematics is used constantly by good electrical engineers, physicists and mathematicians. If you want a good engineer, you have to teach him math from childhood. And since you can't have a grade school for scientists and another one for everyone else, everyone has to learn math.

      3) Math greatly contributes to keep idiots out of the sciences, med school and other important professions.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by farnsworth (558449)

      I find it profoundly unsatisfying that you have to ask this question.

      You are probably just put off by the title of this post. "Help Me Get My Math Back" is a presumptuous start to be sure, but his actual question is fine.

      And his actual question is not what you addressed at all. He's just asking if you know of any place that has the information he needs in a format that is convenient to him. Your response is just a depressing and pointless toil at windmills.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by FoolishOwl (1698506)

      In a similar thread on Slashdot, someone posted a link to A Mathematician's Lament [maa.org], by Paul Lockhart, which I found persuasive and very moving.

      I'm in a position similar to that of the original poster. I've gone back to school, after years of low-paid jobs, hoping to work towards a CS degree. I had to admit I wouldn't be able to do it -- I've found the programming and networking courses very easy, but the calculus courses I took required ten times as much study as everything else put together, and I was stil

  • A Very Good Survey (Score:4, Informative)

    by richg74 (650636) on Saturday April 03, 2010 @10:08PM (#31720694) Homepage
    If what you are looking for is a way to get your mind back into "math mode", I'd suggest one book that I have used, both to refresh my memory and to read for pleasure since I was an undergrad ~40 years ago. It's called What is Mathematics?, by Richard Courant and Herbert Robbins, in the 2nd edition (which I have).

    There is a new edition, edited by Ian Stewart, which Amazon has:
    What is Mathematics? [amazon.com]

    I like the book because it is geared to an intelligent adult reader; it doesn't assume much technical math knowledge, but it gives (IMHO) an excellent overview of the concepts through calculus. It has exercises, too.

  • Newtonian physics (Score:2, Insightful)

    by oldhack (1037484)

    I remember Newtonian mechanics as the best applied calculus class. If you didn't like calculus as math, maybe this will work out better for you. It links math with more physical (useful?) phenomena.

    If not, I don't have a clue what would help you, since I found college calculus much better than AP high school stuff.

  • I'm not sure to what extent this site would help:

    www.ThatQuiz.org [thatquiz.org]

    But I like to go back there from time to time and run through various tests just for "the fun of it." I'm not only surprised by the simple things I've forgotten over the years, but I'm also surprised at some of the things I never use but still remember.

  • Really for me the main trick was understanding exactly what a derivative was. It sounds obvious I know but you really have to get your head wrapped around exactly what it's doing and the basic idea of summing an infinite series of slices. Do some mental exercises like the speed of a car and how a speedometer works, imagining the rate a pool of different shapes would be filling up as the water rises, etc...

    Once you get the concept clear and what it means the rest is just memorizing the various transforms

  • The Princeton Review (Score:2, Informative)

    by Phaldyn (1657411)
    When I had to do well on the GRE before entering graduate school, I used the prep book from The Princeton Review and kicked the hell out of the math section.

    They have prep books for SAT Math 1 & 2 which covers (ironically) more complicated stuff, and I think that's what you really want. For getting your mind back in mathematics mode, I'd pick up both of those (twenty bucks each or less) and work through all the exercises you need to in order to jog the memory banks. Start with the GRE math and good
  • by wickerprints (1094741) on Saturday April 03, 2010 @10:35PM (#31720876)

    You haven't specified what kind of degree, and therefore, what kind of coursework is required. Moreover, even the same level of coursework taught at different institutions can vary widely in difficulty. "Undergraduate calculus" at, say, Caltech is nothing like "undergraduate calculus" two blocks away at Pasadena City College. The same goes for statistics.

    If your intention is to obtain a degree, the best starting point is to figure out which text(s) are being used in those courses that are required for that degree. This will give you some idea of the scope and level of difficulty to expect. Otherwise, you could end up studying a great deal of ancillary information. Such things may be good to know, but will not contribute to your stated goal.

    Regarding your plan to dive right in, I appreciate and understand your enthusiasm but I also think it is misguided and potentially counterproductive. You could very easily make it much more difficult for you to obtain your credits by not reviewing basics beforehand. Mathematics is not a subject that is easily cherry-picked, nor is it amenable to rote learning. It is more like a vast edifice, a tower whose foundations support increasingly complex and abstract concepts. Furthermore, it is a topic which is best learned through actual understanding. For instance, if you understand what integration actually means, rather than viewing it as a mechanical operation on a function, you will find it easier to interpret other concepts that employ integration, such as the calculation of moment-generating functions of continuous probability distributions.

    On some level, it's possible to "get by" with simply learning the mechanics of computation and symbolic manipulation. That is pretty much what calculus is (as opposed to analysis). But if you want to make it as easy as possible on yourself, at the very least I advise you quickly review nearly everything at the high-school level, from algebra to trigonometry. Then take a more detailed look at the AP Calculus curriculum; any gaps in knowledge should be readily apparent and immediately addressed before continuing further. From there, you should compare against the aforementioned college coursework and texts.

    Success in learning mathematics is not so much about the details of what you know as it is about how to think analytically and abstractly.

  • iTunes U (Score:3, Informative)

    by shrtcircuit (936357) on Saturday April 03, 2010 @10:37PM (#31720902)
    I know it sounds a little weird, but check out iTunes U. There are a lot of courses (many by some very well known academic establishments) including a full library of math and science. Best part is, it's free.
  • My last high school math class was in 1991. 1990 really - the second half of senior year many were accepted early to college, so the high school didn't even really try to teach anything. I did Calculus I in late 2007 in night school.

    I studied some stuff in the months before class, but was not really prepared at all. The first half of the first day of class covered all of algebra and pre-calc, the second half was new material. She put up stuff on the board the first day like x^(y/z) and expected us to k

  • It's so funny that this question has been posed. I thought for a second that I had actually posted this! :)

    I'm pretty much in your same situation. I dropped out of college back in the late 90s, and the last math class that I successfully passed was Calculus II. I took a Calculus III class, but stopped going around the time I dropped out. This puts me at almost 15 years since I've attended a structure math class at the university level. Before that, I look Precalculus in high school...in 1991. I haven't ha
  • Go take a couple of courses for non-credit or "enrichment" at your local community college. Start a little bit behind where you think you are at the moment. It will air your brains out in a non-pressurized environment, give you some idea of what you need to be doing, and won't cost much. I did it years ago, about ten or twelve years after I finished college. It rebuilt my confidence, sharpened my skills after ten years of disuse, and was highly enjoyable in the bargain. The fees were very affordable. I neve

  • You're in luck, there are tons of options. Use online courses [mit.edu], cheap textbooks [amazon.com] (look for teacher editions), and community college courses.

    If you were an AP student in high school and enjoy math, you'll do fine the second time around in college. I had to work a lot harder at calculus than I expected during my first undergrad degree. Five years later I returned for another degree and found it much easier and more enjoyable. Suffer through Calc I, II, III, they're basically computation. The fun comes with a
  • by Hurricane78 (562437) <deleted.slashdot@org> on Saturday April 03, 2010 @11:48PM (#31721270)

    Lockhart, famous for his critique on “mathematics” “A Mathematician’s lament [maa.org]” is currently writing a book, to teach math the way it’s supposed to be taught.
    I decided to wait for it, since all the other stuff on the market is the same retarded backwards-“teaching” shit, with the same stupid “learning rules by heart”.

  • Most colleges now use two sites for their online coursework. MathLab and Math XL. Both cost to join. Of course, you need to be in a class to get actual homework assignments(so no assignments - no big deal). But they do have full online tutoring, examples, and so on for you to review from the book. Some textbooks also have similar programs or access to them in a CD in the back.

    Log in, select "I am studying on my own and need to select a textbook" Then search for the author. Go to course home at the top

  • I suggest you get a copy of Richard Courant's What is Mathematics? [amazon.com]. It covers a wide range of topics so you can pick and choose what you want to learn about. You don't have to read it from cover to cover like most text books. IMO the key thing is that it makes math interesting. Math is like sex in that if it isn't fun then you are probably not doing it right.

    Also, don't feel bad about having trouble with college calculus. IMO people seldom learn calculus in college when it is taught by the math dep
  • by raddan (519638) * on Sunday April 04, 2010 @12:23AM (#31721448)
    probably because of the odd mixture of superiority and inferiority complexes (are they the same thing? who knows...).

    Anyway, I commend you on your efforts to get back into mathematics. I started taking mathematics courses well after I received my B.A. (in Philosophy) and my friends and colleagues gave me no shortage of grief over this. I don't complain when they want to spend their free time painting or water skiing, and yet-- they seem to think there's something wrong with a grown man studying mathematics. The best advice I can give you is: ignore them. Mathematics is a fulfilling and beautiful subject. At the risk of sounding like a stoner, it will open your mind to new possibilities.

    You already have the important part: motivation. But motivation is not quite enough. Until you understand the weird (or I should say, counterintuitive) ways of mathematics, you really need a teacher. This is worth the money. I was in your same position about five years ago, and what I did was: start at precalculus. I signed up for a summer course in precalc and trig at the local Uni (UMass Lowell, in case anyone is wondering...), and then I worked my way through calculus, stats, discrete math, set theory, algorithms, and formal languages. I threw in a physics course for kicks, and I found that it reinforced my calculus immensely.

    Remember: math is hard. But not for the reason you think. It's hard because you need to change the way you think. The problem sets are essential, because they make you understand what assumptions can be kept, and which must be thrown away. You will be a better person for it. Once you change the way you think, math is easy. It sounds trite, I know, but it is very true.

    Also, Bach helps during homework.

    Good luck, and do not let your friends and family discourage you. I personally believe that if you are not challenging yourself, you are not living. I would do it again in a heart beat.
  • by karlandtanya (601084) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @02:56AM (#31722012)

    Learning the tools is only half the job.
    Skill is being able to pick the right tools throughout the process.
    For me, at least, it's never been enough to learn the tools and techniques.
    As you've already learned, use it or lose it; if you want it back, start working the exercises.

  • by nwm (1037064) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @05:07AM (#31722486)
    Wow... the firehose is in full spray mode today. First off, thanks to those of you who actually responded to my question and suggested books, sites, DVDs, etc. You've given me plenty to look into. I don't know if it's worth it to even mention it at this point, but here's a little more information. I didn't mention it earlier because I was trying to keep the post short and focused (not that it helped, with all the arguments about calc vs. stat I started!). I worked in IT for ten years doing everything from electronic form designs to help desk to network administration to database administration to network engineering to phone cabling to basic web design. Since I have the work background, I want a piece of paper to go with it. It's as simple as that. Well... that and I'd really like to finish a degree at some point in my life. Current degree program: Associates in Information Technology at a community college, all online. Reasons: 1) cost (not going to throw my money away on lower level courses) and 2) I live in Albania right now, and in Mexico before that (and who knows where in another couple years - my wife's job will move us every few years). So, access to English speaking tutors - limited; access to local college resources - very limited; access to good US libraries - none. I might go on to a bachelor in IT at some point, but at this point I just want to wrap up this degree. Am I willing to do the work and learn the material? Yes. I simply do not want to waste my time on entire semesters of material that I might be able to refresh myself on in a few weeks to a month. If I hit a spot where refresher material just isn't cutting it, I'll take a full course. I don't want to test out of calculus - I want to slay that particular beastie with my own two hands! I enjoyed math in grade school and high school. Who knows? Maybe I'll learn to enjoy math again and get a degree in it. And to respond to the "bag groceries" comment, been there, done that (worked six years in a grocery store after dropping out of college, also a car wash and fast food). :-)

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