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Options for Adults with Renewed Interest in Math? 633

Internet Ninja asks: "After only doing mathematics in high school level and in my first year of University, I've suddenly developed an interest in mathematics. Since that was now almost 10 years ago I'm a little rusty. Anything past pythagoras is a little tough for me :) but I know I could get back up to speed quickly. I could probably steal my daughters math textbooks and start reading but I'm wondering if there is a better way. I considered a part-time University paper at US$495 each and you need to do two as bridging courses in order to even start on undergraduate courses. A bit pricey when you have a home and family to look after as well. Another option was a night courses but I'm kept pretty busy with work. Does anyone have any advice or good resources?"
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Options for Adults with Renewed Interest in Math?

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  • 2 words (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:03PM (#3809854)
    community college -- cheap and laid-back courses that'll give you the background you want.
    • Re:2 words (Score:5, Informative)

      by dirvish ( 574948 ) <dirvish&foundnews,com> on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:14PM (#3809976) Homepage Journal
      I agree. I took 4 math classes at my local community college and enjoyed them all. The professors were better than some of the ones at the University I attend now. It was very affordable, about $13 per unit plus a few fees and a book.
      • Re:2 words (Score:2, Informative)

        by Falrick ( 528 )
        I did the same thing recently but at a greater cost. Two things to be aware of when taking math classes (the second of which is more likely at a community college than a university):

        1. Calculator 101: Some math classes are taught as "How to do math with your calculator". I ran into this when taking some basic math class refreshers at a community college (college algebra, geometry). We spent about 15 minutes discussing a problem type, and then the next hour 15 learning how to solve the problems using our fancy TI calculators. My Analytic Trig class was completely different. We spent most of our time learning the good ol' fashion pen-and-paper methods, and then about 15 minutes looking at calculator alternatives. Find out what kind of class you are signing up for and check those drop pollicies!

        2. Welcome back to high-school: This seems common with community colleges, though I'm sure there are exceptions. The math classes that I took at my community college made me feel like I was back in high-school. Pollicies such as mandatory attendance or graded home work assignments put a bit of a damper on my attitude towards the classes. Granted, the homework policy motivated me more to actually do my homework, it was sometimes difficult when balancing work, home and school.
      • Agreed! I retook calculus in a JC 15 years after nearly failing it in college. The second time around I loved it! And JC's often have better teachers for those courses than do universities.
    • Re:2 words (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Grieveq ( 589084 )
      I agree with you there on the community college thing. I took all my calculus courses at a community college and I learned a lot more from my professors there then I did at the University when I took diff eq. The small classroom sizes and the ability to reach professors much more easily makes CC a real plus. I came into college not knowing what I wanted to do and really disliking math, and now I'm a Electrical Engineering major!

      Good luck at whatever you do.
  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:04PM (#3809870)
    1) It's been a while since I was in college, but I can't remember the prof ever giving a damn about who showed up for his classes.

    2) If you don't have grey hairs, you can probably pass for a student with a little creative wardrobe work.

    Given premises 1) and 2) above... well, do the math.

    (The best part? You don't even have to show up for the exams!)

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:22PM (#3810069)
      Here are a couple of other ways to use your local university:

      (1) You can register as an official auditor. That means you can go to lecture, and usually take exams and have them graded. You won't be able to use the lab, if there is one. This gives you a more official status, and makes it easier to get your exams graded, and so on.

      (2) You can enroll in summer school. A lot of universities have summer sessions that are open to everyone who is over 18, or who has a high school diploma, or who has permission from their high school principal. They charge full rate but you get 6-10 weeks of intensive academic whoop-ass.

      It's up to you whether you can go the independent study + book route. That works fine for math, but it's a personal character thing whether you can discipline yourself to do it.

      Web sites, et cetera, are hokum. A good book is much much better. Just go down to your college bookstore and browse some. If your math is at high school level, browse the "freshmen bonehead math" books.

      It sounds like the real problem is going to be creating a space in your life to work on the math every damn day. Math is hard and takes a lot of sweat. Learning calculus is like, say, running a 10k race -- you are not going to get there with an earnest attitude or even just by buying the magic equipment. You get there by training every day for weeks or months.

      And similarly (speaking as a big math geek and a horrible runner who can barely make 10k) -- don't worry one bit about other people you encounter who are way better than you. When I see some elite runner go by me, I just congratulate myself that I'm on the same path as them, propelling my fat geek ass under my own muscle power. It's okay to be a newbie, especially at something tough. Just get in the game and stay in the game.
    • I'm going to take this wildly off topic, because something flashed inside my brain.


      I'm waiting for the anti-piracy posters to flame all over your post - your stealing your proffessors IP! How can he make a living - you're one less might-be student to extort! ;)

      This is tongue and cheek of course, but hey, those 'then everyone will steal the CD, theyll just go without the paper CD insert' people should be chiming in 'then nobdy will pay for school, theyll just go without the tests' any minute now, right?

      Okay, I gather the next thing someone might say is that a school gives you official accredation. A piece of paper that means, "We think that this person knows their stuff, so we vouch for them." So, a diploma is, in many ways, a brand. Its not just that you completed your courses, its that that school says you're as capable as the other folks they've turned out, which employers presumably have some sort of track record with.

      Now, with CDs, the 'brand' is the official gear. The official CD. The official 'making of' CD. Its a diploma, from the school of "I'm a fan of so-and-so".

      Anyhow, I've long since felt that people don't buy music/art/culture because they want the cold hard media - they want to get the 'diploma' .. the official recognition and accredation as their stats, whether they be a history grad or an official fan. Your suggestion is the corollary but demonstrates an exciting point - its clearly benificial to society in this case to let you sit in on class, since there will never be a shortage of paying folks there for the 'official gear' to support the industry financially. Any 'run-off' like sitting in or copying a CD is simply a bonus - free info back to the people, free advertising for the content creator, and everyone saves on card scanners, security gaurds, and DRM OSes!
    • 2) If you don't have grey hairs, you can probably pass for a student with a little creative wardrobe work.

      Here's some pointers on blending in:

      • Nothing fancier than a t-shirt. Best if it's ripped or in really bad condition.
      • Pierce something. Anything.
      • Insert "like" several times in each sentence. Every sentence ends with "y'know".
      • Refer to men as "dudes" and women as "babes".
      • If the prof says something insightful, a loud "Whoa!" in in order.


  • by JeanBaptiste ( 537955 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:05PM (#3809877)
    but here in the US I would take a community college course or two, they are WAY cheaper than the 'real' universities. (and just as good in my opinion, all the learning with none of the liberalism)
    • I agree, community colleges are the way to go. I'm not sure about the "none of the liberalism" comment though as I went from being a conservative christian to a liberal democrat after attending community college in VA for a few years. I see this as an added bonus but I doubt the original poster would agree. :-)
    • Agreed, community college might be a good way to ease into it. Especially for "refresher" courses, where you've had the material before (but years ago) and would not be _completely_ relearning it. Much less $$$, and frankly college trig/calc (the freshman-level type stuff) is pretty much the same no matter where you go. Then once you've gotten past the basics, if you want more advanced stuff, try a 4-year school, where there's likely to be more variety in what you can study.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:32PM (#3810146)
      I'm a math prof at a small private college. My students who have taken courses at community colleges repeatedly tell me that the classes are so much better at our school than at community colleges. At small private colleges, your math courses are taught by real, professional mathematicians with Ph.Ds. The Ph.D. is not always directly relevant, but it does give your professor the authority to look far ahead of your current coursework and tell you what is relevant and what is not.

      Community college professors are usually masters (or less) degree instructors, perhaps working part time teaching while also doing other jobs. They have far fewer rigorous evaluations of their teaching, and they do absolutely no real mathematics research, so they don't really know what mathematics is actually important and what isn't.

      Professors at big universities also have Ph.Ds and do research, of course, but they are paid primarily to conduct research and teach graduate students; undergrads are the lowest priority for them.
      • But would your college accept a student who had a job, kids, and little money, and didn't want a degree but just to pick up a little advanced math in night school? I doubt it. Even if you did, it would probably cost $1000 per credit hour, and this guy can't afford it. Please get real - would your school even let him in the door?

      • At small private colleges, your math courses are taught by real, professional mathematicians with Ph.Ds. The Ph.D. is not always directly relevant, but it does give your professor the authority to look far ahead of your current coursework and tell you what is relevant and what is not.

        Why is the word "private" there? State universities also focus primarily on teaching and have Ph.D. and research requirements. Compared to private colleges, they charge lower tuition and pay higher salaries to their faculty.

      • This is such utter and complete FUD it is nuts.

        From personal observations and anecdotal evidence I can safely say that community college courses on the whole are far better then four-year university courses. The professors who teach them take a genuine interest in your success as well as a compasionate atitude towards individual students.

        I attend a top US university and I can safely say the mathematics department here hasn't done any cutting edge research aside from the weekly acid trip. One of my good friends is going down the path towards becoming a math professor to stay near the young girls and the good drugs. I'd be surprised if it wasn't the same at other so-called "top schools".

    • by Lictor ( 535015 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:44PM (#3810248)
      (Also in response to all of the comments/flames below)

      A *huge* part of which is "better" depends entirely on the instructor. I've seen fantastic University professors, and fantastic college Instructors.

      One thing is for sure though: College will be cheaper, and University will have more depth. I'm sorry to all the flaming college advocates, but in general you simply will not find hard-core mathematicians working at a community college.

      If you want basic multivariable calculus, maybe a little bit of algebra.. yes, college is they way to go. If you are serious about a deep study of mathematics... you simply cannot beat training with people who are ACTUALLY ACTIVELY DOING IT. University professors, as part of their jobs, are required to engage in active research in their field of study. The same is not generally true of college instructors.

      I'm *not* putting down colleges by ANY stretch of the imagination. I'm just saying that colleges tend to focus more on "pratical mathematics" (e.g. "here is the math you need to be an engineering tech"...) whereas a University math department will focus on "theoretical mathematics" (I feel silly typing that.. but you get the point). It really just comes down to what you're interested in learning, and what you want to do with that knowledge.

      In any case, good luck to you and welcome to the wonderful world of mathematics!
  • by dmarien ( 523922 ) <> on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:05PM (#3809885) Homepage
    "I could probably steal my daughters..."

    To answer your question I need to know more about this... what grade is she in? How old is she?

    Brunette, red head, blonde? Please, I would love to help you but you're not giving me much to go on...
  • by MattC413 ( 248620 ) <.moc.liamtoh. .ta. .314CttaM.> on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:06PM (#3809887)
    What are you planning to do with this education in Mathematics?

    Do you want this for information's sake, or do you want to plan a career out of it?

    These questions are important because if you are doing it for education's sake, the first time you look into a college-level Multivariable Calculus book might result in a little voice giving you a sudden desperate need to close the book and never open it again.

    Course, if you plan to make a career out of it, the above situation will probably still occur, but you'll at least have a strong reason to ignore that little voice and give it a serious try.

    • by kmellis ( 442405 ) <> on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:25PM (#3810099) Homepage
      "Do you want this for information's sake, or do you want to plan a career out of it?"

      Yes, I second the importance of asking yourself this question.

      I have an intensive classic liberal arts education. Calculus directly from Newton and Leibniz, for example. This is great for understanding what the calculus really is, but very poor for doing the kind of calculus that people do as a practical matter.

      The thing to understand in science and, yes, even math today, is that these have become almost completely technical fields -- that is "technical" in the sense of "technique". To be functional at all working in any of these fields requires the acquisition of a great amount of particular knowledge and technique that is not at all about a deep comprehension of the subject matter in general. A lot of my fellow alums find this out the hard way if they continue on to graduate school in a science, even though they tend to be accepted to the best schools. They have a lot of catch-up to do about the nitty-gritty stuff. On the other hand, their deeper comprehension serves them well as students and working scientists not infrequently.

      The point is that if you want to just really get into math because you want to know more about it, then you should not try to duplicate what someone does who is studying it for professional purposes. You should approach it from another angle; then, if you choose, supplement your general knowledge by beginning to acquire proficiency in the specific. You'll also have a better idea of what interests you before you go the distance by learning much of the minutae necessary to even have a decent comprehension of actual contemporay work done in these fields.

      The people doing this stuff for a living (or are students until they discover that they can't find a job and do this stuff for a living) will snobbishly dismiss a liberal arts approach to these subjects as being a waste of time or as some sort of pretense of learning that's not really there. Ignore them. They can't see the forest for the trees, and they shouldn't. That's not their job. For you, it's probably more fun to first examine and think about the forest before you start getting intimate with the trees.

      • There is no such thing as understanding mathematics without doing mathematics. You will never understand mathematics without knowing how to do mathematics, that is without knowing the tricks and techniques and methods for solving problems. Likewise, you cannot be functional without comprehension of the concepts, otherwise you hit a brick wall the second you try to do something different than what was assigned for your homework. I say this based on my own experience as a professional research mathematician, scientific consultant, and professor of mathematics at a small liberal arts college.
        • I am not saying that you can learn math without doing it. My liberal arts education specifically doesn't subsitute reading about something with actually learning and doing it.

          But the math you should do is dependent upon what you want to do with it later. To take a trivial example supporting my point, I was really pissed off at the education I'd gotten previously when I worked my way through Book I of Euclid's Elements and came to the Pythogorean Theorem. Suddenly, I understood it in a much deeper way. Did it matter that much in regards to that algebra I had done earlier in high school? Nope, not really.

          Or take irrational numbers. They are presented to students in the most prosaic fashion, and many students (not math majors or mathematicians, of course -- remember, I'm using rudimentary examples) would simply say "uh, they're numbers whose decimals go on forever? Oh, wait, they're numbers whose decimals go on forever without anything repeating?" That's literally true, and means nothing. When you stumble upon the incommensurability of the diagonal of a square to its side in the context of Euclidean geometry, such a thing is dumbfoundingly counter-intuitive.

          This type of thing repeats itself as you work your way deeper into any discipline. The top people tend to better acquaint themselves with deep, fundamental ideas as necessary. It's hard to do truly original work without doing so. But today's scientists are not trained, really, for doing truly original work, and they shouldn't be. Those that want to and have the aptitude will achieve that deeper level of comprehension on their own. Everyone else will do their much more technical, incremental work. And that is, in fact, the overwhelming majority of the progress made in science and mathematics. The big stuff gets all the glory, but its the little stuff that accounts for most of the work and enables the big stuff to be discovered. This is why although I greatly personally prefer deep comprehension over facility with technique, I don't advocate that this is the proper pedagogical approach for all students.

          The poster that asked the question needs to ask what he's looking for in his approach to mathematics. You know as well as I do that introductory calculus texts are more an attempt to manage to acquaint the student with calculus and then teach a variety of techniques that are likely to be of use in particular fields. If you're not working in those fields, if you're never going to use calculus either for technical purposes or as a working mathematician, you probably don't need most of those techniques. Much of this comes and goes as different technical approaches are fashionable. It just simply isn't the case that all the techniques that a student is taught in college calculus courses are essential to their understanding of the subject matter. That can't be true, as which techniques are taught change over time.

          Obviously, there's a core facility with both concepts and technique that is necessary for any resonable level of comprehension. I was not disputing that. That's why, in fact, I went to a liberal arts college very unlike yours (which is every one other than mine), where actually doing the mathematical work, of say, Lobechevsky, is considered essential and where a gloss in a math survey course is rightly considered for the most part a waste of the liberal art student's time. You're right: you don't learn a subject like math by reading about it.

    • by fishbowl ( 7759 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:27PM (#3810114)
      I wonder if you have education versus career reversed?

      I mean, I can think of very few professional degree programs that even get into multivar calculus. At my university, that's quite an optional endeavor for anyone but math majors!

      Lots of science majors take calculus, but it's brief calculus.

      Now, I'm in something like the same boat as the original poster. I was good with language, never with math. I failed every math endeavor I attempted, scraping through college on a liberal arts degree by barely passing the algebra requirement. That was then. At the age of 35, I discovered a new interest in learning math for its own sake, and am now doing a part-time program at a university majoring in math!

      If I had to do this for "career" reasons, I'd not be able to. It's only because it's education for its own sake that I can even face it. I'm hoping to retire as a math professor someday. I don't want to teach NOW, but as a gray, when the business world doesn't suit me anymore, hopefully I can still work as an educator!

    • Parent is very good.

      It depends on what you mean by "interested in math". If you mean, like what your daughter is doing, then by all means, take a course from your local community college. You'll get the basics, with an emphasis on doing problems and getting the right result in the end.

      If you're interested in math as in what a mathematician does (hint: real mathematicians don't use calculators, they use pencil, paper, programs like Mathematica, and direct programming sometimes), then you're going to want a continuing education plan from a university. In other words, if you're looking at taking courses eventually that don't even exist at your community college, then don't start there.

      With no offense intended to anybody, everybody going "Hey, yeah, community colleges are better then universities!", the reason they are saying this is the focus is different. If you just want to progress to basic calculus and stats, then a community college's emphasis on results is fine. If you intend to go farther, you'll find yourself regretting not taking the U courses.

      Also, courtesy of those people, most U courses at the calc level have had most vestiges of math removed, so there may not be much difference between U and community college before calc 3, except price.

      I think the litmus test is to ask yourself, "What is math about?" If you answered "numbers", a community college will be fine. If you answered "the study of various axioms and their consequences" or something similar, go university.

      (Note to those who would flame this message: It doesn't matter what math is or what math is "better". The question is, what does the original poster think he's asking for?)
  • Re-learning (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sefi915 ( 580027 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:06PM (#3809899)
    Stealing your daughters' textbooks is almost what you want to do. Sit down with (one of) them and ask them what they're doing. Ask them to teach you. It'll be a wonderful learning experience for both you and your daughter(s).

    Personally, I was in a similar bind a few months ago. A co-worker was going to school for CIS and I read over his shoulder while he did his homework. More came back to me in those few months while watching him work and helping each other out than if I'd read the book by myself.

    Learning works better with two people.

    • A co-worker was going to school for CIS and I read over his shoulder while he did his homework.

      Just make sure the person knows what they're doing. At university I saw someone take the fraction


      Cross out the sixes and end up with


      The scary thing is it actually worked!

      • Re:Re-learning (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Crowhead ( 577505 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:22PM (#3810067)
        They must have known a trick.



        as well as



        work, as I would suspect any number of sixes on either end will.
        • Re:Re-learning (Score:5, Insightful)

          by coyote-san ( 38515 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:42PM (#3810231)
          Assume x/y = 1/4, and x ends with 6 and y starts with 6 and ends with 4.

          Let x' = 10x + 6. This essentially adds a '6' to the end of the numerator.

          Let y' = 10y + 24. This essentially adds a '6' to the start of the denominator.

          Then x'/y' = (10x + 6) / (10y + 24) = (10x + 6) / (40x + 24) = 1/4 [(10x + 6)/(10x + 4)] = 1/4.
          • Re:Re-learning (Score:4, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @05:46PM (#3810717)
            How about a more rigorous proof.

            Let x(n)=1 followed by n 6's.
            Let y(n)=n 6's followed by a 4.

            Theorem: x(n)/y(n)=1/4
            Proof: It's true for the n=0 case.
            The rest of the proof is by induction (what the original poster was thinking, but didn't really communicate well...)

            To prove this, we need to show that if x(n)/y(n)=1/4, then x(n+1)/y(n+1)=1/4.

            Note that x(n+1)=10*x(n)+6 (adding 6 to the end of the numerator). Further note that y(n+1)=10*y+24 (adding 6 to the beginning of the numerator. Then, x(n+1)/y(n+1) = (10*x(n)+6) / (10*y(n)+24).
            Since x(n)/y(n)=1/4, y(n)=4*x(n), so this is equal to (10*x(n)+6) / (10*4*x(n)+24)
            This is (10*x(n)+6) / (4*(10*x(n)+6)) = 1/4.

            The poster had the right idea, contrary to some of the responses, but didn't write a very rigorous proof.
            • Re:Re-learning (Score:3, Interesting)

              by coyote-san ( 38515 )
              I know how to write a formal proof by induction, but I didn't have the time to figure out the most general case and (wrongly) assumed everyone would recognize the back-of-the-envelope inductive proof.

              Exists x, y, n such that nx = y.

              Let x' = 10x + a, y' = 10y + b.


              where this particular set is n = 4, a = 6, b = 4.
    • The parent comment is an excellent idea, but after you've brushed up with textbooks, if you want to know where the cutting edge of math is really these days, there is no substitute for interactive software.

      You should start by looking at every single function in the header file "math.h" in ANSI C (Appendix B of Kernigan & Ritchie) and for each of them ask yourself "what exactly does this function do?"

      Then you need some math programs. You only really need one from each of two categories. You need one serious number crunching program, and one serious algebra program.

      For number crunching, I recommend "Octave" (which is free but hard to compile correctly unless there is already a binary for your platform), "Matlab" (which will run you several hundreds of dollars but you can probably get a used copy with a want ad or an auction site), or a spreadsheet with a sufficient coverage of library functions, such as Excel. I recommend them in that order.

      In addition to a number cruncher, you will want a computer algebra system (which will also do calculus and "higher" math): Maple, Matlab, and Macsyma; again, I recommend them in that order.

    • Excellent Advice! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MrResistor ( 120588 ) <> on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:53PM (#3810329) Homepage
      Ask [your daughters] to teach you.

      This is the best advice so far, because it will help you and your daughters. One of the things I learned while I was a math tutor was that I didn't know dick about math until I started tutoring. Sure, I had made it to Calculus, and I could keep up at that level, but I didn't know math. It has been said that the best way to really learn something is to try and tech it to someone else, and I've found that it really is true.

      Having your daughters teach you the math they're studying will help you relearn the things you've forgotten (or maybe even teach you new things, depending on where they are at), but it will help them even more through the increased understanding they will gain by trying to teach these concepts to someone else, and perhaps as your memory is refreshed you can teach them concepts that don't seem to be presented to them otherwise (the way Kramer's Rule is presented currently is a prime example of this. It is more much more difficult to understand the mechanics of it with the current method, even though (or maybe because) it is more consistent with matrix mechanics).

      A better understanding of math can only open more and better opportunities to them, which is a noble pursuit for any parent. Also, the time spent will help strengthen the bonds between you.

      So, don't steal their books, ask them to teach you. This is by far the most beneficial solution for all involved.

    • I throw out a little caution here. Not too long ago I was helping a roomate through a remedial math class he was taking at community college. The text books were horrible. Without me, the poor guy would never have gotten the idea of negative numbers. I'd look for a good alternate text book. Still, this approach is a very good idea.

  • Just read some books (Score:3, Informative)

    by BlueLines ( 24753 ) <slashdot@divisionbyzer o . com> on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:06PM (#3809900) Homepage
    i reccommend What Is Mathematics [] by Courant, Robbins, Stewart. This covers just about everything in modern math until the 1940's or so (and the newer version have updated sections on Fermat's last theorem). Plus there's a blurb from Albert Einstein praising the book on the back. You can't ask for much more than that.

    • by Wolfier ( 94144 )
      How To Solve It, by G Polya, is also a very good math book. It actually was more interesting to me than some other books with more symbols when I read it during high school.

      It proved to be so useful even after I've entered and graduated from university, and beyond.
  • As Euclid said... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cperciva ( 102828 )
    As Euclid said, "there is no royal road to mathematics". Go to university, take the courses they tell you to take, and expect to spend a lot of time and money.

    Either that, or don't bother. Quite seriously, I doubt you'll be able to learn much whatever you do -- mathematics is a subject which people find incredibly hard to pick up late in life.
  • Look at the syllabus for courses at your favorite university web site. From there you can look up topics on the web or in books.
  • Tutor (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ouslush ( 535043 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:08PM (#3809917) Homepage
    Why not just get a tutor? It would definitely be less expensive than actually going to school again. Also, you get the 1 on 1 atmosphere which is usually the best. I think anyone who actually 'wants' to take math is crazy, but whatever floats your boat
    • Why not just get a tutor? It would definitely be less expensive than actually going to school again.

      With all due respect, a tutor (at least, a reputable one) is invariably the most expensive way to get up to speed on a given school subject. One-on-one is easier, more effective, and therefore correspondingly more expensive than one-on-a-couple-dozen (classroom), one-on-a-few-hundred (lecture), or one-on-a-few-thousand (textbook).

  • For free... (Score:5, Informative)

    by lostchicken ( 226656 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:08PM (#3809922) []

    This isn't completely what you want, but it is a very good reference site for mathematics, from the fine people who brought us Mathematica. And it's free, and as we all know, free is good.
  • A lot of university professors post their tests or nots online.

    Try google...

    or go to the math dept.'s site and click on professors. You'll find something like this: LSU Prof's []
    From there you can get their personal sites that have tons of information.

    This is how Passed Dif. Eq. Got most of the information from google and lots of different university's notes.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:10PM (#3809940)
    Make sure it's not just by reading posts in Slashdot about the Riemann Zeta Function and associated hypotheses...
  • I'd recommend the following books, it was good for when I was in roughly the same position:

    Mathematics for the Million (ISBN 0-393-31071-X) Even Albert Einstein [] had good things to say of this book.

  • Then there was the crackpot category theoretician
    who thought he was a catamorphism operation. He'd walk around the psych ward with a pair of bananas, which he'd hold up around the other patients and giggle maniacally.

    Once he did this to the resident hypochondriac (who was convinced he was in the final stages of inoperable brain cancer), but it didn't seem to bother him.

    "What are you doing?" he asked.

    "I'm constructing a unique arrow," said the crackpot, "with YOU as its target!"

    "So what's the big deal about that?" said the hypochondriac. "I'm terminal."

    (Of course, this joke is only funny if the mental hospital is Cartesian Closed...)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Hi, I'm 38. I have a similar situation. From my experience, there is only one thing stopping you - time.

    I am a family man (two kids) and trying to get anything done with a family to take care of too has been very tough for me. So, slowly I realize I will eventually end up as yet another mathematician-wannabe... |sigh|

    Recommendations? Get a family, skip the intellectual masturbation. When you're approaching forty years you will thank me. No algorithm beats a bed-time story.
    • Any redneck can be a successful family man. Not everyone can obtain a worthwhile classic liberal arts education. Calculus directly from Newton and Leibniz, for example.

      The people doing the family man stuff will snobbishly dismiss a liberal arts approach to education as being a waste of time or as some sort of pretense of learning that's not really there. Ignore them. Invest in knowledge, you'll thank me when the kids are grown and long-gone.

  • by MarvinMouse ( 323641 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:14PM (#3809979) Homepage Journal
    How much you should do depends on how deep you want to dive into the pool of mathematics.

    If you are hoping to learn enough to publish papers or contribute to the advancement of math, then I recommend taking the effort and getting a degree in mathematics (unless you are really, really good at math. :-)

    If you just want to have some fun with mathematical recreations. Scientific American released some great books with math problems, as well I know of a few others if you want them.

    If you want to have some real fun and learn classical mathematics (no applied stuff), there's always Euclid's Elements and Mathematica Principia. But these books are definitely not for the faint of heart either.

    If you want to learn math with a more applied edge, you can take night courses, or get a few good books on modern calculus or mathematics.

    If you want to learn statistics, I feel really sorry for you. :-)

    If you want to learn comp sci related math, there are some fantastic books out there that will help (if you want details, just reply).

    There is just so many areas to go into when you decide to mathematics again. It is hard to help you out with exactly what to do. I am taking a degree in math right now, but I can understand that with children that would be a difficult and strenuous challenge. Even though, I think it would be great to have another mathematician contributing to the body of math that exists.

    The only suggestion I really have that may be quite helpful is to see if you can talk with any of the pure mathematics professors at the university or college near you. They might be able to help you find your niche in mathematics, and even provide you with some other alternatives not mentioned here.
  • I could probably steal my daughters math textbooks and start reading but I'm wondering if there is a better way. I considered a part-time University paper at US$495 each and you need to do two as bridging courses in order to even start on undergraduate courses. A bit pricey when you have a home and family to look after as well. Another option was a night courses but I'm kept pretty busy with work. Does anyone have any advice?

    Yes. Learn to osmose information.

    - A.P.
  • dont worry (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Edmund Blackadder ( 559735 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:19PM (#3810032)
    I guarantee you will go back to hating math after taking a single class.

    But seriously university classes in math tend to be rather boring because they tend to reduce even complicated fields into a few formulas that can be memorized and a few problem types for which you can memorize which formula to use.

    Also they tend to assign a lot of dull homework.

    So classes seem to be geared towards those that cant understand math but are willing to tackle it with brute memorization.

    Or maybe i just went to a bad university.
  • Become friends with Math Professors or Math Teachers. or some other people who are good at math and talk about it a lot. When you hang around them for a while you pick stuff up. And espectly if they are a professor they will probly give you little helps and tips for free.
  • by Devil's BSD ( 562630 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:21PM (#3810057) Homepage
    I have found that doing these USAMTS competition problems [] have pushed me forward a lot this past year of my high school career (not to mention an honorable mention finish). Try it and see what you learn. For those high schoolers out there, its a nice competition to get into, the only thing you pay is postage to send your answers in.
  • Dover books (Score:2, Informative)

    by gwayne ( 306174 )
    I believe it's Dover anyways...they publish a really great series of math books on a variety of subjects, available at Barnes and Noble for $10-15. A real bargain if you ask me! I bought "Math for Nonmathematicians," for a refresher, but it is more of a history book--aninteresting read nonetheless. I haven't done high-level math in about 7-8 years either, so I broke out my old calculus books too. I enjoy studying number and graph theory, very useful for programmers.
  • Community Colleges (Score:3, Informative)

    by ThomasMis ( 316423 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:25PM (#3810092) Homepage
    Get ready to mod this -1 redundant.

    As an undergraduate I had a minor in mathematics. I've been out of school for a few years and was interested in taking the GRE. In order to prepare for the quantitative section of the GRE I enrolled in a 5 week summer evening math course at my local community college. The course was titled "college algebra", it was basically stuff you should already know coming out of high school. However, it was wonderful. A perfect refresher for somebody who hasn't writen a proof or solved a quadratic since college. I enjoyed the experience so much that I'm enrolling in more classes this fall. I have found that community colleges are wonderful resources, but more importantly tuition is dirt cheap. $67.00 a credit hour here. I can't stress this enough, tuition doesn't get any cheaper than that anywhere in the US.
  • by coyote-san ( 38515 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:27PM (#3810115)
    Mathematics is one of those fields where there's a huge variety of topics covered by a single label. What does "math" mean to you, and what are you interested in?

    If you're interested in calculus (differential equations, dynamic systems, chaos, etc.), you would probably be best served by getting a current university calculus book and Maple/MathLab/Mathematica/whatever and working through it. The software handles the mechanical aspects of the process and you'll probably find the material easier to pick up than before.

    Same thing if you're interested in number theory (cryptology, matrices, etc.) If you get an introductory text designed to work with one of these programs it will handle the mechanical grunt work and allow you to focus on the concepts.

    If your interest is precalculus (algebra, trig, etc.), you may be better off working through the problems by hand. You want the software to be a tool, not a crutch, and one of the main reasons for the usual introductory sequence (up through PDQ) is just to train the students how to reliably perform the necessary work.

  • Seriously, what subject matter interests you. That makes all the difference.
  • I was in the same position as you about a year ago...I had done advanced calculus stuff in high school about 12 years ago, and really enjoyed it, but somehow let it drop when I got to university. I bought a couple of calculus text books for a refresher and took off for a train ride across the country with them (!). I found it came back to me fairly well, but it was difficult without the structure of a classroom w/required assignments, etc.

    If you're just interested in exploring some (fairly) current math theory and less in the mechanics of solving problems, I highly recommend a book called "mathematics: the new golden age []" by Keith Devlin. It covers such topics as primes and factoring them, set theory, topology, etc. It was a little over my head, but in the good way -- it forced me to stretch and although there were things I didn't quite get, it was really enjoyable.

    just my 2c, hope it's helpful...good luck!
  • I would try doing the books first and see if I could find a math brain friend or two who would be willing to help me over the rough spots. I've done this before. Between hs and college I took 7 years to "find myself". When I decided to to college I brought my math back up to speed and taught myself two semesters of calculus to boot. I started with second semester calculus in college (and a linear algebra course also) and aced both of them. But then I've always been a math nut. YMMV
  • ...some of us are opposed to putting computers in every classroom...
  • try some problems (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nuggets ( 128439 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:32PM (#3810145) Homepage
    hey, here's an idea: try working some math problems. there are tons of resources on the web from math contests that were originally given to high school students all the way up through graduate students. try working some of them - you can often find elegant solutions published right along the problems after you have tried to solve them. here's a couple of links to good problem repositories: pr oblemarchive.html pu tnam/index.html

    and to order copies of easier (though still very interesting) exams: .h tml

    good luck,
  • Book Recommendation! (Score:3, Informative)

    by fishbowl ( 7759 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:36PM (#3810172)
    Forgotten Algebra

    Apologies if you're beyond this, but it is EXCELLENT if you're thinking of going to a
    college level algebra class. Takes a few weeks
    to work through. You'll be ready for intermediate
    algebra or precalc when done.
  • Personally, I'd start by proving the Riemann Hypothesis []. At that point you can take the million dollar prize and hire a few Nobel Laureates as tutors.
  • And by this I mean- see if you can do your learning at work. I don't know what you do so I'm not sure how practical this is for you. But I can totally relate to your situation.

    I've got 2 toddlers, I don't spend enough time w/them and my wife as it is and I don't have spare cash or time for school.

    So what I do when I want to put some decent time in learning something I try to find a way to make it a function of my job.

    I'm a programmer- when I want to learn something new I start working on a way to make it fit into the company's needs. Now that is kind of an easy thing to do sometimes I'll admit. Sometimes I have to be creative.

    If you work for a company w/better employee policies than mine they may pay for you take classes on the clock. That, I would think, would be ideal.

    But say these ideas are just way out there- you're a night security guy. Well if you are allowed to read while you are gaurding whatever- the book ideas come in handy.

    I've found that when there is little leeway in my personal life I just need to look hard at ways to create that leeway on the job. (I justify my time on slashdot when I find out about current computing issues that affect the company- happens more often than you would think- and my boss is cool w/it)

  • If you want to learn mathematics, the worst place to start is with a high school or college textbook. The second worst place to start is with a high school or college class, if only because they tend to rely on the textbooks.

    Rather, you should begin your study of mathematics by reading the Ancient mathematicians. Begin with Euclid []. In reading the Elements, you'll quickly discover that Euclid has presented a complete science (from self-evident first principles to logical conclusions) that includes truths about geometry (continuous quantity), number (discrete quantity), even the foundations of algebra (Elements, Book II). The Elements culminates with the constrution of the Five Perfect (or Platonic) Solids [], the proofs of which are marvelous to behold.

    In reading Euclid you'll not only create a rock-solid mathematical foundation for yourself, but you'll also:
    • Gain insight into the minds of the ancients (Plato would not let anyone into his school who hadn't mastered the geometry of the Elements),
    • Improve your reasoning skills (Abraham Lincoln read Euclid [] when he decided to supplement his education later in life), and
    • Be exposed to some of the most beautiful things that mathematics - or any academic pursuit - has to offer ("Euclid alone has looked on beauty bare." --Edna St. Vincent Millay)

    After you've finished with Euclid, move on to Apollonius' Conics [], a beautiful work, a thousand times more complete and wonderful in its treatment of conic sections than you'll find in any modern analytic geometry textbook. You may also want to look at works by guys like Archimedes [], whose early work on the infinite inspired the Classical develompent of the Calculus.

    With this firm foundation, you'll be able to read and understand the mathematics of Descartes, whose treatment of geometry (notably the solution of the four-line locus []) was key in the development of algebraic notation. And if you stick with it, you can probably read Newton's Principia, Leibniz, and other later Classical mathematicians. I'd stay away from 20th century mathematics, at least at first. There's lots more joy for the amateur mathematician in reading and understanding these Ancient and Classical works than there is in trying to decipher some of the work that has been done recently (within the past 100 years).

    Whatever you do, read original works. They are infinitely more understandable than textbooks and other secondary sources. Find someone or a small group of people to discuss them with. Ask each other what each author is doing, what assumptions he has made, what he thinks he has proven (if anything). Memorize proofs, especially with Euclid.

    There is lots more that you can do, just with the authors I've named here, but at the very least, even if you ultimately decide to take a college course or something, get yourself a copy of Euclid's Elements. It's a singularly wonderful work, and you'll be very glad you did.

  • by Walker ( 96239 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:45PM (#3810259)

    I am a math professor at a liberal arts university and we have a "non-traditional" student (he hates it when I call him that) who went back to school for reasons like the one you mention. However, he has is doing it full time; he was a fairly successful consultant/businessman and took early retirement. Sounds like you don't have that option.

    If you have a fairly week background in mathematics, you are going to need to "go to school". By this I do not mean that you have to register for a class. I mean that you need to be around people who are learning mathematics and talk with them - a lot. Students will typically tell you that they learn most of their mathematics not from the classroom setting, but talking with other students. Especially at the early levels, learning mathematics is very similar to learning a foreign language; to really learn it you must surround yourself with people who speak the language.

    Our non-traditional student has learned this lesson well. For all intents and purposes, he lives in the math lounge across from the department. He even does non-math homework there just so he can be around when someone comes in to study math. He also gets the bonus the faculty come in and talk to him when they need a break. We don't always talk about the material he his studying; sometimes we talk about something that was in the news or something we are working on. But whatever we talk about increases his math vocabulary and exposes him to the important concepts in mathematics.

    If all you do is night classes, you will not get this, even if you go to some of the best teaching schools in the country. And you certainly won't get this from reading books. So what is there to do? Many good liberal arts universities have math clubs that are intended to "popularize mathematics" and draw in new majors to the department.

    A lot of times, these clubs pull in speakers to talk about jobs in mathematics. However, these clubs also farm for Putnam contestants (the big undergraduate mathematics competition) and hence sometimes work on problems. Putnam problems can often be understood with very little mathematics (though their solution is far from simple).

    So, if you have a liberal arts university in your area, you might want to check if they have a math club (And whether it actually does math, or is just a social club). These typically meet in the evening and would give yourself an opportunity to surround yourself with other people learning math. This is not a substitute for learning math, however. You will still need to start either reading or taking night courses in order to learn the basic "grammar".

  • I was kinda in the same boat. Due to lousy math innstruction in HS and a dumbass mistake on a placement test in said HS, I barely got out with algebra. Not good for someone going into physics. I took a remdial self paced course in trig and analysis as freshman. There are a several good books written as college level remedial math course. Check your local community college bookstore for some of these. Meanwhile, my science book club sent me a really fun book. The title is something like _Mathematics_Through_History_. The author develops mathematical concepts as mankind discovered them through time. It takes you all the way from math as homo erectus might have done all the way to pre calc and some calculus as well. It's a big thick book that gives you a decent work out as you take it from the shelf and replace it. The book was designed as text book and has exercises. I pick it up from time to time and read a chapter or two just for fun. I dunno if I would teach from this book or even use it as a serious text book, but it's darned interesting read.
  • ...sort of... when he got out of the service. He decided he wanted to do something different (he was a Navy engineer, IIRC - he told us this story like 12 years ago when I was one of his students) and started going through his old books from school to figure out what he liked. Eventually, he found one on algebra (group theory) and picked a hard problem in the book he had never understood. Starting with page 1, he worked through everything in the book until he'd solved it - completely - by himself - working alone - with no timetables. When he finished, several months had passed and he was having the time of his life. He started taking formal classes at the University, and is now (was at the time) a full Professor at BGSU.

    I guess the point is that math still needs you if you still need math.
    • Your teacher's name wan't Masey was it? I may have the name spelled wrong, but this is identical to a guy I knew in the Navy who decided he wanted to teach math. We were Nuclear Machinist's Mates on the USS Enterprise at the time.
  • by malibucreek ( 253318 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:46PM (#3810270) Homepage []

    Mathematical Atlas []

    Statistics Every Writer Should Know []

  • by leereyno ( 32197 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:48PM (#3810288) Homepage Journal
    I take it that you're interested in math itself, not necessaarily interested in pursuing a degree in math. Trying to learn most things through formal education is like trying to paint a barn with a brush that only has 10% of its bristles. You'll get it done eventually, but boy is it inefficient.

    One of the few advangates that formal education provides, at least in terms of learning, is the step-by-step programmed nature of it. If you're trying to learn something and you don't know how to approach it or what to study, then formal instruction can work. However when you know what it is you should be studying and learning, then formal schooling is usually a hinderance because you can learn things more quickly and more thoroughly on your own, assuming of course that you have some degree of discipline. The forced nature of formal education is its other advantage, and it is a dubious one at that.

    Formal education is geared towards the stupid and lazy. For someone who is intelligent and industrious it usually gets in the way more than anything else.

    Primary and secondary school spends twelve years teaching those of average intelligence what those whose IQ ranges in the top 10% can easily learn in six. I should know because when I was in sixth grade my "achievemnt" test scores were on par with most college students. My IQ is about 130, or in the top 10%. Of course my teachers all thought I was much brighter, but then they're not used to dealing with someone like me and are, by and large, not too far above the 50% percentile themselves.

    College courses are better in that the instructors aren't there to babysit anyone. Also anyone who is either stupid or lazy doesn't usually stick around for long. The pace of study and depth in which the subject is explored can vary greatly however. There have been courses I've had to work pretty hard at, of course those have almost always been the ones that were worth taking.

    But anyway, my point is don't spend money to take a course when independent discipline and effort will get you farther in your pursuit of knowledge. Spend money on courses only when they are required for some other purpose independent of learning, such as a job. Don't rely on them as your sole or even primary form of education. Rely on yourself and you'll always be ahead of curve.

  • Too many posts basically tell the OP not
    to go to college! There's no doubt some truth to that. The school part of the experience is not,
    as you may naievely surmise, to "be taught", rather to provide the opportunity to teach yourself (ostensibly with guidance and supervision), then be tested.

    The goal of the university experience is part education for its own sake, and part quest for a framable document! Myriad problems arise when an individual seeks one part without the others!

    My university catalog actually says you'll not be admitted if you have more than 15 hours without a degree plan. (I think that's pretty harsh).

    Community colleges don't do this, but once you get a degree from one, it's somewhat a waste of effort to keep studying there.

    I have a certain amount of contempt for the whole system, which was put there BY the system (been to 5 colleges!) So excuse my hostility today ;-)

    MIT is going to be putting pretty much all the coursenotes from its classes online over the next few years. It's not very complete as yet, but check back in a few months; you're certainly one of the targets of this program...
  • CCs are designed for adults returning to college. You might find that most CC profs are your age and so they will be easy to talk to and learn from.
  • Graduate school. Take these classes at a community college:

    1) Algebra
    2) Trigonometry
    3) Calculus
    4) Differential Equations
    5) Linear Algebra
    6) Prob/Stat
    7) Abstract Algebra
    8) Numerical Methods/Analysis

    Then send your applications for grad school off. If you pass those seven classes you will be a shoe in.
  • My girlfriend [] was returning to education thirteen years after leaving school early with nothing. She was petrified of algebra - a completely irrational fear. If I explained a problem in terms of 'find the missing number', she'd do it. If I then rewrote it such that the missing number was represented by 'x', then she'd freeze and not go near it.

    So, one night whilst out for a drink I grabbed the little packets of sauce that were on the table. I laid down three packets of tomato sauce and said that these three packets could be represented by a single packet of tartare. Then I put down two packets of tartare and asked how many packets of tomato sauce that represented.

    That was her first exercise in symbolic representation for about thirteen years. She passed it, and has gone on to take access courses before studying for four years to be a dispensing optician. She's now done her finals, involving such things as ray tracing and equations of quite ridiculous lengths that usually had to be re-arranged and substituted into other equations. We're waiting to hear the results, though she's passed everything else so far.

    So there you go. My small contribution to the world of teaching - applied mathematics using packets of sauce in a pub. Not the most conventional maths lesson of all time, but it worked.


  • by Junks Jerzey ( 54586 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @05:07PM (#3810452)
    Computers have made it much easier to experiment with mathematical ideas, and experimenting helps you learn better. I'd suggest buying a copy of Mathematica and one of the companion books. It will do you more good than college courses until you're back in the swing of things.

    For the more adventuresome, I'd try J from JSoftware []. It's terser, and more intellectually challenging, but it's free and also has advantages over Mathematica in some respects. Ken Iverson has some on-line papers that make a good companion (one of which comes with the J distribution).
  • by zerofoo ( 262795 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @05:13PM (#3810500)
    A local community college is your best bet. You can pay for classes "a la carte".

    Here's a good starting point:

    You need algebra to start....without algebra you can't do anything. After that:

    Calculus I & Calculus II: Integration and differentiation.

    Statistics: Very important...means, medians, confidence intervals...etc.

    Like computer science? Take discrete math. This is extremely important if you want to understand the "digital" world, and the foundations of logic...truth tables etc.

    That should be plenty to keep you busy. Calc III and differential equations are really hard-core engineering maths. I was an EE major before switching to CS...let's just say that Diff EQs, helped me make the switch.

    Have fun and good luck!

  • by mochan_s ( 536939 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @05:45PM (#3810710)

    1. You say you have developed an interest in math. Does that mean you like the idea of yourself knowing a lot of math or you are interested in a field that you want to know more of.

    2. If it is the first one, then pay lots of money to learn lots of math that you will never use and halfway thru give up. At least you won't have regrets.

    3. If it's the other one, then you know what fields of mathematics that you need to study in order to further understand the subject that you are interested in. Find the things that don't make sense or topics that don't make sense and make a list of subjects that you need to learn. You can go the local university library and read some of the books there which will lead you to other question and so on. That will be the true fun way of doing it.

  • by Sebastopol ( 189276 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @07:08PM (#3811249) Homepage
    More physics than math, but a great place to start. If you buy the series [] (or tape it off PBS), you can watch it again and again until you finally learn the concepts. It opens a whole new world in math and physics. It was recorded and animated (by Pr. Blinn, no less!) in the mid-80s, and is still relevant.


  • by dwheeler ( 321049 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2002 @12:42AM (#3812393) Homepage Journal
    As others have noted, how you approach learning math partly depends on what you plan to do with it. But if part of your purpose is to have fun, then I suggest having fun as part of the process!

    There are lots of "mathematical recreations" and "math puzzles" that are fun to try solving, in the same way that it can be fun solving other puzzles. And sometimes you may see a variation on that puzzle that's fun (and truly new). Not all of them are truly critical from the point of view of furthering the advancement of mathematics, but they help develop the mind, and if your purpose is to have fun, start now!

    For example, I learned about the ``four fours'' problem as a kid (using exactly 4 fours, create legal mathematical expressions to compute 0, 1, 2, 3, etc.). Recently I created a definitive list of answers for the four fours problem []. I also played with various really weird bases []. Will these change the universe? No. But in the process I learned more than I knew before, and I enjoyed the process.

    If nothing else, if you enjoy the process, you're more likely to continue doing it.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"