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Best Way To Teach Oneself Math?

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the making-up-for-lost-time dept.

Math 609

An anonymous reader writes "In high school I failed two out of three years of math classes and eventually dropped out of school completely. I earned my general equivalency diploma as soon as was legally possible and from there went on to college and beyond. That was many years ago and my most basic algebra, trigonometry, and geometry skills are slipping away at an alarming rate. I'm looking for a self-guided course covering the equivalent of 4 years of high school mathematics including calculus. My math skills are holding me back. How can I turn this around?"

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3 ideas (5, Informative)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978035)

There are plenty of self study guides [] that one can purchase.

Another option, if it fits into a persons schedule, would be to take classes through a community college. Costs are lower, classes are generally smaller than a university and schedules are often flexible for working adults.

Another thought I had is home schooling materials. I've never personally been involved in homeschooling, but as I understand it these kids can earn a highschool diploma at home. So why couldn't someone put themselves through such a program just to learn the information? I'm sure there are lots of resources out there for this, a quick google turned up this one. []

Re:3 ideas (4, Informative)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978055)

should have included []

Re:3 ideas (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20978271)

I like [] .

Re:3 ideas (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20978139)

One good option would be to check out MIT OpenCourseWare []

Go to the course catalog and figure out undergrad level classes in the area you want to improve / learn. They are really cool. You will see all the lecture notes, exercises and reading material. If you are really serious about learning, I would highly recommend buying course textbook and following the course schedule strictly. I did this in couple of areas like business strategy and game theory and it really helped me in acquiring the relevant skills in these areas.

All the Best!

Re:3 ideas (5, Insightful)

Guido del Confuso (80037) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978165)

I think that taking courses at a community college is the best idea. In fact, take it for a letter grade. Although the grade doesn't really matter, this will give you an incentive to do the work and stay with the class.

I think it's only too easy to just pick up a math book and tell yourself you're going to do the work, only to get frustrated and abandon it a few weeks later. By having an actual class that you have to make time to attend, you're making more of a commitment and are more likely to stay with it.

Re:3 ideas (5, Insightful)

iron-kurton (891451) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978313)

Attending a class also allows you to ask questions for topics that you may not understand completely, even with studying the book. I know that most math books are written by math PhDs, and although the topic is covered, it may not make sense. That's why it's so important to have an interactive learning environment. Like the parent says, you are less likely to get frustrated and give up.

Re:3 ideas (1)

Otter (3800) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978181)

If you've mastered them before, you should be able to pick up the high school math (algebra, geometry, trig) pretty readily on your own from a test prep book. (That's how you learned them once, right?) It may not be perfect, but since you apparently need to apply these skills, you should know what you can and can't gloss over.

Calculus is tougher, and the community college might be the best bet.

Re:3 ideas (1)

Elros (735454) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978183)

Having been home schooled, I'll recommend Saxon math. John Saxon designed the books to be for those who have difficulty learning math. They are laid out as text books designed for one year so you may have to get more than one. I would recommend starting out with something in the Algebra 2 or Advanced Mathematics range.

It's designed with plenty of repetition over the course rather than drill one topic for a week and never see it again. It's by far the best math text book style I've ever seen.

Adam Lininger
University of Missouri - Rolla

Re:3 ideas (5, Insightful)

Anthony (4077) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978205)

I concur, Good study guides and good courses will put you on the right track.

No matter what you do, realise the Mathematics is not a spectator sport. I continuously fall into the trap of reading about Mathematics than doing Mathematics. Do the exercises and do some more. One thing I did do which was invaluable was a bridging course that reviewed much of final year high school Mathematics with plenty of exercises and a great teacher. Recognise your wakness and go back and make sure you understand whatever is being assumed at the level you are having diffculty with and again, do those exercises. For example, if you are having trouble with trigonometry, review the ways of deducing angles for triangles and bisected parallel lines. Review Pythagoras's Theorem, fundamental algebra, etc.

Saxon math (1)

g4sy (694060) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978479)

As someone who was homeschooled for a while and actually have better maths skills as a result, I can personally recommend Saxon Math [] as being a great curriculum. Not only are they the best math coursebooks around, but they are also written with adults in mind. The amount of forsight and diligence that these authors have put into the materials make them great for children and adults.

Disclaimer: I'm not related in any way to the publishers other than the fact that for a period on my life my mother would hand me one of their books every year.

Re:3 ideas (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20978507)

Rocket Science for Dummies.

Supposedly an MIT math frat bought out the entire stock at the Borders store in Cambridge, Mass. because they were worried about the brothers losing their "edge" in freshman math to the great unwashed.

Study ... (3, Funny)

Pope Benedict XVI (881674) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978045)

... the Bible. It contains more math than you can shake a stick at and it's pretty entertaining too!

Re:Study ... (0, Offtopic)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978057)

Yup, great source for math. All sort of interesting facts, like the fact Pi=3.

Re:Study ... (3, Insightful)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978493)

Pi DOES equal 3---to one significant digit. You compsci people are always forgetting about significant digits. The fact that better approximations were available at the time is irrelevant. Better approximations than 3.14 exist today. The most accurate of which has orders of magnitude more digits than would be polite to include in a slashdot post.

Re:Study ... (1, Funny)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978063)

>... the Bible. It contains more math than you can shake a stick at and it's pretty entertaining too!

Then stay the bloody hell away from my circles Mr Pi=3 thicky.

Re:Study ... (4, Funny)

corsec67 (627446) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978137)

And the whole 3 = 1 thing...

Re:Study ... (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978243)

And how many angels fit on the head of a pin...

GED == Avoidig Niggers (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20978059)

Admit it: nobody can learn anything when you have a bunch of niggers whooping and hollering in class.

It's like you want to ignore them but they keep carrying on.

Makes you long for the days Jim Crowe. Should have left well enough alone.

Re:GED == Avoidig Niggers (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20978119)

Jim Crowe? Bah. Tracy Morgan makes me think slavery was a good idea. What a worthless piece of shit.

Re:GED... (0)

Lord Kano (13027) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978223)

You lost your girlfriend to a black guy in high school, right?

Time to get over it or you'll never find another one.


Re:GED... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20978307)

No spear chucking nigger ever stole my girlfriend. I'm just sick of their bullshit.

College Bookstore (3, Interesting)

Conception (212279) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978067)

Why not just stop by your local college bookstore? Just pick up a math text book, go through it, do the problems, check your answers, etc etc. Millions of students have used them. Probably will work out for you.

Re:College Bookstore (1)

HGG (176028) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978227)

It doesn't stop with just highschool. The same approaches work for K-6 all the way to grad school: []

Re:College Bookstore (2, Informative)

Gertlex (722812) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978383)

College books are not cheap, however. [/payed $450 this semester]

An alternative would be review guides such as those for AP tests. Those are far cheaper, though they may or may not explain the concepts. If it's review you seek, then a college textbook is overkill.

Re:College Bookstore (4, Interesting)

TheCouchPotatoFamine (628797) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978525)

There is a quandary here (in your reference to getting a book) that i've been confused about for a long time. Since every game console out there is essentially a mathematics imaging system, and given that they are pretty common and rugged, how come there isn't a sweeping line up of interactive educational math titles that let you play with the problems in realtime parameter tweaking, or in context, or visually, or what-have-you..

Seems like every math class in america should have a playstation 2 with "Calculus: The Beginning" stuck in it. Cheaper then the calculators and computers per student and the student can play it at home if they want. What's not to like?

In the larger case though, i would just like to have such a thing as an entertainment option to, like the submitter said, keep a sharp edge on the skills.

What worked for me is... (1)

protobion (870000) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978069)

learning to use a mathematics package like Mathematica or MATLAB. I'd go with the former to begin with. I just got a book that solved some basic scientific questions regarding making models of physiological processes and tried to replicate those in Mathematica. In the process of learning the syntax for Mathematica, you're forced to learn calculus, which I used Google search for in order to understand the problem completely. The result was very satisfactory because the computer did the number crunching, I could concentrate on the conceptual understanding in calculus rather than spending time doing calculations by hand.

Re:What worked for me is... (1)

regularstranger (1074000) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978353)

MATLAB or Mathematica is a pretty serious financial commitment if the poster doesn't have access to these resources as a student. There are open source options, and I use them, the they are a little more difficult to learn (Octave, Maxima). Especially for high school level math, I would suggest sticking with books and a graphing calculator (Although there are many great computer programs out there that do all of the functions of a graphing calculator, without the cost / learning overhead of the bigger programs).

Practice (5, Insightful)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978075)

The way I kept my math skills fresh was to invent new problems to solve. Also I would derive every new formula instead of just memorizing it. Some random examples off the top of my head:

Derive newton's method.
Find the formula for the circle that passes through any three arbitrary points
Derive all the trigonometric identity functions

Re:Practice (2, Insightful)

Mahjub Sa'aden (1100387) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978193)

You can also try putting together a coherent version of String Theory. Frankly, if that doesn't help you with your maths, it's a lost cause.

Re:Practice (1)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978247)

Another fun one is to derive the formula for the area between three circles that are mutually, externally tangent, given their radii. Straightforward, but gets unwieldly really fast :-)

well (4, Insightful)

gadzook33 (740455) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978081)

I don't have a great answer for your question. However, for me the key to learning math was to stop being intimidated by it. I don't think they do a great job of teaching it in school where they take a very linear approach. They tell you about a concept (e.g. integration) and show you how to do it in certain situations, etc. If someone from the beginning had told me how to visualize what integration was, I think I would have gotten it immediately. Instead I was worried about writing down every little thing the teacher said. Having now gone through six years or so of advanced math, it's somewhat difficult for me to completely empathize, but I guess I would start with the basics. Wolfram, wikipedia, whatever are all fine resources for math. Start reading the simple stuff and if it's confusing, don't be afraid to move backwards and get even simpler. We all forget that stuff now and then.

Re:backwards (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20978367)

Start reading the simple stuff and if it's confusing, don't be afraid to move backwards and get even simpler.

That's how I taught myself math as a kid. Start with the last chapter. If you don't know it, go back a chapter. Once you've seen the later chapters, you'll know how the earlier stuff applies, so you'll learn it much, much faster.

Re:well (5, Interesting)

pz (113803) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978401)

I don't think they do a great job of teaching it in school where they take a very linear approach.

I'm not currently a professional teacher, but I have been one, at a Big Technical University that you have heard of, for four years. My skin crawls when I hear people demeaning a linear pedagogic approach because, frankly, and you can take this as an expert opinion by someone who has won awards for teaching, there is no better way. Period. People learn depth-first by cycling down from coarser details to finer ones. They learn in steps. To quote Prof. Patrick Winston of AI fame, you only learn that which you almost already know. Trying to teach in fuzzy alternate ways, teaching by trickery, emphasizing word problems or case study, teaching two or three paths at the same time, all of that stuff does not work for technical and mathematical subjects, pure and simple.

For the basic mathematics that the original post is inquiring about, the concepts are reasonably simple and straightforward. What they require, however, is what often appears to be mind-numbing repetition. It's work. While I applaud this fellow's current initiative, the effort should have been put in when he was a teenager because it's a lot easier then. It sounds like he's understood the mistake and is currently, as an adult, trying to correct that, which is definitely commendable. Unless he's the sort of person who developed phenomenal self-discipline later in life, however, the best bet is to get to a classroom. There are any of a large number of adult education services in every city I've been to. Often local high schools will have evening adult-ed classes as well. Or, as another poster suggested, the local community college can be a good resource. But basic mathematics requires a lot of rote work. It can be a joy to know that you've learned everything that was used to get mankind to the moon, a tremendous joy in fact, but it takes work.

Re:well (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20978505)

A big issue at the college/university level is that many of the math professors don't speak English well. I'm not saying there aren't American born math professors, but a good deal come from other countries, and it makes for a difficult time for students to not only understand the material but understand the professor as well. If I didn't teach myself the stuff, I'd probably fail or at best come out with a D, but I've observed other students just get turned off by the professor and either fail or drop the class.

Re:well (1)

gadzook33 (740455) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978523)

I'm not talking about crazy alternative methods, I'm mostly talking about good teaching. It sounds like you're probably a good teacher, but I would say you're in the minority. By "linear" I guess I mean plodding and thoughtless. Let's say, for the sake of argument, you're from MIT. I've got numerous friends who would disagree that all the professors at your school are great at teaching math. They're probably great at research, getting grants, etc. But as a former student at a similar institution, I can tell you most of them are not good at teaching it. And of course hard word is the key. But then, that's true of everything.

Re:well (1)

interiot (50685) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978417)

Yup. Traditional education is only one way to go, there are definitely additional options. The growth of educational materials on the internet has made delight-led learning [] easier to do. There are also other self-learners [] throughout history, and currently out there on the internet, to learn from.

Re:well (1)

yourfnmom (733312) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978503)

Very well said. I found that having a whiteboard and actually saying out loud what I'm writing down helps immensely. I wish that my teachers had taught us how to visualize mathematical concepts better. Not only does it help with the whole "when am I ever gonna use this?" question, but you become better at explaining it to others as well. That in itself is another fantastic way to learn your stuff. All I ever got in high school was: "Here is the formula, here's how you plug stuff in." When I got to college that kind of teaching failed me miserably. I basically had to reinvent how I learned, in order to be able to understand higher level concepts. Don't be afraid to move backwards should be stamped in every math text book. (4, Informative)

scum-e-bag (211846) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978083) (1)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978109)

As much as I love that site, it is NOT suited for high school math. At most the calc class would be useful at the end. (1)

solszew (130449) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978169)

Hmph. The "linear algebra" class seems similar to my own high school algebra class. I dispute your claim. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20978229)

High school algebra is not linear algebra. (1)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978267)

Either you went to a school for super geniuses, or you don't know what linear algebra is. It has to do with vector spaces, matrices, eigenvectors, and other multi-dimensional concepts. A better name for it would be multi-dimensional algebra. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20978275)

I dispute your claim. The linear algebra class is not the same as basic high school algebra. Maybe you are doing fairly advanced stuff in your class, but generally, MIT coursework is going to be too complex for someone who wants to teach themself high school leve math. (1)

dolphino (166844) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978345)

LOL - I think most slashdot geeks are too stiff to get your joke, solszew... (1)

Genevish (93570) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978481)

Hehe, yeah. I got A's in Calculus I and II. I'm currently taking Linear Algebra and have an average in the 40's after the first two tests. (Fortunately that's a D in his class). It's not high school algebra. High school algebra on crack while shooting up heroine and snorting peyote maybe... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20978269)

He should buy Serge Lang's Basic Mathematics and Melvin Hausner's A Vector Space Approach to Geometry. Any holes he has he can fill in with SOSMath. For starting proofs he can work through Zarkon's Basic Concepts of Mathematics (free, online), while preparing for the rigorous study of linear algebra or real analysis. That is if he chooses to continue from there.

Or he can just buy a used Prentice Hall pre-calculus book.

ap curriculum (1)

xargon (1173829) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978091)

if you're good with trig and algebra, you can pick up the calculus ap and bc books from barnes and nobles and catch up probably in a matter of 2-3 weeks depending on how much time you put into it. these books show you more than just how to do the questions but also the applications in some abstract ways which'll help you quite a bit

holding you back from what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20978103)

You lack of math skills are holding you back from what? I have a degree in math, and I never use math. Ever. Unless you're going to teach math, I can't imagine how your lack of math could be holding you back. What is it that you want to do?

Re:holding you back from what? (1)

LBArrettAnderson (655246) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978191)

Programming? Financial Planning? Craft-building? (a common hobby, plenty of math can be involved if you make stuff from scratch) Since we're on slashdot, I would imagine that there is a good chance that it might be for programming.

Re:holding you back from what? (1)

thegrassyknowl (762218) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978257)

About the only people who don't use math are the ones with a degree in it! The OP was talking about general mathematics - basic algebra and the like. Those things apply to me on a daily basis as a software engineer / systems admin (yes I told 2 roles in a large company. It sucks). It's amazing how often the ability to solve a basic set of linear equations saves you the effort of trial and error to get a solution by brute force.

I would suggest the way to go about it is go back to school. You could find an adult entry high school, or take a university bridging course for something like a science or engineering degree. There's plenty of highschool level mathematics in those courses and they're designed for people in the same situation as you.

You'll have trouble teaching yourself if you are like most of the rest of us. It's not that you're not capable, but because at the first hurdle it will seem insurmountable without a tutor or guidance to show you that you can climb it in small steps. If you do want do teach yourself from books, consider enlisting the services of a tutor on occasion to make sure you're really learning the right things and to keep you honest.

Re:holding you back from what? (1)

Glove d'OJ (227281) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978301)

I don't think that he is looking for the formal maths training that would be given to a math major. After calculus, and a little bit of differential equations, math sort of "splits" into a variety of different areas that, while interesting, aren't normally used on a day-to-day basis. Even most of calculus is more than a large percentage of the population would ever have a work-related use for.

Once you learn how to get a best fit line, do percents, fractions, basic geometry, understand the concept of functions and how to plot them, and learn how to do basic derivation (polynomials only!) then you are way ahead of the game.

I also have a math degree, and have never had anyone run up to me saying "quick -- we need this integral solved over this region before the big meeting!" Unless you are in a rather technical job, I feel that learning Excel can do more for you than 2 years of math classes.

Most of math for me has been learning how to learn. If you can wrap your head around a lot of the more esoteric structures in higher maths, then most anything else work can throw at you becomes really straightforward. Of course, my head is wired that way, and math comes easy for me. (ymmv)

It may be hard for someone like the anonymous coward above to understand, but I can definitely see how a lack of math skills can be holding someone back. Not being able to add fractions or screwing up percentages (percent change is based upon the starting amount, so use it in the bottom of the fraction, etc.) can really make you look bad, especially if your boss caught it before you did.

Brain training (1)

Tempest7 (457864) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978111)

How about starting off with some fun training to keep your mind flexible. Something you can do a few minutes a day. []

Don't bother, it's not useful for anything. (-1, Troll)

Mahjub Sa'aden (1100387) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978113)

Come on. Don't bother. Since when has math ever helped anybody? The US, for instance, is terrible at math, yet it's the world's only superpower. Who cares that Lockheed Martin aren't able to convert between metric and imperial? So they made a several billion dollar (that might be wrong, I'm as bad as they are at math) boo-boo.

Bottom line: If you can't do it without the help of Texas Instruments, it's not worth doing.

Re:Don't bother, it's not useful for anything. (0, Redundant)

Mahjub Sa'aden (1100387) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978163)

Clearly that's not sarcasm there. Couldn't be. No way.

Nothing fancy. (5, Insightful)

EinZweiDrei (955497) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978121)

Get a math textbook. [Hungerford's 'Contemporary Pre-Calculus' worked for me. For Calculus, Larson's 'Calculus' is keen.]
Set aside 30 minutes a night.
Work the problems out with pen and paper.
Where necessary, remember formulas however best suits you.

Avoid technological fixes.

:My $0.02.:

Re:Nothing fancy. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20978433)

Saxon Math

Developmental Math (1)

srwood (99488) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978129)

The first poster has it right. It's difficult to maintain the motivation to learn math unless you are in a formal program with deadline. Most community colleges have sections of math for people who made it through high school with inadequate preparation. Begin with these.

Work through some high school exercise books (1)

Heir Of The Mess (939658) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978133)

In some ways mathematics is a frame of mind you need to train your mind to think mathematically.

In Australia the last 3 years of high school are years 10,11 and 12. Pick up the equivalent of a year 10 maths/exercise book. There will bechapters explaining some stuff and then it will have lots of exercises to exercise your mind. Answers will be in the back.

At year 11 and 12 level you are looking at what we call "Mathematics II". The yr 10 book will have given you the basics of differentials and Integrals, the 11 and 12 stuff will then go into how you can use them.

After that you need to pick what field you are looking at. Control systems, bridge design, chemical reactions, and pick up the book that covers the mathematics for that. This will be fairly advanced stuff normally taught at university level. I did Engineering which uses calculus quite heavily.

So basically, RTFM.

Calculus, 3rd Edition (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20978141)

By Michael Spivak.

Lock yourself in a library and do every exercise. Make sure you have access to a university prof to help you when you get stumped, especially with the first few chapters while you're still getting the hang of doing proofs.

If you don't like Spivak's style, Walter Rudin's Principles of Mathematical Analysis is quite nice.

Note you can get your arithmetic rules from Spivak's book, so you don't have to relearn those first; you just have to read very carefully.

In the rest of the world (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20978149)

You study Maths (the full name for the science is Mathematics)

Get a Pre-calculus textbook (1)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978157)

one highly rated on and simply start doing problems. This is what I did before entering college again. I never failed math, but I did the minimum in highschool and that was bad later on.

There are no two ways around it. You can learn or pretend you learned the material, but if you never have to apply it (doing problems) you'll never know. Community College courses like some suggested I offer hesitantly - I never liked classes as I have to keep to their schedule - in going there, etcetera. I learn faster than their pace, but some don't. Also a different perspective (that of the teacher and fellow students) may help you and a teacher may guide you to the correct higher maths you need for your job/career.

I would suggest doing the odd or even half of the problems in your notebook and keep trudging on. If you think you know a section, there is no need to be anal about it and write down the problems, but do them mentally and check if you have the correct answers. At least that is how I did it. I actually like math now that I'm not tethered to a boring class and for it's own sake.

Also, fundamentals are most important. If you don't know your pre-calc, you aren't going to do well with calculus. Get your calc book after you went through your pre-calc. Don't trust people who offer easy solutions - study after study has shown you get in what you get out. Even if you learn fast (or think you learn fast), you can forget fast without ever applying what you learned.

If you do consider a community college, check out the reputation of the professors you are selecting at, there is no need to stumble upon a nightmare teacher. Adult students have enough things to worry about without adding another obstacle to their path.

Community college (4, Informative)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978159)

There's probably a community college in your area that teaches courses in all of the above and beyond. The fees are low (my local community college charges $20 per class credit) and there's usually no requirement that you formally enroll, declare a major, etc. The advantage is that you have an instructor who can answer your questions, plus who assigns you homework. In my experience, the only reliable way to learn math is to do it, and it's too easy to get lazy with self-directed study.

Repetition of simple problems (3, Interesting)

willy_me (212994) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978187)

When growing up, I was forced to do pages of simple math problems - just simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Imagine sheets of paper with 20 rows and 3 columns filled with questions. I would then get timed to see how quickly I could complete these questions. This was done time and time again until I didn't have to think in order to solve such problems. I benefit from this even today..

The thing is, when you're learning math you want to focus your efforts on the subject at hand - not the other simple math that accompanies it. For example, when a prof is going over a question on the board you don't want to waste time with the simple stuff. It takes away from what you should really be learning.

So I guess my suggestion is this - make sure you know the basic stuff really well. You will always have to use it and without it you will always be at a disadvantage.


Math is just a foundation (1, Troll)

dagamer34 (1012833) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978203)

Math by itself is not useful unless you just like adding numbers. It's only by actually having an applied purpose that you'll need it (physics, economics, chemistry).

Re:Math is just a foundation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20978357)

Not entirely true...math gives you a toolkit and a way of looking at problems. If you're in any sort of analytical work you'll find basic math a useful way of approaching and understanding the underlying causes of problems.

Math skills... (4, Informative)

Glove d'OJ (227281) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978219)

Find a tutor. Seriously.

Any sort of advanced math is very easy in which to develop bad habits. Advanced math "build", unlike other subjects in those same grades. If you didn't "get" Death of a Salesman, you still have a shot at understanding Moby Dick. However, if you did not "get" fractions or percentages, then you really can't go a lot further.

If your math skills (or, rather, lack thereof) are holding you back, think of the tutor as an investment.

On a side note, you would be surprised at the proof of "bad math skills" that can be seen in the corporate world. People rarely / never stop to do a reality check. "Can it be that 105% of the people required to take the training have taken it?" Ugh.

Re:Math skills... (1)

42forty-two42 (532340) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978355)

Nitpick: It is possible for 105% of the people required to take the testing to take it, iff people who are not required take it as well.

Isaac Asimov (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20978241)

Two books which helped me (years ago) were Asimov's Realm of Numbers and Asimov's Realm of Algebra. Unfortunately, a quick search at Google shows the hard cover edition of Realm of Algebra is outrageously expensive. I had the paperback editions of each, and they were terrific. A huge help.

Asimov wrote a whole lot of non-fiction books on math and science. His books demystify otherwise hard to approach subject matter. Highly recommended.

I'm in a similar situation... (3, Insightful)

bigjarom (950328) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978259)

I was consistently at the bottom of my class in high school math. I had to lie cheat and steal to get into community college. I eventually made it through a BA, and now a few years later I find myself in a full-time MBA program where math proficiency is a foregone assumption. I told myself before I started my MBA that a couple of "...for Dummies" books and some online courses would get me caught up with the pack. I was wrong. It has taken a herculean effort through private sessions with professors and other students to keep me from failing out of Accounting and Statistics. As great as online courses and the like are, there is no substitute for a good teacher. You will be amazed by how much more effective a tutor is than taking a self-directed online tutorial. If you are the kind of person who is bad at math, you'll probably always be bad at math, but you do have to learn how to get by when necessary. Get yourself a private tutor, suck up the cost, and see the results for yourself.

From the beginning (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20978263)

I had a lot of trouble with maths in high school and college. I find it difficult to learn by rote and my experience with math education has been nothing but. Get the book "Mathematics from the Birth of Numbers". This helped me to actually understand what I was doing rather than following a 'recipe' that someone said should work.

Text (1)

H0D_G (894033) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978279)

Try any book by Haese and Harris [] They do all of the textbooks for south australian mathematics, very clear, very well laid out. just be carful, I think american highschool year 10 maths is closer to australian year 9.

The skills go quickly (3, Insightful)

evildogeye (106313) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978283)

12 years ago I got an 800 on my math SATS and got A's in every math class I took in high school and college. These days, I struggle with the simplest day to day mathematical problems. I imagine it's just a matter of practice, but it's alarming nevertheless. videos - very good! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20978285)

we have used for home school math for years - highly recommened. I listen in once in a while - great instructor, you can always rewind, comes with ask-the-teacher service

A view from the other side... (4, Insightful)

Sosetta (702368) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978297)

As a math teacher, I'd say you're better off getting help from someone competent than going it alone.

That being said, and the understanding that you don't want to pour in the money required to get a good teacher (craigslist looking for a math tutor is a place to start. If you start off with one and it doesn't feel like a good emotional fit, then get a different one. A good tutor will try to get a solid grasp of where you are now, and then start taking steps to get you moving forward from where you are. A great tutor will help you when you're stuck, but also give you specific resources that you can use to work on exactly what you need to be working on right now in your time away from the tutor), here's my advice.

First off, understand what exactly it is you are trying to do. You are trying to build abstract thought paths in your brain. This is hard to do. Many of the math problems you were presented with in high school were an attempt to get you to make the leap from specific application of concepts in lots of different ways to the abstract concept itself. In algebra, you do tons of factoring and other ways of solving the quadratic equation. The point of all those problems was that you would, through many problems approaching the concepts from different angles, fundamentally understand what parabolas are all about. Accurate quadratic thinking is much much harder than linear thinking. When you see a line, you know it's a line, but when you see a curve, it might be quadratic, cubic, exponential, logarithmic, or any of a host of variations.

So, do a bunch of problems to build your skills and gain fluency with the concepts. Then try to figure out exactly what it is that's really going on. There's often some really obvious reason that something works the way it does, if you can find it. For instance, the whole FOIL method for multiplying binomials like this: (x+3)(x+2). If you draw a rectangle, and put the x+2 on top and the x+3 going down the side, and break the rectangle into an x part and a 2 part vertically, and an x part and a 3 part going horizontally, then you'll get 4 rectangles that all add up to make the original rectangle. Their areas are x^2, 2x for the first row and 3x, 6 for the second row. Those are, respectively, the First, Outer, Inner, and Last products of the FOIL method. If you draw the picture, it's really obvious, and you'll wonder why you struggled with it for so long (if you did). A good tutor can help make it all easy for you by showing you the really obvious reasons why things work the way they do.

Good luck

Re:A view from the other side... (0, Offtopic)

miskatonic alumnus (668722) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978521)

Not to attack what you said in any way, but FOIL has always been a pet peeve of mine. It doesn't extend to multiplying a pair of trinomials for instance. I wish the textbooks would get away from that type of silliness and call it what it is: another application of the distributive property, with which the student should already be familiar.

next up: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20978303)

an "anonymous" reader asks for tips on spelling and grammar.

What do you need math for? (2, Insightful)

Estanislao Martnez (203477) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978309)

That's the key question. What tasks are you doing regularly that your past failures to learn high school math are stopping your from?

I use some form or another of "math" regularly, but I'll tell you one thing: most of high-school math isn't very useful for me. I've never needed calculus, and barely ever needed geometry. Algebra is ocassionally useful, but the very basic bits of it are good enough (I remember that there is such a thing as the quadratic equation and factorization of polynomials, but I've never really needed to use them).

On the other hand, graph theory, mathematical logic, lambda calculus, probability and statistics have been very useful, and I suspect abstract algebra would also be so if I understood it. But guess what? None of those are regularly taught in high school. (Hell, mathematical logic isn't even regularly taught in university math departments.)

Don't just assume you need high school math. Make some effort to figure out what kind of math would be useful, and go with that. If you're into programming, you may want to try a discrete mathematics textbook.

Read this book (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20978311) []

John Mighton, a math PhD and award winning playwright, founded a math tutoring program called Jump Math. It has been very successful with all kinds of student. In particular, it has worked for adult learners in jail. "The Myth of Ability" gives the basic philosophy of the program. Once you have read it, you will have the clues you need to direct your own math learning program.

Almost all the things we think about as intelligence are a result of pattern recognition. We really don't work by logic. Master level chess players, for instance, don't work out positions by logic. They can't work out moves much farther ahead than non-experts. What makes them experts is that they have studied thousands of games and they recognize situations when they see them. The way they got to be experts was by 'deliberate practice'. That's how you are going to learn math. []

Once you understand the underlying principles of how we learn and once you understand that the effort required will almost certainly lead to success, you will be much more likely to put forth the effort required.

Buy a good calculus book (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978321)

Buy a good calculus book, and read it. Work through all the proofs and derivations. Stay on each section until you understand it.

It helps a lot if you have a reason to use it.

If you don't have the discipline to do this, take a class.

(Well, it's always worked for me....)

Schaum's Outlines (1)

kurtb149 (578487) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978325)

I recommend that you take a pencil and paper to a bookstore that has a large math selection and a large selection of Schaum's Outlines series. Then review several of the math Outlines and pick one that you think you can do. Then start doing it right there, starting with chapter 1. Solve, on paper, every problem (including the ones they solve for you). If you can finish chapter 1, buy the book and continue to solve every problem *on paper*.

Re:Schaum's Outlines (1)

raydulany (892228) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978449)

Hear, hear. For example, I first learned Calculus III (vector calc) from a Schaum's. And you really should try to do every problem, or as near as you can do. The books are cheapish (~$15-$20, I think) and in addition to giving you an easy to understand explanation (textbook-style) of the material, every section has lots of problems that they have solved in detail (with steps). If this seems to work for you (I kurtb149's suggestion of trying one first at the store), go to.

Work problems (1)

try_anything (880404) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978337)

The harder the math is, and the harder it is for you, the more problems you need to work. Obviously the "understanding" part is necessary, too, but sometimes understanding comes in dribs and drabs, and often it only comes after much experience. After working many problems, you suddenly see the pattern (Aha!) that the teacher or textbook was trying to explain to you. Educators sometimes assume that if you don't get it immediately, the only remedy is to try a different teaching method (tactile learning, culturally appropriate stories, and whatever else they can come up with.) That's simply wrong -- don't get discourage if you don't immediately understand something without any practice. You should use whatever means of learning and understanding works best for you, but it just takes a while for some things to sink in. (Different things present difficulties for different people.) Sometimes too many ways of explaining something are just confusing and overwhelming -- sometimes you just have to work through problems over and over again until it finally clicks.

Plus, understanding does not guarantee facility with solving problems, and facility with solving problems is a very large advantage when it comes to the rest of your education. Consider the significance of calculus to learning college physics: If you're slick with calculus problems, you spend most of your time thinking about physics, and you actually get a deeper understanding of calculus in the process. If you have a hard time solving calculus problems, then you don't have any time to learn much about physics, because you spend all your time struggling with the calculus. I'm sure the same thing applies to economics. "Understanding" of calculus concepts won't save you if you have to spend eight hours struggling to solve the math problems in your econ homework, while your classmates knock out the math in two hours, spend two hours discussing the concepts with each other, and then spend four hours drinking and chasing women. You work twice as much, and they're still ahead. (Plus they have more fun and are fresh and energetic the next day.)

So, work problems. Working problems helps you understand things in the first place, helps cement your understanding, and helps you get faster and more confident in your work, which enables you to work and learn more efficiently.

My approach (2, Informative)

ed.markovich (1118143) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978339)

As someone who has had to ramp up his math skills recently, I admire what you're doing and wanted to share my experience. The main thing that struck me is that you're looking to do an entire high-school equivalent math program, which to me seems like a daunting and boring approach.

Instead of looking for a curriculum, it sounds easier to find some relevant problems and work backwards. You mentioned that your lack of math is holding you back. Why not identify some specific cases of this, and learn enough math to overcome whatever issue made you feel this way? Doing this enough times will give you a solid background in math, I think.

In my own case, the reason I had to ramp up on math is that I was taking a pretty hardcore machine learning class during my masters. The course assumed a much deeper knowledge of linear algebra than I had. I literally had to do hours of research to understand many slides from the lectures which were really intended to be background and proofs, not the meat of the course. You can imagine that by the time the course ended (I got an A- which was a big deal for this class) I had a much stronger foundation in linear algebra and other math concepts than I did initially - even though I didn't set out to learn that stuff. Call it just-in-time learning. Now I am studying for the CFA (Level 1) and it also has some math, although nothing too hardcore. Still, the first volume contains a quantitative methods section which talks about statistics and the like. So again, even though my goal is to learn Finance, not math, I ended up refreshing a bit of math in the process.

Maybe this "just in time" learning isn't for everyone but it seems good to me in that it forces you to learn math that's the most relevant to your life, and it in a sense forces you to make sure you've learned it well, given that you'll be applying it immediately.

Also, MIT has some online courses that you should check out. I know you talked about highschool level stuff but why not be even more ambitious? For example, there's a series of video lectures with dr. Gilbert Strange about Linear Algebra. I don't think the course requires too much other background (and again, if he talks about a concept that you don't know, this is a great opportunity for additional just-in-time learning).

The main thing I am trying to say is that you should set a goal for yourself that's narrower than "learning everything". Define a concrete problem and solve it. For example, your problem could be as simple as watching all of the lectures mentioned above, or reading some calculus text. Instead of spending years learning everything everyone tells you that you need to know before you can do calc, just do the reading and then branch out into understanding pre-requisites as you encounter them in the text. I think this is a much more structured and motivating way to do it.

Good luck!

Upgrading classes at a local community college (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20978347)

Math was one of my worst subjects.. and really this all came down to boredom and lack of motivation. If you're serious about learning what you missed the first time around, find a community college offering high school upgrading courses. These are generally equivalent to the highest level of high school math, but they won't make any assumptions beyond simple arithmetic, so don't worry about what you think you missed.

(I did this and, quite accidentally, discovered it was actually enjoyable. I'll be graduating this year with a BSc in mathematics).

fun books (1)

marimbaman (194066) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978351)

Okay, so it's more of a kids book, but I recommend The I Hate Mathematics! Book by Marylin Burns, and also Math for Smarty Pants by the same author. Martin Gardiner's recreational math books are also quite excellent. The best way to teach yourself math is to actually get interested in it, which the average textbook will not help you with.

Fair warning: I'm now getting a PhD in applied math.

college (1)

br00tus (528477) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978359)

One thing to consider is going to a local college and taking a pre-calculus class. and sites like that can tell you if the professor is good or not. You can get a whole semester at a good state school for less than $1000 often. Plus you get college credit, and pre-calc is usually a prerequisite for the Computer Science courses (I had high Math SATs so I didn't need it, I went straight to Calculus). As far as the pre-calc books out there, I liked Barron's precalc book myself. I wanted to brush up on it since I never really did relatively well in trigonometry, and I only had a vague recollection of what the quadratic equation was etc.

Conceptual (1)

Atmchicago (555403) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978381)

Possibly the most important point is to truly understand the concepts. Mathematics in some sense are self-evident - 2+2 will always equal 4, and the derivative of 2x (with respect to x) will always be 2. More complex ideas in math are equally self-evident, but are much harder to understand. As a result, a lot of math classes focus on memorization without understanding the ideas.

Buy a textbook and do the problems. But also be sure to read what the textbook is trying to say - why does the math work the way it does? For some people visualization helps. For others, verbally analyzing the logic is easier. However you go about it, don't try cramming formulas or theorems without understanding them. Memorization is hard, yet learning is more difficult - and more rewarding. Best of luck.

maximize your curiousity (4, Interesting)

Doviende (13523) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978393)

In order to learn it on your own, you want to enhance your curiousity at any chance you get. If you get the feeling that you're forcing yourself through it, you might not continue. To maximize curiousity, i suggest you find several math books. Each day, you set aside some time to do something, anything, without a preconception of what it will be (unless there's something you're really keen on doing). When you sit down, you bring out your 3 or 4 books and you flip through until you see something interesting and work on that.

Sometimes you'll find something that requires previous concepts that you don't yet have. This is fine, because now you can go look up those concepts with a sense of purpose. This will help you to your larger goal of the more interesting thing that you flipped to in the book. I did this when i picked up a book on fractals...lots of bright pictures, it seemed interesting. In there, they talked about integrals, which i hadn't learned yet, so i set out to find out what those were.

As for practical tips when you're learning one particular concept, reading textbooks is sorta like reading manpages in unix. it takes a certain mindset, and you usually want to pick out the relevant pieces from the page the first time around and then go back for specifics later. Textbooks are usually written very precisely and they sometimes have a lot of formal jargon or formulae that aren't useful the first time you read it, but can be helpful when you go back to get more details. So read it with that in mind. The first time through, don't expect to understand everything there. Just skip past the parts that are too hard and continue on, trying to get the general idea.

Next, do some of the easiest questions at the end of that section or chapter. Sometimes those questions may seem too easy, like you can just look at them and you think you know how to do it already. I suggest doing some anyway rather than skipping them. There's a difference between knowing the concept enough to recognize it in the questions, and actually knowing it well enough to do the questions quickly and correctly. Doing more questions is always good practice even when they seem easy at first glance.

When you've done several of the easy questions, you start to get more of an intuitive feel for the concept. Go on to the medium questions, and now you'll probably better understand the parts of the text that were difficult to understand on the first time you read the section. I suggest that you try hard to really understand the concepts in one chapter before you go onto the next one. If you have a solid grounding in the beginning, then the later stuff will be much easier and it'll be easier to get that intuitive understanding that lets you see the direction to the answer right from the start.

If you have several textbooks to choose from each time, then as you work your way through bits of each of them, you'll start to see the connections between different areas of math. This is something that most people don't get in their normal classes because they tend to focus too closely on one topic. If you wander through several topics following your curiousity, i think you'll get a better broad understanding of the connections, and it'll help you personally keep your motivation up so that you can continue to do it. remember to have fun with it. if it turns into a chore, then you'll stop doing it before you reach your goals.

have fun!

Write little programs to solve problems (1)

adminstring (608310) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978395)

I've found that the best ways to motivate myself to learn something, and actually retain what I've learned, is to have a use for the information, and to teach it to others.

Assuming you know a computer language, writing a computer program is a great way to do both of these things, since programming can be looked at as teaching the computer how to solve problems.

Start writing a program that is likely to involve the kind of math you want to learn, and since the development of your app will be dead in the water until you learn and successfully apply the math, you will have a great motivator for learning it and getting it right. Just get your hands on an applied math (applied algebra, applied calculus, etc.) book and look at the kinds of problems it has in it, then write programs to solve those kinds of problems. I would pick the books up at a used book store or thrift shop, since there's no need to spend big bucks on the latest shiny new edition from Amazon or a college bookstore.

a live-person (1)

icepick72 (834363) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978407)

If you fit into my category and have a tough time improving math skills by yourself from a textbook, I would highly suggest a part time college or university course (i.e. outside work hours). Make it a credit course so you will have a goal (of passing). Certificate courses are usually based only on attendance on not useful if you need to be goal-oriented like most people. Pick a time in your life when you can devote the time to it. Don't try picking it up when many other things are on the go because more than likely you'll drop the ball. This might require some scheduling and planning before making the commitment. If you don't go with a school course or tutoring, it would be good to find a group of like-minded people who want to improve themselves because two (or more) heads is always better than one. Going through the process with other people also bolsters a sense of accountability and responsibility. I suggest not trying it on your own unless you have a very high level of commitment to such things.

this is simply becuase (0, Troll)

iLoveYoyo (1109245) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978435)

your have a terribly low IQ...

community college (1)

guacamole (24270) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978445)

Take an evening class at your local community college. Most of them teach highschool-level mathematics.

Fear (1, Funny)

icepick72 (834363) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978451)

Put yourself in life-threating situations that make you rely on math skills to get out. For example, the car keeps speeding up until you enter the proper roots of the polynomial equation into the dashboard computer. OnStar math class if you like.

Free math lessons on YouTube (2, Informative)

Maxmin (921568) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978453)

I've found a number of helpful math lessons on youtube recently. Some are actually pretty good. Just search for algebra [] or whatever you're looking to learn. Last week I got refreshed on statistics [] .

Obviously there's a signal-to-noise ratio problem, just skip over the noise.

I bet I know who this is! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20978455)

Vlad, is that you?

How are your math skills holding you back? (1)

tfiedler (732589) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978473)

Its kind of difficult to give advice if you can't tell us why your lack of math skills is holding you back? Math is best learned in context, which is not at all how it is taught (or not) in America.

Teaching math to the stranger in the mirror. (1)

Charles Wilson (995273) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978487)

I'm a math teacher and /. troll. I have found that to have success in math, you must: Take your time. If you are in a rush you are almost guaranteed to screw up. Next, repeat each problem over and over. There is a reason that the textbooks give you so many problems to work out. Never try to take a shortcut when good 'ol paper and pencil work is handy. ***Most important!! Unless absolutely required for problem solving, DO NOT USE the Demon Machine, uhhh..., calculator.*** Finally, if you go into a study session with negative emotional energy, YOU NOW HAVE TWO PROBLEMS. You will rarely solve the math work while you carry this second problem. Disengage from the emotional part and you will be amazed at how your inside-your-head work will improve! CW

One book: "What Is Mathematics?" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20978491)

Get the book "What Is Mathematics?" by Courant.

It's a from-the-basics survey of modern understanding of math, and an excellent reference for all levels.

Here's a Wikipedia booksearch [] link.

Question (2, Informative)

mkiwi (585287) | more than 6 years ago | (#20978497)

The real question is do you want to teach yourself math or do you want to understand math? Lots of people can pick up patterns and get away with simple things on tests, but if it's work you need the math for then I assume you're going to have to think out of the box. Most people don't understand the math- they look for patterns, memorize problems, and take tests. The actual "learning" comes later when they have to apply the methods taught to them.

For Self Teaching- don't do it. Your main problem is finding out what learning mechanism works best for you and then finding a compatible mentor. Don't go to a local college and merely buy the textbooks there, you will get through the first chapter then realize you wasted $100 on a book you have no idea how to read.

Also, you need to decide how far in math you need to go. For calculus not all books are created equal. Find a simple book that has easy to understand examples but does not go too far. Make sure it has a few chapters on limits only- you need to know these to know calculus. On the other hand, you likely do not need to know how to check if an integral is converging or diverging, knowing how to do Taylor series, Laplace Transform, Invariant coordinate systems, etc. The book you select should have basic differential and integral calculus but nothing too advanced. Take baby steps. If you can work your way (with someone) through these things you will have a better chance to succeed and know what types of math you need to specialize in and how much.

Also, tell us what types of problems you are running in to or else we can't pin down a specific way to help you. What types of applications are you doing and what do you need to find out? You may only need differential and some basic integral calculus do to the work you need.

That's my advice for self-teaching, but I would suggest going to a community college or finding a mentor who will (maybe for a small fee) teach you the math.

Finally, if you do not understand the math you will not be able to use it in your job. Make sure you don't waste your time going down the wrong path. It's essential to have someone to ask and review your work so that you find out you are not doing things backwards and upside-down.

Learning math is similar to learning a language, although the constructs are vastly different between the two. It doesn't happen through osmosis and it's hard to get a good understanding of the "pronounciation" unless you have someone you can go to. Again, seriously consider taking some precalculus classes at a Community College then going on to calc. Without the foundation for the more advanced stuff you will get nowhere. De toute façon, on chance!

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