Mathochism: The joys of MOOCulus

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

AK_Math_small When my second community college calculus experience ended on a bad note at the end of 2012, I was really depressed. And furious; mostly furious, really, since I felt like the whole semester was one big game of bait-and-switch, with the second professor as bad as the first, except in a far subtler way.

But unlike previous bad experiences, this didn’t sour me on math. Nor did it take away from my interest in learning more calculus, which was actually one of the most satisfying chapters in my short math career.

Yep, I really love calculus. I adore limits, derivatives, and integration. I tolerate related rates and optimization – but then again, no romance is perfect. As long as they leave the toilet seat down, we’re cool.

This development feels like a miracle, or maturity, or something. Let’s go with something. Continue reading ‘Mathochism: The joys of MOOCulus’

Mathochism: Done, done, done

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

Under the compass of Damocles After getting home on the last day of class, I decided to suppress my rage at the professor’s subjective grading antics so I could focus on the last gaps in my calculus knowledge.

I practiced the mean value theorem, I went back over derivatives, limits and continuity. I made sure I had memorized the formulas I would need.

But the rage snuck back up on me that night, making it very difficult to sleep. I usually have trouble sleeping the night before something big — pleasant or unpleasant. But the rage certainly didn’t help. And it kept ranting at me, telling me I should just blow off the final, because I would probably fail even if I solved everything right. Continue reading ‘Mathochism: Done, done, done’

Mathochism: Partial credit

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

Under the compass of Damocles We got our last chapter test back on Monday, which was also the last day before the final.

And sadly, in spite of all my hard work, the brain slugs apparently won again. I got full credit on just one problem, and no credit on another. Most others (there were eight problems total) were given partial credit. Oh well.

But then, we went over the exam. And as the professor got through problem #3, I started getting confused. It was an area problem, and not only had I set up the integral correctly, I had solved it correctly.

The same thing happened two more times. By my count, I should have gotten an additional 15 points. This would have raised my grade to a C. Not great, but it was progress after failing all semester. Continue reading ‘Mathochism: Partial credit’

Mathochism: Revolving, evolving

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

Under the compass of Damocles I took my last chapter test today. It was all about finding areas and volumes of stuff with integrals — pyramids, odd shapes, arcs, hollow spheres. Many of them involved revolving lines and curves around the x or y axis, forming lamp shade and vase-looking things.

And I admit it — I enjoy the revolving. It’s pretty cool. It makes me take a second look at my candlesticks, because now I can find their volume through the magic of calculus!

I studied a lot, as usual, and the test didn’t feel too hard.

But with my track record this semester, I’m pretty sure I messed up again. The brain slug, it is powerful! Continue reading ‘Mathochism: Revolving, evolving’

Mathochism: Wrapping it up

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

Under the compass of Damocles We’ve started the final chapter in calculus. The exam for this one is one week from tomorrow; the final in 13 days.

It’s almost over, and so is this series. Well, okay, not entirely. My calculus studies aren’t over. I’ve signed up for a second calc course in the spring. This course is online, and offered through a university. It’s 12 weeks long, and involves exams and a final. If you pass, you get a certificate. Best of all, it’s free.

It will be interesting to see how I do in this format, especially since most of the material won’t be new. Oh, and since I am not enough of a mathochist, I plan to take an AP calc practice test after that. My best friend has agreed to proctor, as long as she gets to say “Time’s up! Pencils down.”

I will not, however, blog this one. I’ve got to save something for the book!

But back to our final chapter; it may not include L’Hopital’s Rule (shakes fist at math department), but it seems cool. We’re now using integrals find volumes of solids. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that, because after all, you can use them for speeds. So why not spheres?

I’ve really enjoyed integrals so far. Hell, I’ve enjoyed learning calculus so far.

No, I have not enjoyed failing the exams. In fact, the exams really sucked, and I imagine the last two will suck. But so what? I can find the volume of a cylinder using an integral now. I know exactly how fast my car was going as I zipped past the IKEA the other day, and I didn’t look at my speedometer.

That’s pretty cool.

All text copyrighted by A.K. Whitney, and cannot be used without permission.

Mathochism: Gelling

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

Under the compass of Damocles I spent a long time studying this past week, wrapping my mind around definite and indefinite integrals, the fundamental theorem of calculus and Riemann sums.

I feel like a lot of calculus is finally starting to gel. I’m seeing patterns again, and once I broke down and just used the calculator for some of the arithmetic, problems were faster and easier, and I could work on technique.

It’s funny, but I think I use a different part of my brain for calculus than for arithmetic. Even algebra and trig often feel like they’re in some other compartment in my head. This is frustrating, because the skills and knowledge are all there, and solid. Why am I having such a hard time accessing them while doing calculus? Continue reading ‘Mathochism: Gelling’

Mathochism: Getting fundamental

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

Under the compass of Damocles Back when I took geometry (and got As, sniff), Uchitel told us there were only really two problems in calculus.

One involved the fundamental theorem of calculus. Because of Uchitel’s ebullient way of explaining it, I’ve been really looking forward to studying it in this class.

We started on it Thursday, and really went into it today.

And… I feel a bit like the creatures who waited millions of years to be told the meaning of life, the universe and everything, only to get “42″ as an answer.

Not that the fundamental theorem of calculus isn’t just charming and fabulous, or anything. It’s just that I expected something more — fancy. Something longer. Something truly mind-boggling. Continue reading ‘Mathochism: Getting fundamental’

Mathochism: Not my finest hour

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

Under the compass of Damocles Well, it’s official: I have as much chance of passing this class as Mitt Romney has of becoming the editor-in-chief of Ms. magazine.

We got our third exam back, and I scored a 40.

Sigh. I am pleased to report, though, that I did get the graph right on the derivative question. I would say it’s a miracle, but it’s actually proof that I did understand something.

Okay, I’m not going to do a postmortem on this one. I will say that I really didn’t enjoy this chapter very much. Newton’s method? Meh. Painstaking graphing, taking 20 minutes or more, when software can do the job 10 times more accurately and beautifully? Urrgh.

The mean value and Rolle theorems were pretty cool. So was some of the optimization. Continue reading ‘Mathochism: Not my finest hour’

Mathochism: An hour of your life

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

Under the compass of Damocles We had our third exam today.

And… blergh. I may have actually done worse than the last two. I’m still far from 100 percent health wise, and am still stuffy and achy and exhausted. Worse, the aches are really affecting my sleeping patterns, so I’m on a rest deficit.

Still, I tried to study as much as possible. I went over rectilinear motion, Newton’s method (which is not fun when you’re not allowed a calculator), the mean value and Rolle’s theorems.

I graphed a lot of stuff, and worked on my derivation time. Optimization problems were fun as long as they involved boxes and fences and raingutters and such (in spite of being severely near-sighted and astigmatic, I’ve always had good spatial orientation, and can usually eyeball proportions and distances accurately), but my eyes glazed over when they involved men rowing or cars passing each other. Continue reading ‘Mathochism: An hour of your life’

Mathochism: Real math

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

Under the compass of Damocles We’ve moved into antiderivatives, which remind me, perversely, of logarithms.

Before I get piled on by indignant mathematicians, let me explain. When we first learned about exponential equations and logarithms, there was a very specific relationship between the two. To put it crudely, you dismantle the exponential, then put it together sort of backwards, and get a logarithm. For someone used to doing things a certain way, it’s a bit mind-bending. I got it eventually, but it took a while.

With an antiderivative, you take a derivative and return it to the original function. Well, almost the original — in most cases, you also add a C, for constant. Continue reading ‘Mathochism: Real math’



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