One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?
It’s been little over a week since I dropped the calculus class. I find myself trying to unpack what went so wrong in this last outing, and what I need to do to prevent myself from going down the wrong path again.
A commenter wisely reminded me I do not necessarily need to be enrolled in a class, with an instructor, homework or tests to learn, and that’s true. Auditing the summer professor’s pre-calc class was a great experience, because I could just sit and absorb it all without stressing about deadlines. Doing this also made the next pre-calc experience less terrifying.
But I also know myself enough these days — a benefit of middle age — and I need the structure of a class, and the deadlines, and the accountability. Blame more than a decade in the newsroom — nothing fuels inspiration quite like desperation.
That said, I plan to use my ample leisure time (ha!) to try and get ahead on the material, and I’m hoping any readers who stick with me, particularly the mathematicians among you, may be willing to let me crowdsource when I come across a baffling problem or technique.
I promise to show all my work. In fact, I came across a lovely little program the other day that graphs equations. There are some limitations — it doesn’t do cube roots or odd roots or anything other than a square root. But it’s still a great tool. I was able to graph the sandwich theorem problem I was agonizing over a month ago, and that helped a lot.
And speaking of showing my work — I have a major peeve. Why is it that instructors and math book authors think it’s okay to skip steps in worked examples? Not all instructors, of course. And not all books. But these days, as a seasoned (albeit overly peppery) math student, I tend to judge the quality of the teacher, and the book, by how willing they are to NOT skip steps.
And when they do, they get the “bzzzzzzzt” of disdain from me.
Yeah, yeah, I get all that about “saving a line.” But I have mad respect for that teacher, or that author, who is willing to cover several blackboards, or several pages, in order to make sure the student doesn’t get lost in some leap from step 14 to step 16. Every time I’ve gotten lost, it’s because there’s been a leap of some sort. And I don’t care how obvious that leap may be to the teacher or author, who unlike me has a PhD. It’s still a leap, and implying I’m stupid because I fell in the gap just makes that individual crappy at their job.
Besides, isn’t math supposed to be precise? Isn’t skipping a step imprecise? Those dreaded geometry proofs never allowed me to just say “for heaven’s sake, it’s an obtuse triangle!” No, I had to go through 10 steps discussing angles and sides, citing theorems and corollaries and using terms like “identity” and “substitution.”
It’s particularly galling when an instructor skips steps on examples in lectures (and so does the book in its ridiculously expensive solutions manual that promises to solve all the odd problems yet leaves out a third of them), then expects me to “show my work,” all my work, and even takes points off for paraphrasing a little on a definition or for not writing f(x) on every step.
To borrow from a famous Seinfeld character, “No leaps for you!”
Isn’t that sort of behavior assy as hell?
AHEM. Disclaimer: The above situation is purely theoretical for the sake of a more amusing blog. It’s not like it just happened on a regular basis, or anything. Or that it also happened frequently in a certain Intermediate Algebra class. Really.
All text copyrighted by A.K. Whitney, and cannot be used without permission.