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?

We had another test today, and I know I screwed up on 3 out of 9 questions. Two were silly mistakes. One was a trapezoidal approximation problem, and I practiced that a lot, but forgot how to find the M in the max error part at the last minute. Urrgh. The second was a mean value theorem problem, and once again, I messed up the formula, writing down b-a/2 instead of 1/b-a. Double urrgh.

The third was a proof of an even power integral. I confess I didn’t study that proof a lot. I just memorized the formula and applied it.

However, I am proud that I worked extra hard on absolute value integrals, because she had one of those on the test. I tell you, the woman is obsessed with absolute values! Are all calculus professors obsessed with absolute values? Or am I just privileged?

I fully expect that, even if I got the other six problems right, the professor will siphon off points as usual. (I’m all for precision, but I think she gets a bit too aggro at times.) So the final score may not be great.

But that doesn’t take away my newfound sense of clarity. A reader commented some time ago that calculus would be where concepts started to coalesce and make sense. She’s absolutely right.
Me, on test day.
I may keep getting attacked by brain slugs during exams (see illustration at right), which sucks, but I still feel like I’ve finally started seeing beyond the periphery into a truly fascinating landscape.

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