I'm 25 and I need a new foundation in basic math!
January 7, 2009 8:50 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to learn math, starting with Algebra 1. More inside.

I tanked Math in school. Starting around 8th grade I just stopped getting it. I floundered, cheated and limped my way through Algebra 2, Geometry (I was great at proofs!), pre-Calc and whatever else it was I had to take.

In College I flunked our 101-101-101 Math class twice, mostly out of spite. I hated math. Recently, however, I've started to see the whole thing in a new light. I'd previously kind of thought of Math as an artificial construct, a useless framework for mis-interpreting the world around us.

I've started to see Math as a beautiful tool and a helpful progression, I
've started to understand where it interfaces with everyday problems. As I get more and more interested in private projects I'm running into walls- I understand where Math can help, but after "x-1=6, find x" I'm just lost.

So here's what I'm looking for: Math instruction for an adult (I'm 25), via book or web, starting with Algebra 1 and moving from there. I'm looking for something more useful than "This the x theory, here are 25 problems, answers are in the back of the book". I realize I'll have to seek help as I get further along, but I'd really like to try and build myself a foundation.

So: Book suggestions, web lesson suggestions, exercises, helpful anecdotes. Lay 'em on me!

It's worth noting that my fundamentals are awesome- When I was 14 my Mom sent to a Math camp that was basically 3 hours a day in a closet doing speed multiplication and division. I'd kick a 6th graders butt!
posted by GilloD to Education (17 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
After being horrified by the non-learning of math my children did in the public schools, I order the Saxon Math Curriculum (by the original publisher, Saxon himself, now gone) and tutored them at home. They are great books.
These could be the same books
posted by francesca too at 9:32 AM on January 7, 2009

I've heard serious homeschoolers swear by Saxon Math. They're pricy (although I'm sure they're cheaper on eBay), but they do seem to be really high quality.

There's some sly humor in the problem sets:

1. The number of dastards varied directly as the number of
poltroons. When there were 800 dastards, the poltroons
numbered 9600. When there were 24,000 poltroons, how
many dastards were there?

4. The fugacious numbered 14 more than twice the number
of the ephemeral. Also, twice the number of the fugacious
was 100 less than 20 times the number of the ephemeral.
How many of each were there?

My personal approach has been to pick up used textbooks at library book sales. That way, I have half a dozen different algebra books to choose from, and if one's not working for me, I can switch.

Finally, check out your library. You can take a good look at everything from Dummies books to Mathematics for the Million (very highly recommended here on AskMe) and see what speaks to you.
posted by kristi at 9:35 AM on January 7, 2009

The teaching company has a course called High School Basic Math which ends with algebra 1, and a follow up course that takes up where the previous ended. I haven't seen the latter one, but since they're both taught by a very pedagogical guy (Murray Siegel) I would recommend you to check that out. Browsing their site I notice that both math courses are on sale: http://www.teach12.com

If you can stand the campiness it's actually quite good. It looks as though it's filmed on the set of a cheap soap opera though.
posted by monocultured at 9:41 AM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

26, went through the exact same thing last year.

I recently put myself through "high school math" from pre-algebra on and now I am burning through linear algebra and calc. Contact me privately via email and I can supply you with the materials that worked for me.
posted by fake at 9:57 AM on January 7, 2009

Mastering Technical Mathematics is perhaps the most accessible, lucid, and comprehensive mathematical book I have ever found and I had the same problems as you.
posted by arimathea at 10:09 AM on January 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

As a 25 year old who explicitly studied math for years, I'd like to help :)

First of all, the internet is your friend. Wikipedia and mathlab.com (Wolfram Research) are excellent reference tools if you're looking for definitions or explanations.

I think this slashdot article might help you.

Math is interesting to everyone as long as the context is correct. It seems like the context that works for you is practicality and relation to tasks in your own life. Maybe if you gave us some more color on what kind of math you need? I think the hardest part about math is the breadth and applications; it's difficult to get to what you want without understanding the landscape. We can certainly help you with that. If you're just looking for a nice lazy survey of different kinds of math, I'm sure one of the introductory courses suggested would help.

Actually building off the geometric thing... you might find starting from geometry to be extremely rewarding. Finding a survey book on Euclidean geometry and working through some of the basic proofs might be very fun for you.

I'm purposefully not mentioning books, because everything I would recommend would be from my college studies, which is probably not what you're looking for. However, I would seriously consider getting a workbook for geometric proofs. The fact that you liked them originally might help to work your brain out in order to tackle more interesting things.

I would also look at your local university. They usually have condensed recap courses for incoming freshmen.
posted by teabag at 10:45 AM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm a hopelessly right-brained girl plodding through basic algebra because (blast!) the GRE thinks testing math is necessary. I bought a metric ton of math books, and only one really explained everything in the most minute detail: Arco's GRE/GMAT Math review. Sweet jesus, I'm finally understanding concepts that eluded me in high school. It covers math concepts that don't implement calculators, which allows you to focus on concepts rather than rote numbers.
posted by zoomorphic at 10:47 AM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I can't really help with the question directly, but I tutor maths on a regular basis from 7th grade math to Calculus II. If you ever have any questions, you can email me and I can try and explain something.

Good luck. A thorough, theoretical understanding of algebra (and later, calculus) is a beautiful thing.
posted by Precision at 11:21 AM on January 7, 2009

algebasics.com is a pretty good supplement.
posted by RedEmma at 11:29 AM on January 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

This FPP from nickyskye might help, too.
posted by juliplease at 12:29 PM on January 7, 2009

2nding Precision. I'd be happy to help with any specific questions or concepts you have. Me-mail me for my e-mail address, if you'd like.
posted by losvedir at 1:26 PM on January 7, 2009

My experience is similar to yours, though I just stopped getting it around 10th grade after being placed in AP maths in 8th grade. In an attempt to get some grounding back in the maths I picked up Forgotten Algebra after a friend had done the same.

First chapter starts with positive & negative integers and got increasingly complex from there. I have not worked my way completly through it yet. But it gave me hope that this knowledge was still attainable.
posted by mnology at 1:36 PM on January 7, 2009

Response by poster: Tea- It was a lot of things that recontextualized math for me. Starting to program again, learning to play guitar. I just started to see how many things math was... Naturally a part of. It wasn't super imposed, it was evident. And I started to see how I could use something like Algebra to make a lot of learning and experimenting easier. I do a lot of grunt work in programming sometimes because I'm afraid of recursion.
posted by GilloD at 1:54 PM on January 7, 2009

No real advice, just some encouragement:

My attitudes in high school were similar to yours. Geometry just clicked with me, the logic all made sense, and the proofs were fun to solve. I just didn't see the point of shuffling numbers around with algebra, though. I faked my way through it in high school, learning the bare minimum to get by and never really grasping a lot of the basic concepts.

I eventually had to face it head on in college, when I picked up a CS major and was suddenly faced with having to pass Calc I and II. So, I sat down and just brute forced my way through it. I had to go way back to basic algebra and teach myself a lot of the basic principles that I had forgotten or never learned.

Really, the only way to learn that stuff is through repetition. Solving one or two problems isn't enough. You have to go through pages of stuff until you have the basics down cold. I'm not going to lie - it wasn't much fun, but I found that as I put the fundamental pieces together, I could stop focusing so much on the details, and began to see the bigger picture. I won't say I ever really enjoyed it in the same way I did geometry or logic, but at times, I caught glimpses of the cleanliness and beauty that's lurking behind some of the math.

I still don't have the intuitive grasp of algebra that I wish I did, but I can get by. More importantly, I proved to myself that it wasn't an insurmountable challenge. If you start small and teach yourself the basics well, you'll get there
posted by chrisamiller at 9:56 PM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hm... Don't fear recursion, just keep trying until it works :)

Maybe a book like this Mathematics Appreciation book? I don't know it; I got it from googling "math appreciation".

Actually one book I will recommend, which you may find fascinating, is Boyer's History of Mathematics. It's a history of mathematical thought, not just a history of how math was developed. So, for example, you'll discover why the Greeks were able to formalize mathematics the way they did, why the Egyptians did not invent pi, and how Newton and Leibniz independently arrived at calculus. These accounts, while historical in nature, concern themselves with how ancient figures tackled and solved complicated problems.
posted by teabag at 6:13 AM on January 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

And to follow up on Boyer, Foundations and Fundamental Concepts of Mathematics might be a nice read as well (one of the Amazon reviewers reminded me of it). Boyer can be a little... overwhelming.
posted by teabag at 6:22 AM on January 8, 2009

Try watching lectures on mit open courseware.
posted by bdc34 at 8:41 AM on January 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

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