Need Remedial Math
November 17, 2004 5:46 PM   Subscribe

I'm currently a junior in college majoring in computer science. Like most geeks I slacked off during high school and now find that I don't know a lot of very basic math (my geometry is horrible, my algebra skills could be much better). This is very embarrassing and I would like to get caught up with this material as quickly as possible. I have two questions:

1) Are there any math audio books? A google search didn't show any, but this would be the best for me.

2) Are there any books aimed at adults for personal study?

I'd like to understand the theory behind the math more than the math itself. Anyways, any help is appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Education (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Unless you're blind I really wouldn't recommend trying to learn math from an audiobook.*

As for 'getting it', with respect to the theory and how it all works, the way I got that was to do a shit load of extra problems, but as I did them I would graph every single one. Every equation, and at every step. When you graph it you get a visual idea of which functions do what to a set of numbers. I'm talking pen and paper, here, don't putz around with matlab at this point either.

That was how I came to get really good at calculus, but a similar approach can be done with geometry. It sounds counter to what smart kids have been told, that repetition isn't necessary if you 'understand' it, but understanding something and having an ability to solve problems quickly and systematically are two different things, and you now need to do the latter. But as you do the problem, draw out waht is actually happening at each step so you can see what is happening instead of just executing an algorithm.

* blind people necessarily often have a competely different way of holding and organizing information that they hear.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:08 PM on November 17, 2004

Check out Richard Courant's What is Mathematics?, although it's not exactly what you're looking for.
posted by Gyan at 6:17 PM on November 17, 2004

first, i don't think you should be embarassed (or anonymous for that matter). asking for help is the smartest thing to do and not something to feel bad about.

i have no idea where you are, but i used to help out at a "numeracy centre" in edinburgh that provided maths help for people in the community. most of the time i was teaching people how to add up the price of their shopping, but i sometimes got the chance to help out people similar to you. see if there is something similar in your area, and whether they have anyone who can help (you need someone with a degree in something maths-related, so many volunteers won't be able to help much - as i said, the main emphasis is on helping people with money - but if there is someone (like i was) then, believe me, they'll be more than happy to help (it's such a relief to teach something a bit more challenging!))

even if they don't have someone to help, they may have materials you can copy/borrow.

also, look for similar support at your college (i'm not sure what "college" means - is this university?). there may be courses available. one place to ask is the career advice place - there may be courses aimed at getting arts students into business jobs, for example, that might be the right level for brushing up basic maths.

try local adult education too. in the uk there are places where you can go on an evening, as an adult, to study for the exams you take at high school. they would also be a way to refresh your memory and/or a source of material and advice. (you don't have to enrol - it may be enough to find the teacher and ask him for advice of suitable books/courses)

finally, graphics programming includes a fair amount of geometry and algebra. if you'd rather learn by doing, you could try looking at that.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:57 PM on November 17, 2004

what space coyote said. graphs suck, but I'm quite sure it's the best way, and a necessary evil. pencil, paper -- they work really well, they make things much more clear.

keep in mind that there's nothing to be ashamed of -- try to find a friend/acquiantance who knows her/his math and is available to be a sort of tutor -- somebody you can call when you aren't getting something and who can follow your progress. in exchange for her/his help, promise to help her/him with her computer or do some errands for her/him etc

it won't be that difficult, keep your self-confidence. study a little and it'll all become clear. good luck and please don't be embarrassed. nothing to be embarrassed about. you're willing to learn and humble enough to admit there's stuff you don't know, you belong to a beautiful minority.
posted by matteo at 7:04 PM on November 17, 2004

I've been planning a brush-up myself, just gotta find that magic round tuit.

MIT OpenCourseware - Mathematics
posted by roboto at 7:38 PM on November 17, 2004

I found this book to be very helpful in brushing up my algebra skills.
posted by invisible ink at 7:51 PM on November 17, 2004

Innumeracy (largely about statistics and probablity) and Beyond Numeracy (introduces advanced math concepts) might be up your alley.
posted by Sangre Azul at 8:06 PM on November 17, 2004

Just a note: I would suggest that your attitude of wanting to learn the *theory* behind the math is a smart one. In my view, the theory behind the math *is* the real math - the rest is just calculation. Good luck.
posted by louigi at 10:02 PM on November 17, 2004

As an aside, how the heck did you progress this far in a CS degree without calculus?

I'll agree with the above, in that, graphing is the key. I made it through college without the "required" graphing calculator (too poor), but had to learn how to graph, roughly, in my head. I believe I wound up with a much better understanding than the kids who just graphed functions without thinking.
posted by notsnot at 10:30 PM on November 17, 2004

I am clinically "dumb" in math and the book suggested by banished above: Mathematics - From the Birth of Numbers REALLY helped me in my college alegebra, calculus and stats classes.

I even had a roommate who majored in math and found the book to be more helpful than his texts in many cases.

Highly recommended!
posted by b_thinky at 12:53 AM on November 18, 2004

I can't totally vouch for the following book as I've only looked at parts of it (it's passing through my hands as a used book), but Thinking Mathematically might be of interest to you.
posted by gluechunk at 12:57 AM on November 18, 2004 [1 favorite]

As an aside, how the heck did you progress this far in a CS degree without calculus?

Undergraduate CS doesn't require much calculus (well, at least my degree didn't). It's more focussed on discrete maths.
posted by donth at 4:29 AM on November 18, 2004

I did the same thing, I had not taken hardly any math by the time I got to college. What helped me the most in my CS degree was learning some linear algebra (vectors and matrices), and statistics and probability.
The best place for math books is Dover Publications. They are super cheap, and I've bought a lot from them.
posted by sonofsamiam at 5:17 AM on November 18, 2004

(on the same aside - programmers are notoriously bad at maths. i got my break into the industry as a "maths specialist" doing pretty basic stuff. i don't think many cs people really understand just how close the two subjects are. see, for example, chaitin's work.)
posted by andrew cooke at 5:41 AM on November 18, 2004

I'm going to piggy-back on what sonofsamiam said and recommend two Dover books that helped me: Concepts of Modern Mathematics and Foundations and Fundamental Concepts of Mathematics.

For me, learning about the "advanced" concepts behind mathematics has helped me tremendously when thinking about the more common aspects of the subject.
posted by AmaAyeRrsOonN at 6:59 AM on November 18, 2004

I'll second Space Coyote's vote for working LOTS of problems. Before I learned calculus in school, I tried to teach myself calculus at home. The problem was that I was trying to just learn the theory without sufficient repetition on the practice. So the result was: concept A - easy, concept B - got it, concept C - not too bad, concept D - tricky but not too hard, concept E - suddenly I'm lost because E requires complete knowledge of the first 4 concepts, but I've forgotten about A and missed a detail about C. When I got to taking the classes in school, the sheer repetition of the homework assignments burned each new concept in long enough to learn the next one.

As far as books to learn at home, I like the series Algebra the Easy Way, Trigonometry the Easy Way, Calculus the Easy Way by Douglas Downing. The math concepts are explained in the context of a fantasy story, with characters in a magical kingdom trying to solve real-world problems. It sounds sort of cutesy & aimed at young teens, but it worked for me, because the story brought out a) what real-world problems the math could be used for and b) how the relevant concepts and equations could be arrived at in the first place.
posted by tdismukes at 8:10 AM on November 18, 2004 [1 favorite]

Silvanus P Thompson's "Calculus made Easy" is an oldie but goodie for calculus.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:39 AM on November 18, 2004

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