A good book for teaching yourself algebra?
January 23, 2010 1:34 PM   Subscribe

Any recommendations for self-teaching guides to high school level math?

I know a person who dropped out of high school a couple of decades ago in his third year but roughly at freshman level because he kept getting held back for poor performance. A few years later he got himself sorted out and earned his GED. Skip forward to present day and he's highly motivated to go get a college degree and move out of the blue collar workforce into something more intellectual. The local community college has a sequence of three remedial level, not for degree credit, math classes that prepare students to take college algebra. He took the first one of those last semester and did really well. He would have taken the second one this semester but, due to a bureaucratic snafu, isn't able to do so. But, like I said, he's motivated and is interested in doing work on his own this semester to either place out of the course he would have taken this semester or at least go into it with enough knowledge that it becomes relatively easy. I'm more than able to explain the concepts and help with problems but I don't have enough time to actually teach all of the material to him. Here's the course description:

This course is a study of the basic algebra of solving and graphing linear equations, inequalities, and systems. Other topics include formulas, literal equations, polynomials, integral exponents, factoring, basic operations of radicals, and rational expressions. Algebraic and basic geometric applications are included.

I've always had great success with self-teaching guides that function like programmed texts as in "Here's a concept, here's an example, here's a problem, try the first step and turn the page to see if you got the correct sub-answer, then we'll move on to the next step..." One example I can find on Amazon is called Practical Algebra: A Self-Teaching Guide by Selby and Slavin but I'm sure there are others.

I'm curious if anybody has recommendations for a good book along these lines, ideally based upon personal experience.
posted by LastOfHisKind to Education (12 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
A freind of mine used Algebra for Dummies to study with to test out of the remedial algebra classes. They seemed pretty decent. There is a textbook / workbook combo you can buy at Boarders.
posted by jeffamaphone at 1:39 PM on January 23, 2010

Not a book but downloadable pdfs. I used the BC version. Very practical and simple summaries of the concepts with some example problems. For more problems, I liked
Schaum's 300 solved problems in precalculus.
posted by Listener at 1:43 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sorry, *3000* solved problems.
posted by Listener at 1:44 PM on January 23, 2010

The Dr Math website may be of use. Things are explained in simple terms. Note that there's different sections (elementary,middle,high,college).
posted by hungrysquirrels at 2:14 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Purplemath website is very helpful.

also, good on your friend for going back to school. sometimes biting the bullet and just taking the remedial classes is the fastest way to get where you're going, even though it seems counterintuitive at first.

also, don't be shy about using the semester off to go through ratemyprofessors.com to find out who the best college prep math teachers are at his college. math teachers are the gatekeepers to college, in my experience, because if you get a good one, your success is that much closer, but if you get a bad one, you might even quit school and give up.

find the best teachers on ratemyprofessors, send them an email and ask for an office hours appointment. go and introduce yourself and explain your ability and situation and say you really want to be in their class next semester. that way, when you go to sign up, if their section is closed before you get there (and for the best math teachers, it will be) you'll be at the top of the wait list and will probably get in. and the teacher will already know and care about you.

never underestimate the value of having the teacher know and care about you from the first day of class.
posted by toodleydoodley at 2:33 PM on January 23, 2010

The famous mathematician and popular textbook writer Serge Lang wrote a book called Basic Mathematics. I haven't read it myself, but Lang is supposed to be a very good writer. It's also probably more interesting to learn math from a well-known mathematician, who likes the subject and cares about explaining it, than from the usual high school textbooks that are written by committees.
posted by k. at 3:07 PM on January 23, 2010

I've posted before about the Life of Fred series. It is a whole new approach to teaching math and I think it is just genius. I am learning right along with my child, I never got it the first time around. It has a different approach but it really works and is never tedious. Do a google to read some reviews and opinions. I can't praise it highly enough.
posted by pearlybob at 3:25 PM on January 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have horrible issues with math and I really needed the algebra stuff presented clearly and simply. I found these books to be extremely helpful but if your friend is more advanced these might be a little too simplistic:

Algebra Survival Guide

Algebra Survival Guide Workbook (contains problems to work through & answers)

Maran Illustrated Effortless Algebra
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:29 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

There is a ton of great math lectures here.
posted by mazniak at 6:12 PM on January 23, 2010

I can't recommend the "Demystified" series enough. I took myself from pre-algebra through calculus using them. The titles are like "Algebra demystified" "Calculus demystified" etc. They work every problem completely, I found them easy and enjoyable, not wordy, not full of word problems about M&Ms or whatever.
posted by fake at 6:21 PM on January 23, 2010

I'm in intermediate algebra this semester (same class your friend would be taking, getting myself ready for college algebra and passed elementary algebra last semester with an A) and last semester we used these 2 websites that I really liked quite a bit. They're all self paced and really helpful with explanations-aleks will give you alternate explanations if it seems like one method really doesn't click for you.


posted by hollygoheavy at 7:33 AM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I used Elementary Algebra with Applications. And MathMax provided a good amount of supplementary practice problems and refrence material.
posted by healthytext at 9:20 AM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

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