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Thread: How to think for algebra

  1. #1
    Jun 2012

    How to think for algebra

    Hello all

    So, I'm now out of college (English degree), but I work with engineers daily (I'm a technical writer). I would like to become better at algebra/calculus so that I can understand what's going on better. I was talking with my boss about how odd it was to work with engineers when I'm so bad at math and he asked me to explain how I "see" math. Apparently I "see" it "discreetly." For example, if you ask me how I see 2+2=4 I say I see 2 dots, I put 2 more dots on, and now there are 4 dots. I multiply by adding in groups. When you get to square roots and (especially) imaginary numbers, I instantly become lost because I can't see how you can do that to an object. Apparently he and the other engineers on staff see numbers on a continual line and there are rules you use on how to manipulate things on this line. So they see 2+2=4 by actually going up this line. There are many lines that relate to this main number line and that is where imaginary numbers apparently come in (I may be butchering what he said, it quickly got beyond me).

    I don't know if this helps or not, but as horrible as I was at algebra I was GREAT at geometry. I'm also great at memorization, literature, philosophy, and other humanities (except I can't draw or paint to save my life). I can discuss all sorts of abstract philosophical questions, but when it comes to math, if I can't see it, I can't do it.

    What I want to know is if there is a way I can teach myself to think of math on these lines instead of always having to have a concrete object to manipulate. If I could lose the dependency on having to work with a concrete object, maybe I could teach myself algebra again and understand these complex ideas that you cannot tangibly do to an object, but in theory can be used to reach tangible results.

    Sorry if I didn't make myself clear. I have not studied any math in years. I loved it in elementary (I can still multiply 3 digit numbers in my head), but once we broke into algebra, it was like hitting a brick wall. Now trying to tear that wall down.
    Last edited by Sparhauoc; Jun 13th 2012 at 10:17 AM.
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  2. #2
    MHF Contributor
    skeeter's Avatar
    Jun 2008
    North Texas

    Re: How to think for algebra

    here is a good place to start ...

    Resource: Algebra: In Simplest Terms
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  3. #3
    Junior Member
    Jun 2012

    Re: How to think for algebra

    Im not a wizard at all when it comes to advanced math and complex formulas and the likes, although i am allways eager to learn new things and aquire new knowlede.
    At school i was never too good with math, mainy because it all seemed so abstract and had no root in the real world.

    But when designing and programming computer games i overcame and understood many consepts and methematical functions because i had a specific scenarios to work with wich interested me.
    I can say that for me i learnt more about math and number manipulation from game designing/ programming than i ever did at school ( if not slightly exadurating ).
    When i think about specific math and numbers problems ( and almost enything else ) i tend to see it as a systems rather than a prosess, and for me that helps.

    Im sorry for not being able to help you much, but i recently learnt about Imaginary Numbers and the Compelx Number System.
    I dont know your level of knowledge, but i can highly recoment you reading this, it wil definitly help you understand the Complex Number System ( Imaginary Numbers ) along with many of the major number systems:

    Answers and Explanations -- Do "Imaginary Numbers" Really Exist?

    Its short and easy to read
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  4. #4
    Super Member
    Mar 2008

    Re: How to think for algebra

    You have already been given some good advice, but just let me add that if you think
     .. + .. = ....
    you are right; it's nothing to be ashamed of. Two rocks plus two rocks gives four rocks.

    But when you begin to deal with fractions it gets more complicated, and that's when you need the number line. Some numbers can't even be represented as whole fractions (shocking!), but they fit on the number line.

    Khan academy has a good reputation, is online and is free.

    Khan Academy

    (Haven't tried it myself, at least not much.)
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