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Math Help - Please give me some advice!

  1. #1
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    Please give me some advice!

    Hello all,

    I have just began studying a Software Development degree because I wanted to change career and love programming in my spare time.

    In my first year, I have a math course which I enjoy a lot but...At school math was not a strong subject of mine, possibly because I didn't engage with it.

    I am currently working through the pre algebra content and though I have no trouble answering the questions at the moment, I am very under confident...I will try to explain.

    When I find the square of a number, I know how it works, I can visualise the grid and how it grows. As with even basic multiplication. I can visualise a minus number times a minus number makes a positive, but as I progress there are things I can't visualise. I often hear about the concept of 'understanding' math - I'll give the example I came across today that knocked my confident.

    You might laugh - it's extremely simple. It was the distance = speed/time, or the t = d/s formulas for working out the speed or time of arrival.

    I know it works, I know how to apply it and I know I can trust it....But I don't *understand it* - I can't visualise how time is derived by dividing the distance by the sound. Granted I am no mathematician and I know I never will be - but I want to be the best I can.

    Should I be able to visualise and intuitively understand this? Does the fact I can't visualise why distance = speed/time mean that I'm effectively a math moron?

    If so, is there a way to improve at this? I don't want to be an average software engineer - and without good math skills I am afraid that's all I'll ever be!

    I hope you can advise!
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  2. #2
    Senior Member jakncoke's Avatar
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    Re: Please give me some advice!

    Math is all about doing, doing and practicing and thinking about it will make you intuitively know.

    Most of math, hell most of the world has concepts which are unintuitive. Distance per unit time is not a concept that exists in reality, it was made up by the human mind to model a concept called speed. Instead of trying to visualize something that dosent exist, concentrate on working with the concept, and working with the concept will build intuition as to how it works, and what it can be used for, limitations etc... not necessarily what it is (How do you visualize the concept infinity? .

    Alot of mathematics was done by working backwards, and then erasing the backward work and presenting it as it came straight from the word of god. If you first start looking at some of the concepts like groups or rings, you cannot fathom how in the world such an arbitrary rules came about but as you dig in and work with them, you undertake the backward workings that were done by the guys who came up with the stuff and you say "aha, i now understand why they did this".

    So instead of trying to visualize everything, try to understand what it does and what it could be used for, work with it. The visualization will come naturally as part of the intuition you build.

    If you go to a new building you don't worry about not being able to visualize the floor plan, because you gained enough confidence and intuition from walking in hundred thousand buildings before you enter this one. You become an exponentially better mathematician as soon as you stop doubting yourself and have confidence to believe in your ability. Put enough effort into mathematics and i will gurantee you will become first rate.
    Last edited by jakncoke; February 22nd 2013 at 11:38 AM.
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  3. #3
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    Re: Please give me some advice!

    Thank you for this response - it has made me feel infinitely (pun not intended) better. The reason I lost a lot of confidence is because my tutor is a Phd mathematician who is so far beyond what he is teaching us that I think he finds it dull.

    I raised the same query with him that I posted here and his response was (after a stare which was halfway between disgust and complete misunderstanding), "you shouldn't have any trouble with anything at THIS level". Haha - sometimes I think experts and beginners don't mix
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  4. #4
    Senior Member jakncoke's Avatar
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    Re: Please give me some advice!

    Usually in math you get two types of people who are interested, those who loved math since they were 2, and it is all they know, and thus have a hard time empathizing and the other type of person who gained interest at a later period of time and had to work hard to start from basics again. Most people you meet in math are the first type, you rarely get your second type, so don't be discouraged. It is not a matter of expertise, but of personality, i bet there are much better mathematicians than him who would be understanding of your plight. In math, if you aren't the type of person to love math since age 2, you probably dozed off for years and haven't built any intuition on the fundamentals. Going back and working on those fundamentals is the key, once you learn those you find your self learning math, and pretty much any other subject, at a faster pace. The beauty about math is how shallow a concept is, is fundamentally determined by how deep your mind can see. Depth is key here. Good Luck.
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  5. #5
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    Re: Please give me some advice!

    Luke,

    I know a lot of really good math tutors that can have better results without a PhD. I've found that you can be a very effective math tutor even without years of advanced training. In fact sometimes the further you go in your education the more detached from the student experience you become and it makes it very difficult to teach on the correct level. Long story short... I tutored math for several years at my University and eventually started an online tutoring community site called Tutor Universe you should browse through and see if you can't find a better math tutor who's more similar in age and experience than you.
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