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Depressing, my math skills have gone to crap

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  1. Aug 20, 2009 #1
    since graduating from college (5 years ago). Today I had trouble remembering the limit definition of the derivative. To think I was studying Hilbert Spaces and logic my final year in college. If you don't use it you lose it. Come to think of it, I don't remember much from DiffEqs either. I mean I could relearn it easily, but it is kind of depressing to ace that stuff and now barely remember a lot of it.
     
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  3. Aug 20, 2009 #2

    lisab

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    Sigh. I totally understand this, gnw. Learning math used to be simply like running uphill. Now it's like swimming against a strong current of molasses :cry:.
     
  4. Aug 21, 2009 #3
    It doesn't matter...all you have to remember is what subject material is in what books. All those silly little integration rules are no more important to memorize than your multiplication table. We've got calculators and Maple..let your brain be filled with more abstract things
     
  5. Aug 21, 2009 #4
    If it makes you feel better, I don't remember the steps involved in electron transport phosphorylation. But being in particle astrophysics, I probably use biology as often as you use formal math.
     
  6. Aug 21, 2009 #5
    I read books on QFT as a hobby. I have trouble remembering what was on page 375 when I'm reading page 376. When I started on this project, I would work out in detail on paper all of the steps in each of the equations. If I got stuck, I would get a math book and look for help there. Integration by parts, calculus of variations, calculus of residues, etc. It seemed to me that the author could make my life a lot easier by adding a step or two so I didn't have to work so hard, or at least suggest the trick to use. However, certain techniques get used over and over and so I began to see the derivation in my head without any trouble. By something akin to muscle memory, I have learned the math that I need to know. Are you doing something that requires you to remember all that forgotten math?
     
  7. Aug 21, 2009 #6

    Moonbear

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    It's okay, as long as you don't lose your English skills too. :uhh:

    You could always reassure yourself by remembering that you've forgotten more math than most people have ever learned. Or something like that. :uhh: :wink: :biggrin:
     
  8. Aug 21, 2009 #7

    drizzle

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    try to keep notes [note books] of each course you take, precisely when you’re still on the course [write down all the useful notes, definitions/equations/rules…etc], so whenever you feel not in possession of whatever info, just use them and you’ll remember much quicker than spending time searching for it in books.
     
  9. Aug 21, 2009 #8

    Ivan Seeking

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    I agree with the other comments made. I remember what I use, and I know how to figure out what I've forgotten, when I need it. On the flip side, I understand what I use today far better than I understood many of those things when I graduated.
     
  10. Aug 21, 2009 #9
    If it really really really makes you feel better,

    I've taken all the courses needed for astrophysics at Berkeley, which includes 3rd sem calc, DEs, Lin Alg, and advanced topics







    and I couldn't add 2 numbers properly the other day >_<
     
  11. Aug 21, 2009 #10

    Ivan Seeking

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    I did hear one example that worried me a bit. A friend who was a nuclear engineer with GE for decades, was once telling me about a young engineer that couldn't remember the definition of the sine of an angle. :bugeye:

    I also caught my buddy, a senior engineer [now retired], reading a freshman level chemistry book for his job. Never gonna let him live that one down! :biggrin:
     
  12. Aug 21, 2009 #11

    Moonbear

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    It's funny and sad at the same time. Funny mostly because I can relate to it. I used to like to help with some of the chemistry HW help questions (the math questions I could help with used to get jumped on too quickly for me to have a chance) because it forced me to stay refreshed on all that material I was quickly forgetting from disuse. With folks like Borek and Chemistree around, my feeble attempts are no longer very helpful, so I've backed out of that completely for some time now. Now I look at those HW Help thread every so often and realize that even with a Ph.D. in hand, I couldn't even do most freshman chemistry problems anymore, in spite of having a minor in chemistry! I've certainly lost most of my skills in calculus.

    But, that's why I keep hanging around here. I'd probably have forgotten a LOT more if I wasn't reading along here. I think the adage is true...use it or lose it. And, I think it speaks to how poorly we really learn things the first time around. This is one of my new areas of research, but it's taking me time just to figure out the background literature. I'm trying to find out what educational methods best lead to long-term retention. We think we've learned a subject just because we can pass the exams in the course, and there are a LOT of educators around who are content to think that if students can pass a cumulative final exam, they have satisfactory long-term retention of knowledge presented in that course. I'm not quite satisfied with that. I think long-term retention means more than just being able to pass an exam you've studied for recently, but being able to pass that exam months or years later when you're no longer studying for it. Or, maybe there's no such thing. Maybe you'll always forget things if you don't use them or need them often enough.

    Here's a new thought (for me). Does previous experience with a subject help you to RE-learn it faster if you need it again? So, you say you can't even remember the basic definition of a limit. But, how long did it take you to really learn it the first time? And, if you for some reason needed it again, how long would it take you to learn it again? I suspect that your previous experience would make it easier for you to "brush up" and learn it again just by reading about it if you ever needed to learn it again.

    Here's another example from personal experience. Most of my research experience has been in endocrinology/reproduction. For the most part, this has landed me in physiology departments. Currently, I teach anatomy. When I first stepped into the anatomy courses, I'm pretty sure people thought I was crazy. Anyway, I picked up a lot of it REALLY quickly. This time, people (the anatomists) were surprised, and that's how I got my current job, by really learning anatomy quite quickly. Now, I'm being asked to develop a new course that is a combined anatomy and physiology course (this is a commonly taught course elsewhere, but our university has generally kept the two disciplines distinct). Even as I read the textbooks available, I realize there are very few people who really can do both well...the texts either get the anatomy right and the physiology MOSTLY right, or the physiology right and the anatomy MOSTLY right, but don't do both really well, at least not for all the organ systems. So, as I'm preparing for this new course, I'm looking back at the general biology course I taught ages ago, when I was still in grad school (I think I found PF after that, or close to the end of that time). I looked at that material, because the first year I teach this new course, biology will not be a pre-requisite for it, but a co-requisite. After the first year, we'll be able to put the rules in place before students are admitted, so can make biology a pre-requisite. Anyway, I was viewing it from the perspective that the first year I teach the course, I'm going to have to incorporate the basic biology material the students will not have had prior to the course. As I looked through my old notes from the course I used to TEACH, I was surprised to realize how much anatomy I had covered in that course. No wonder I learned anatomy so quickly! I had taught it before, but just forgot how much I had taught! Granted, I was using the fetal pig, not human cadavers, as the subject, but most of the content was the same. A few terms differed. Some of it, I remembered teaching before, but not all of it.

    So, the point of my long-winded story here is that while you may feel bad about what you have forgotten, if you ever do need it again, having learned it once before is very likely to make it easy to relearn it if you need it again. The human brain is quite interesting in its capability for remembering what we need and ignoring what we don't need, but is still buried in there somewhere.
     
  13. Aug 21, 2009 #12

    symbolipoint

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    From Moonbear, #11:
    More people need to find value in that than currently do. It's another way of staying prepared or returning to condition. Anybody wonder if others study a course ahead, in advance of enrolling in it, just to be more certain of doing well when studying it for credit?
     
  14. Aug 22, 2009 #13
    I'm studying for the pharmacy college of admissions test. They have some simple calculus questions on there. Questions any math major should easily ace.
     
  15. Aug 22, 2009 #14
    And how much time do you have until the test? I find that I can read about 10 pages a day average including the time it takes to do the problems. But I have a full time job. If I could study all day long, it would be more.
     
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