# Physics and Dyscalculia - is there any help?

1. May 22, 2013

### Laughingkrow

I have a bit of a problem and I am not sure how to deal with it. I’ve looked on multiple forums and all I found is that I’m screwed. So, here it is, I positively love physics. The problem is that I have pretty bad dyscalculia (math blindness). Saying that, I have done well doing college algebra, at least the process of algebra. I like a process I can “see” and math in general is crystal clear. I’ve went all the way to calculus 3 in my math career. Now for the weird part, I don’t know my multiplication tables. My adding is ok if I can use my fingers, draw pictures, or use a calculator. We will not talk about the subtracting and division side of things (eeeesh… it’s not pretty).

Let me come back to my elusive love – physics. I have passed my University physics 1 class; barely (took me 4 tries at that). I loved the concepts and I can “see” the theories fine! It was positively fascinating (actually, I would love to learn more about gravity. I feel there is something big there, that what I have learned is just the tip of the top of the iceberg.)! It’s the formulas that throw me under the buss, though. The different symbols that are used in the formulas are just impossible to keep straight as well. I have tried to use different colors to help break up the formulas but the class goes so fast that I can’t keep up with that technique.

The numbers and formulas are like Saran Wrap on an oily bowl – nothing sticks. I can learn something one day and the next day it’s gone. It’s just gone, as I try to learn the next set of lessons. I have no idea of the formula concepts I just learned a day ago, let alone a week. It’s like I can’t “see” what the formulas are doing. I understand “what” they are doing but can’t see it. I remember I took a final exam in one of the physic classes I failed. Though I studied for days, for hours at a time, when I got the test it might as well been in Swahili. Nothing looked familiar. I couldn’t do one problem. It is very frustrating. I know I am not stupid!

I have to take physics 2 for my degree. Actually, I am very excited to take it. It involves magnetism, electricity, and other things that I also find fascinating. I know I will fail this class as well. UGH!!!!! I want to learn this stuff and I know there is a way for me to do it. I just don’t know what it is. I thought of sitting in on a few classes (if I need time to learn, what a great way to do it). I can’t, though; it cost as much as a regular class. The tutor centers aren’t trained to deal with someone with dyscalculia and they can’t/don’t really help. I don’t think that the teachers have time or really care if I get physics or not. I don’t want to give up, but I’m sick of failing before I even get started. There has to be a way – there just has to be.

2. May 22, 2013

### MarneMath

Is this documented? If not, you should get it documented and go to your school disability office and ask for some special accommodation. If it is documented, then you should inform your professor of your disability and find a solution that would help.

3. May 22, 2013

### verty

Is this truly a case of something inherent in you or was it just a bad teacher or teachers long ago that did not give you a good math background? I just wonder if this has become a mental block.

I would now try from scratch to learn those times tables. It has probably been ages since you've tried that, your brain will have developed over the years, it should now be more capable. I would give it a go.

-- I may be a cretin but I'm just thinking that my left hand was very weak when I was young and now I hardly use it, but lately when I try to use it in lieu of my right hand, it is quite functional. Things change, is what I'm saying.

4. May 22, 2013

### verty

Laughingkrow: I wish you all the best of course, I hope it goes well for you.

By the way, a few years ago I wrote the first half of the pages here on adding and subtracting, to help adult learners. Basically, I did it because there was no good description on wikibooks or wikipedia that I could find of how to add or subtract. I should have done the same for the multiplication page but it seems I didn't. If you are having trouble with adding or subtracting, have a look there, I think they do a pretty good job of explaining how to do them. :)

I must look into continuing that...

For multiplication, here and here.

Last edited: May 22, 2013
5. May 22, 2013

### Laughingkrow

Yes this is documented (multiple times (…no pun intended :tongue. I have learned coping skills and have managed fairly well. I am fortunate that I am obstinate. I struggle, but who doesn’t. I know I will never be an A or B student but that’s OK – Cs get degrees. I will not stress over it.

I’m just frustrated. I have told the college and have gotten the accommodations. Most of the time, it’s just more time that is given. Don’t get me wrong, that extra time really helps. Time though is not the fix-it all. That test I mentioned above, I looked, cried, prayed, stared, and pleaded with for HOURS trying to decipher the numbers, letters and symbols of EVERYTHING. Grant it, I have had test like these more than once but this one was really bad. It was truly one of the most horrific and helpless moments of my life.

I felt bad and wanted to explain myself to the professor. I mean, I was handing in a scribbled on blank test. I didn’t want him to think I was disrespecting him. When I was done talking to him he actually suggested some things I could do different the next time I take the class (like taking a small daily test instead of one at a week or 2 week intervals). He was the ONLY teacher that has actually offered anything helpful. And to be honest, I would not have thought of that either.

Most teachers don’t know how to help. I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t know how to help a color blind person pick out a matching outfit. It’s hard to be in someone’s shoes when you’re wearing your own. A lot of times when I come out of tutor sessions, I am more confused than before. The tutors can see the numbers. They can see what the numbers are doing in the formulas. They teach and show the problems that way too. I don’t see what the numbers are doing. Sometimes I will get a glimpse of what’s going on, but then the veil slips down and I am back into confusion, with a guide asking “do you see that?” They can’t help it. A lot of teachers don’t want to really be bothered. Its one thing to say “Hey, let me know what I can do for you” and a completely other thing to actually spend spare time going over stuff again with a student.

I mean think of it, if you’ve been teaching for years and your teaching methods seem to be good. You passed hundreds, even thousands of students. Then comes this odd ball student that seems to be eager to learn but complains that she doesn’t see what you’re talking about, though you’ve explained multiple times. It is easy to chalk it off as “just a dumb, lazy student”.

I can’t shake this love of physics though. I’ve tried. There is something exciting about seeing how nature does her thing or seeing the elegance of EVERYTHING. I think – no, I know there is more out there, more than I have been taught. I am grounded though. I want to learn more, but if I can’t learn to “see” what is going on in the numbers, the language of everything true, I’m done. I posted here to see if anyone out there has any ideas – anything. How do I see the language of physics?

6. May 22, 2013

### Laughingkrow

As far as the multiplication tables, this is how it is like for me. I can go over and learn the table again. I’ve tried to do that a couple of times, but this is what happens. I will learn the 2’s – no problem. I will move on to the 3’s. This is a little more difficult. I’m good till 5, and then things start to fade away. As I’m working on the 3X6 and so on (which I will more than likely count out on my fingers), the 3X3’s and 3X4’s will fade away (kind of like a crumbling piece of dirt). ‘Bout time I get to 3X9, everything has faded away except 3X2 and 3X5 (somehow I can keep those in place) and maybe 3X9. The numbers just don’t stay where they are supposed to.

It’s the same when adding in my head. Say I have 34+89. I visualize that in my head and as I’m working the problem, the top line will slowly crumble away from my memory. I try to remember what the top portion is and the answer I was working on starts to go away. Now I’m left with nothing hahahaha.

Someone should invent mental push tacks.

I hope this gives people some insight on how it feels to be dyscalculic. I know it’s hard to imagine if you don’t have it. It would be like wondering how an epileptic feels during a seizure when you’re not epileptic.

Now if I could fasten those numbers to something like an explanation, I would be cooking with gas! For instance, I can explain how a plant grows from seed to maturity or why D/C throws you back if shocked or even how planes stay in the air. There is no explaining why a 3 is a three. Of course you can count the three and there you go… That is why I count with my fingers and I’m to square one. I just need something to anchor the formulas down – something that is… tangible? That’s what I’m looking for anyway, a way to see and keep it seen.

7. May 22, 2013

### verty

I think 3x6 is quite a difficult one because 18 is a very different number to numbers like 3,6,9. How I learned them, especially the ones that most people struggle with like 6x7, 7x7, 7x8, etc, was to count like this: 6, 12, 18, 24, 30, ... 72, up to 6x12, and later for 7 and 8 also, these (6,7 and 8) are most useful I think even for the lower numbers like the 3x table. Because when you get something like 3x6 or 3x8, the answer is a little familiar. So like you would recite the alphabet, recite those numbers in order, over and over. I guess you can recite the alphabet? So hopefully this is similar, learning more alphabets, the 6,7 and 8 alphabets. If we can just get over this starting difficulty, I think things will get a lot better. To make numbers look familiar... this is hugely important.

But this is just math and there are plenty people who are doing well with next to no math skill. But I know you love physics, so I think this is important.

8. May 22, 2013

### symbolipoint

Laughingkrow,

(Excuse me that I have not read the responses yet to the original post)

You can NOT be sure that you are dyscalculic. If you are good at College Algebra and did well in Calculus 1,2,3, you are potentially good or good enough for Physics. For the other arithmetic computations troubles you describe, you just need extra practice, and also to think about the meaning of the steps in the computation process. If you were good in College Algebra, then you established that you have this ability already.

As for your troubles in Physics, this is a normal shock that hits many beginning physics students. You will need to study the beginning courses again if you do not pass them. So do it! You should find yourself learning better the second time through. You might consider changing major field to something else, like maybe computer science, geo-science, engineering, maybe microbiology or something in health/medical science.

9. May 22, 2013

### symbolipoint

One reason we do things on paper is because most of us cannot hold everything in our heads to do them.

10. May 23, 2013

### verty

Here I have found some absolutely brilliant videos about numbers and operations as well as fractions. Absolutely essential information, I think.

Laughingkrow, if you learn those alphabets and watch these videos, I just know good things will happen. The mind needs an anchor to relate things to, otherwise it just forgets.

I wish you the best of luck.