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Teach-yourself-math for the math-impaired?

  1. Jul 11, 2009 #1
    Salutations Physics Forums dwellers,

    I'm new to these domains, and I think before I make too much of an idiot of myself posting questions, I thought I'd ask one that would maybe allow me to minimize some of that.

    I need to learn mathematics. At this point, pretty much everything from algebra on up, as I've forgotten most of it. I am a severely non-math person, and I could really use some guidance here. Highschool mathematics classes simply did not function for me. I'm certain it was the teaching methods imployed, but the whole process of trying to get there burned me out to such an extent that I majored in Religion in college just so I didn't have to take math classes.

    This perhaps gives you an idea of what you'd be working with here.

    So the question, ultimately, is: "Does anyone know of some alternative types of mathematics instruction for dummies? or the equivalent?"

    I'm a tinkerer.. I build things, and I'm interested in rather a lot of things I can't post about on these forums, but mainly I'm interested in being able to understand the mathematics behind things like Maxwell's equations, being able to calculate force requirements and gear sizes for getting the right rpms out of a drive shaft, how one can calculate mathematically the relationships between the output voltage/amperage of a coil depending on it's windings, wire diameter, and the gauss strength of a magnet being pushed through it... stuff like that.

    Which I understand involves a pretty wide amount of mathematics... and so I best get to work learning it. I just need to find a way to teach myself how it all works, and I didn't see a "math links for idiots" thread in the teaching materials section.

    Any thoughts?

  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 11, 2009 #2
    Are you planning on going to uni and taking some first year maths papers/courses?

    As a bit of background, last summer (southern hemisphere) I learnt maths at home in order to prepare for uni. i really had no maths background to speak of. I am 21 years old, so we might be in a similar position.
  4. Jul 11, 2009 #3
    As someone who majored in math I can tell you that the math you do in high school is not that important in the long run. Rather, it serves to 'train' you in how to learn, take notes, study for tests, etc. Most of the math you do in university is taught fresh, assuming you have a basic understanding of grade 10 math.

    If you want to learn math yourself I would suggesting getting Stewart's Calculus book. It is very popular so you should be able to find it in a library. You should spend a lot of time going through the book and doing the exercises, reading examples, etc. Once you are done that you could start studying Real Analysis, if you want to get an introduction to 'detailed' math, or you could start Linear Algebra, which is a standard first year math course.

    Feel free to ask more questions, PM, etc
  5. Jul 11, 2009 #4
    When did you start having trouble with math? The best thing you can do to re-study math is to go back where you first encountered problem, and study from there. Learning math is kind of like constructing a building--if you don't have a good foundation of the second floor, you can't build the third floor (and anything above it), and the only way to fix this problem is to go back to the second floor and fix it.

    If you had a trouble with high school math, it might be a good idea to go all the way back to algebra. I know this sounds embarrassing, but you need to know algebra to learn pretty much any kind of math (ESPECIALLY if you want to learn calculus--which is very important to learn things you have mentioned above). Then you can build up from there--geometry, algebra II, pre-calculus (a.k.a. college algebra), trigonometry, and calculus seems like the standard order.

    I can't give you any recommendation on which textbook to use, but somebody in this forum should know something about it... You can also look up amazon.com.

    Hope this helps.
  6. Jul 11, 2009 #5
    In my experience, you can go ahead and start building the third floor if you only have the first, but it's going to take a long time and be a very panful process....though after going through that, the 2nd seems much easier:P
  7. Jul 14, 2009 #6
    Wow.. thanks for all the responses :) In terms of some of the questions you asked..

    1. No, I'm not planning on going back to uni and taking math courses if I can help it. If I can't learn it on my own, well, maybe.. but formal education is a bit pricey at this time.

    2. I first started having trouble with math in Highschool. Specifically, it was back my sophomore year when I had to sit through the better part of 6 months of doing bloody proofs in geometry. There is a certain degree of just "mindless busywork" that I can't stomach, and sadly, the math instructor I had for the geometry class embraced "mindless busywork" like a religion. Actually figuring out the geometry problems and such was fun, and I was pretty good at it, but spending half the year repeating proofs for the sake of repeating proofs really burned me out. By the time Algebra II w/trig rolled around my junior year, I kinda hated anything to do with math.

    3. Yeah, I will likely need to start back with algebra, just for a refresher. I'd say I still remember 75% of it, but I've a feeling that other 25% will likely be called on as well.

    4. Thanks for the recommendation of Stewart's Calculus. I'll pick up a copy when I'm ready to move up to that level of math.

    On a related-yet-slightly-different note... Has anyone ever encountered an attempt to teach mathematics as a language? Only reason I ask is that I've heard mathematics called "the universal language", and I'm fairly good with learning languages.. lol I'm just kinda fishing around for alternative instruction methods here.

    Thanks much for all the responses!
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