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Tired of Discrete Math

  1. Sep 26, 2007 #1
    Rant Warning

    I am a computer science major and math is a major part of our curriculum. A year ago I took my first ever discrete math course, and it honestly fried my brain. Now I'm in a computer science course that uses discrete math to analyze algorithms, and my brain has simply shutdown. But what irritates me the most is I cannot figure out how the hell to do 50% of my assigned problems! I went from taking 1 step forward and 2 steps back, to taking 2 steps backwards every time I do something. I've taken so many steps back that my brain is in the negatives already! I can follow proofs alright, but to duplicate that kind of logic goes beyond me. This is a difficult subject for many of my classmates and I just don't understand why nobody has figured out a better way of teaching it... The book is hard to follow, and the professor is no better, I'm loosing my mind you guys! I don't enjoy it one bit - it's pure torture... Every single class that I have EVER had has NEVER given me these kind of problems; I would never stress about exams, I would never procrastinate on homework, but this is different. I cannot do the homework assignments right now; I read through the first problem, sat there for 10 minutes to think about it, started working it out, and then bam I got stuck... I'll get stuck at least 15 times on any given problem, get pissed off and go do something else.

    So what the hell am I suppose to do? :confused:
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 26, 2007 #2

    Chris Hillman

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    So what is the syllabus of this course?

    Math, indiscrete or otherwise, is your friend, but it is hard to give specific advice on surviving this course without knowing more about the course. Those titled "discrete math" may cover a mix of combinatorics, linear difference equations, Markov chains, graph theory, among other topics, but given the wealth of subjects to choose from, different authors make different choices, and from the topics on offer in the assigned textbook, different instructors make different selections (and possibly an addition or two).

    Blaming the instructor and textbook is not likely to go down well here, since many of us have teaching experience and know how just hard the job of the math instructor can be, so I'd suggest focusing on trying to find some themes, common tricks, or heuristic principles which might help you organize the material or make a start on problems.
  4. Sep 26, 2007 #3


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    If you've gotten as far behind as it sounds like you have, and are having trouble grasping the subject at the most fundamental levels (i.e., you're not just getting stuck on a homework problem here or there, but don't even know where to begin on most of them), then the best chance you're going to have of catching up is to get a tutor. While blaming the instructor won't help, as Chris points out, it is possible that there IS another way to teach and learn the material that a tutor might be able to offer (usually people teach material the way they learned and understand it best, but that doesn't mean it's the only way).

    Another thing to consider, and this is something you should discuss with your academic advisor very soon, is whether you need to withdraw from that course for now, get tutoring on what you missed learning in your first discrete math course, and then come back and retake the comp sci course that requires that background. You don't want to keep plodding on barely passing, and not even understanding the comp sci part of the course just because you're being held back by the math you didn't grasp the first time. This problem will just keep compounding. It's better to withdraw early in the semester and retake the class knowing what you need to fix before retaking it than it is to keep struggling and risk failing the class. You'll want to discuss these options with an academic advisor soon, because you may be close to the cut-off dates for withdrawing from a class without penalties.
  5. Sep 26, 2007 #4
    Obviously if the student doesn't care about the material, no instructor / textbook will help them. I simply don't understand the instructor / textbook; that's where my frustration is. It's almost as if I entered a class that's too advance, causing my brain to go :zzz: .
  6. Sep 26, 2007 #5
    Tutor = Money = Something I don't have. I do have the internet though; it got me through my first discrete math course so hopefully it will do the same this time around. I need to find some other books for this subject though; I have a copy of Schaum's Outlines, Discrete Math which does a fairly good job with the basics. But this algorithm course will need something else *sigh* .
  7. Sep 26, 2007 #6


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    That may be exactly what has happened. Perhaps the math majors around here would know of some course that would be helpful to remediate if the problem is as you described, that the approach to math is too different from what you've ever done before and you didn't enter the course properly prepared. You're actually a step ahead of most struggling students in that you can at least identify what course was the one you got lost in. That makes solving this problem a lot more straightforward, because you know what course you need to remediate. While you may have to withdraw from the current one you're in, that's not the one you need to remediate, it's the discrete math course you need to go back and figure out. Sure, it'll slow you down working toward your degree, but better to graduate a semester or year late knowing what you're doing than in the expected amount of time while scraping by by the skin of your teeth and not being particularly employable because you only were a mediocre student. You know what you need to fix to be a better student, so start finding ways to get it fixed.
  8. Sep 26, 2007 #7
    Discrete math is awesome, one of my favorite areas. What part are you having trouble with specifically? Post some questions that you are having trouble with and what part is bothering you. Also, as Chris said, discrete structures is a mixture of a bunch of different subjects. So if the book is what is bothering you, look for a book on a specific area. For example, if you are doing combinatorics in your discrete class look for a combinatorics book (which will go more in depth and maybe provide more insight). Also if you are having trouble writing proofs look for a book (or online notes) on writing proofs (I would recommend An Introduction to Mathematical Reasoning: it is a fairly easy book and just reading the first 50-100 pages will probably help you quite a bit; there is also a thread around here somewhere that has a bunch of online resources for proof writing.) Also use the homework help section!
  9. Sep 26, 2007 #8

    Chris Hillman

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    I think we need more information!

    To repeat: what is the textbook? What does the course cover? I have no idea whether I can offer any constructive suggestions, but I certainly can't even try if I don't know anything about the facts of the situation in which you find yourself.
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2007
  10. Sep 26, 2007 #9
    Most schools offer free tutoring programs. Also, you could just tell the professor you feel lost and see what he suggests. I struggled in a physics class and talked to the prof, and he sent his TA to help me through the hw. It helped a lot. You can also try looking online for notes and such. It helps me a lot to read from 3 or 4 different sources on a subject i struggle with. Try to do more problems than the homework requires too. Extra practice on stuff you know will help you face the stuff you don't know so well.
  11. Sep 26, 2007 #10
    I second mathmns. An Introduction to Mathematical Reasoning by Peter J Eccles is a very good book. I did every problem, and my proof writing skills have improved dramatically.
  12. Sep 27, 2007 #11
    Good point; let me post the book I'm using:
    Foundations of Algorithms using Java Pseudocode, by Richard Neaplitan.

    If anybody can offer some advice for good books on the subject that would be great. I'm going to take a gander at An Introduction to Mathematical Reasoning by Peter J Eccles. I'll try to pick up tomorrow.
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