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Old 01-25-06, 06:20 PM   #1
phantomcow2
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Why do I not do well in math? *slightly long*

I've had a problem for the past 5 years with math class. That is, i never seem to do well. I am running out of ideas though of why this is. Perhaps scholars of this forum can share some wisdom. Here is the story

In 6th grade, i got my first 'C' in math. I thought it would improve, but it really did not. 7th grade i did okay, got A's and B's. Then i got a D in 8th grade prealgebra. And had a D and low C all year.
Then freshmen year came, i did not do much better. Then geometry came, I got B's through that. Now Algebra II is here, and i am back in the low C and high D range. The thing is, i am not sure why.

People usually believe that your grade in math is similar to science, which is chemistry right now. Well i have an A in chemistry. I use math in my engineering course, i do very well in there too. I use formulas for my geeky hobbies frequently. Recently in my class, we did some basic physics related problems. Basically like "such and such a person jumped at this speed what was the initial height" etc. These were very easy for me.

But then in class, sometimes its like i cant even keep my eyes open. I have to fight to keep my eyes open, and it actually hurts! And then sometimes i am just completely bewildered, no idea where to start.

I have no idea why i dont do well. I had the teacher sit down and explain one of the more complicated things and I never had a problem. Im getting stumped, does anybody have any advice, theories, etc?
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Old 01-25-06, 06:26 PM   #2
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A friend of mine is the smartest person I've ever known. He treats all math problems, or any class for that matter, as a game. He never gets freaked out by any math problem. He just treats it like a game and defeats it, usually faster than anyone else.

He tells me everything, even problems or tasks at work, is a game to him.
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Old 01-25-06, 07:05 PM   #3
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I always sucked at math...but I also put part of the blame on the teachers, who in the course of high school and college was taught 3 different methods for dealing with certain algebraic problems...and I still have no idea how to do this crap...

...I'm getting better at it though. I pretty much consider math to be like soldering 36awg wire....it can be done, it just takes practice, time, and patience.
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Old 01-25-06, 07:24 PM   #4
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See your counseler. I was always fairly capable with simple math as a child, but when I started in on algebra and geometry, etc(higher math) things went downhill. I squeeked through HS algebra, but ate it in university. It wasn't till I was 21 that an advisor, surprised that I knew the concepts, but consistently got wrong answers, suggested what amounts to numeric dyslexia. With long equations or strings of numbers, my mind "missplaces" the order.
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Old 01-26-06, 12:00 AM   #5
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I empathize.

The worst part is that I've always liked math, but I've never been any good at it.

I've come to the conclusion that liking math and being good at it are three different things.
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Old 01-26-06, 01:31 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by phantomcow2
I have no idea why i dont do well. I had the teacher sit down and explain one of the more complicated things and I never had a problem. Im getting stumped, does anybody have any advice, theories, etc?
It's the way math is taught that's the problem. It's way too abstract and sterile. When I came to this country at 6-years old, they had to test me to figure out which grade to put me into. Since I didn't speak much Engrish, I scored at the 1st-grade level for language. But my math scores were at the 6th-grade level or on par with kids double my age.

Learning is most effective as a social activity. While we do learn through left-brain techniques of lectures using absorbing through visual and auditory channels, there are other ways that really facilitates learning even more. Participating in the learning/teaching process sends the info across the corpus-collosum to the right-brain when you repeat the information to others. Writing the info down also sends it back and forth in the brian. Finally, manually manipulating your physical world with your hands further re-inforces the concepts.

So... turn the math concepts into real-world situations that you can actually touch, such as physics experiments, baseball-card deals, lego-blocks for geometry, etc. Getting into study-groups where you discuss concepts with others really helps. On some problems, you'll have others help you out and on other questions, you'll have the answer. It's unfortunate that the education-system is set up to be competitive where everyone is separated into their own isolated worlds.
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Old 01-26-06, 06:32 AM   #7
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Actually Danno what you say makes sense. During that physics problem thing, we were in small groups. Maybe I can ask my teacher if theres any way she can do that more often
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Old 01-26-06, 09:59 AM   #8
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Actually Danno what you say makes sense...
Funny thing is, I expected you to say something else after this. I would have followed it with "...and math is harder than the sciences for me because it's so abstract." Some people I know struggle with math, yet do okay with, say, physics because they can relate to what they know in physics, but not in math. However, learning to deal with the abstract is very important if you intend to continue along a science/engineering-type path. Sometimes, it's just a matter of working with something long enough until a light bulb turns on inside your head. That may happen immediately, or it may take weeks and months just for a simple small concept, but if you keep at it, it will happen. (When learning solve quadratic equations in algebra, it took me a few frustrating weeks before one day, a light bulb went on. And this is for someone who completed multivariable calculus and linear algebra in high school.)

Another issue I'll throw out there is that math problems at the higher levels of high school math are more sophisticated than science problems in high school in that there are problems that require far more steps strung in succession to solve. One very important skill to develop to do well in the higher level math classes (and that translates very well into college science) is the ability to break down daunting problems into meaningful chunks. I hated when I was a TA in calculus and homework included integrating sec^3 x. A very simple looking problem, yet frustratingly difficult to solve if one doesn't cheat and resort to looking up integral tables. It was a royal pain to check people's work and grade it. Most people who tried to turn in something on that question would be on the right track but give up simply because "the answer can't possibly be so complicated".
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Old 01-26-06, 10:26 AM   #9
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Eh, it depends on the teaching style and student. Some people learn better in different situations. Any school is going to be a compromise, trying to teach the most stuff to the most people. Try getting a tutor or counselor to help you on a regular basis. But if it doesn't help after like a month, try someone else.

I'm tutoring a friend's son right now. He took a whole summer SAT prep course and got the exact same score after the course that he got before it. I tutored him 4 or 5 evenings (cooincidentally right before he took his SATs for real) and he scored 50 points higher on the math section. However I go about teaching him just works better than his previous tutor.

Math is very incremental, too. It would be a good idea to work with someone to try to figure out if there is a certain step or piece of "math" that you just don't get. Missing one concept early on can really hurt all subsequent work.
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Old 01-26-06, 10:36 AM   #10
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All I can say is practice, get the teachers manual for your text book and go over all the problems (teachers manual should show you how to do them). Thats the only way I learned when I was having trouble in Calc I.
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Old 01-26-06, 10:39 AM   #11
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What Danno says makes sense physics always helped me in math.
Also get Schum's Outline for any class you need help with - they are super.

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Old 01-26-06, 10:42 AM   #12
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yeah, i agree that math is taught as an abstract thing which is a big problem. because it's not abstract at all. it's a language. i think the focus should be on using math to describe real world situations.
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Old 01-26-06, 10:45 AM   #13
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Much of math is actually memorization. Not just formulas, but the process. My prof keeps saying "you don't need to memorize, you just need to understand". Well, to understand well enough to do well you need to remember what you understood. Given the limited time available in tests, there's no room for coming out with a way to solve the problem in the exam. They have to be done before. Of course, there are long questions that involve multiple concepts, but if you practise enough, you'll be able to know what exactly you need to do and extract all figures you need to plug in mentally.

Let's take touring on a bike for example. Knowing the shortest path from point A to B has more to do with experience than being clever. On a cross road where no road leads directly to your destination, you have to decide based on observations. Perhaps one road leads to a highway, and your destination is a large city, and therefore taking the highway is probably the right idea. This is knowledge and experience. The knowledge here is "destination is a large city", "more money is put on things that matter", "large cities will have higher traffic", "highways more expensive to build". Your experience with using knowledge will help you find these knowledge relevant and piece them up together to come to "highways are built for cities", and "highway leads to cities". It may not be the right answer, but it's the best path to take. This exercise will further your experience and you'll be a better decision maker in the future.

This works the same as math. You know what sort of destination you want to come up to (speed), you have these sets of factors (distance, location, energy, whatever). Your knowledge (formulas) and experience (practices) help you decide what is the best next step to take. Then the next, then the next. If you're wrong, back up. +1 on experience.

So yes, practise, practise, practise. I'm sitting on the "intelligence is nurtured" side of the fence. I believe talents are shaped up the moment a being has conscience. The brain will develop from there, absorbing and remembering the things that matter. Perhaps a child will be problem solving before 5, while another child is busy in his social life. Then the first child will have 5 years headstart over the second, and assuming these are the most critical years, multiply that with a factor of 5. Then the first child will be years ahead, and appear gifted on his first day of class. Fact is, his brain is already programmed in the manner that will make him the next Einstein. The rest is history.

Some people are "good" in math, some people are "not". It just takes more time, now that the brain is harder to "program" in later stages of life. Take 4 hours a day practising. If no enough, 8. 12. Group work speeds up things too. There's no secret to Asians' alleged math superiority. They really do practise like mad. So know what you want in life, and go for it.
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Old 01-26-06, 10:56 AM   #14
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i was thinking about this a little more. i remember math classes as introducing things in a pattern. there would be a basic concept, and then a bunch of little varations and additions to that basic concept. Then a new concept would be introduced and a bunch of little varations to that. almost all my math classes were like that.

basically, you can think of each new concept as a checkpoint. once you get to a checkpoint and fully understand it, all the little filler exercises are really easy, right? it's like when you're learning fractions for the first time. the concept is hard but once that light goes on and you understand, you can do fractions all day long - it's just the same thing over and over again. concentrate on those checkpoints and make sure you understand them. everything in between will be easier. sometimes stepping away from the textbook helps too.
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Old 01-26-06, 11:01 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by timmhaan
yeah, i agree that math is taught as an abstract thing which is a big problem. because it's not abstract at all. it's a language. i think the focus should be on using math to describe real world situations.
I guess I respectfully disagree, to an extent. Yes, it would be nice if application were better taught. Skills like the ability to do back of the envelope estimations need to be developed, but they are not in our educational system. Likewise with the ability to apply math when what exactly you're solving for isn't explicitly laid out for you like most word problems in our current classes.

BUT, it is dangerous to learn the math fundamentals through the real world problems. Math is a tool for solving a wide range of unrelated problems. When you start learning the tool in association with certain real world problems, you run the risk of applying subtle (but potentially wrong and disasterous) assumptions based on those experiences to future problems. I remember really respecting my linear algebra professor because he was able to so eloquently state why proving everything in class was so important. Basically, the reason is that you need to know when what you learned applies and when it doesn't, and you can't know that unless you know why the result you discovered (be it a new equation or a new simplifying result) is the way it is.

Furthermore, there will be future classes for someone like phantomcow2 in which intuition, real world experiences, and the like are of absolutely no use, and higher math is a good training ground for preparing for such courses. Some examples would be electricity and magnetism or organic chemistry.
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Old 01-26-06, 11:03 AM   #16
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Good advice.

It has always been difficult for me to learn math, but when it comes time to apply it, I do very well. In engineering, applying math to build something makes it fun (for me), and you can see the physical results of the abstract math concepts.

I'm guessing you are the same way.

Do the best you can. Challenge your math teachers to give you some practical applications of what you're learning. Good luck.
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Old 01-26-06, 11:08 AM   #17
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jschen,

you're right, too. i guess what i was getting at was there needs to be a way to get students to think about math as part of the world they live in - not a seperate thing.
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Old 01-26-06, 11:34 AM   #18
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^^^You make good points, too, that I very much agree with. My favorite chemistry class of all time taught me no reactions, but forced the students to think, estimate, and apply what they know. No calculators on exams, no tables of values, nothing of that sort, but numerical answers were expected, at least in the right order of magnitude, and preferably with one sig fig. Both learning the tool and learning to apply it are very important.
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Old 01-28-06, 08:38 AM   #19
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I know I'm digging an old thread up here but something worthwhile to try that worked wonders for me.

If you have a TI-83(+, SE, whatever) learn the CALC-BASIC language. It is absurdly simple. If you have your original book for the calculator you can get some insight into the syntax for the commands.

Every single math class in High School I would read through the chapter, look at the homework problems that needed done, then program my calculator to do them for me. It's a great way to take a hands-on approach to making sense of the formulas because you have to understand the input and outputs.

For example, the quadratic equation.

Derived from: ax^2 + bx + c = 0
Quadratic Equation:

Rules about the discriminant (b^2 - 4ac):
D > 0: Two Real Zeros
D = 0: One Real Zero
D < 0: Two Complex Conjugates

So your variables are, a, b, c, and a computed variable D

Input "A? ", A
Input "B? ", B
Input "C? ", C

b^2 - 4ac, Store D

If D > 0
Output the calculation

IF D = 0
Output the calculation

IF D < 0
Output the calculation


So, I'm not going to bother to rewrite the program so that it can be used as an example. But it's a wonderful way to change "When the hell am I going to use this in the real world" to "Hey, this program is real and I'm using it, go me"
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Old 01-28-06, 09:22 AM   #20
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phantomcow2. As has been said, much of the ability to learn math lies with how well the professor communicates the subject. I too had ups and downs in high school and college, including one really bad grade in college. But later, I scored in the top 25% of the nation on the GREs so just keep on attacking the subject. Math is one of those subjects where the grade does not always reflect the true knowledge of the student.
You've already received some very good advice, such as obtaining a tutor. But you made a comment about feeling tired or sleepy during class. Notice the time of your math class. Is this a bio-low? If you are taking math right after lunch, try a lighter lunch. If you are taking math just before lunch,(late morning) be sure to eat a healthy breakfast. AND don't forget multiple vitamins.
Try explaining the math problems to a freind. Sometimes teaching a problem solidifies your knowledge.
I also noticed you like Chemistry and you are doing well. That's a fun course, consider how much you like it. I say that because degreed scientists are still in demand from the BS level through Ph.D.
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Old 01-28-06, 07:03 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by InfamousG
I know I'm digging an old thread up here but something worthwhile to try that worked wonders for me.

If you have a TI-83(+, SE, whatever) learn the CALC-BASIC language. It is absurdly simple. If you have your original book for the calculator you can get some insight into the syntax for the commands.

Every single math class in High School I would read through the chapter, look at the homework problems that needed done, then program my calculator to do them for me. It's a great way to take a hands-on approach to making sense of the formulas because you have to understand the input and outputs.

For example, the quadratic equation.

Derived from: ax^2 + bx + c = 0
Quadratic Equation:

Rules about the discriminant (b^2 - 4ac):
D > 0: Two Real Zeros
D = 0: One Real Zero
D < 0: Two Complex Conjugates

So your variables are, a, b, c, and a computed variable D

Input "A? ", A
Input "B? ", B
Input "C? ", C

b^2 - 4ac, Store D

If D > 0
Output the calculation

IF D = 0
Output the calculation

IF D < 0
Output the calculation


So, I'm not going to bother to rewrite the program so that it can be used as an example. But it's a wonderful way to change "When the hell am I going to use this in the real world" to "Hey, this program is real and I'm using it, go me"
Actually thats a pretty good idea you have there. WE do use graphing calculators at school, i dont have one for my own but will have to buy one next year. Some of my friends have them, and program various equation solvers. I remember the favored one was a guy who programed a Eulers line solver
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Old 01-28-06, 07:05 PM   #22
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Math for me is 10th period, end of the day. Last year it was 10th period, the year before that it was right after lunch. I dont know what would hppen if I had math around 11, which tends to be my most awake hour
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Old 01-28-06, 07:28 PM   #23
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Math for me is 10th period,
10 classes in one day?! thats ridiculous, how long are your days?
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Old 01-28-06, 07:43 PM   #24
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Its not 10 classes in a day. Period 4/5 is a single class, as well as 7/8
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Old 01-28-06, 10:30 PM   #25
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10 classes in one day?! thats ridiculous, how long are your days?
Block Scheduling I'm guessing. In HS for me we had 8 classes a day, split by 2.

Day 1-1 through 1-3, Lunch, 1-4
Day 2-1 through 2-2, 'Seminar' [Study Hall], Lunch, 2-4

Each class was I think roughly 90 minutes
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