Wednesday, May 17, 2006


My other project this summer, as I mentioned briefly before, is to re-learn Calculus 1 and 2 (as they are normally broken down into courses). So far I've spent about 8 hours on this, and I plan to keep going basically all summer.

I took Calculus 1 my senior year in high school (1991-1992), which I think was when I hit my mathematical peak. I took Calc 2 at Rice the next year. Needless to say, it's hard to remember much from 13 or 14 years ago.

A few years ago, when I was still in Houston (so this would be about 7 years ago), I re-took Calculus I at HCC because I was considering being a math major and realized I should probably actually know some math before trying to go learn some more math. What I found I had mostly forgotten was not calculus per se, but the algebra needed to do the calculus.

I need to know this calculus stuff because both of my fall courses rely on it - I'm taking Calculus 3 and a calculus-based Probability and Statistics class. So it seems pretty scary to show up with 7- and 14-year-old vaguely recalled math knowledge.

I bought a big calculus textbook and a graphing calculator (the TI-86 - sorry to all you HP fans) and some other paraphernalia, and these things live in a clear plastic box in the living room, so that when I sit down to do it, everything is in one place and it's very easy.

And once again I am finding that the calculus itself is not difficult, but what I'm having trouble with is algebraic techniques that I've forgotten or am very rusty at - things like factoring polynomials, rationalizing denominators, and converting trig functions into each other. I was proud of myself last night when, at the moment I needed it, I remembered that there was such a thing as the "quadratic formula" and was able to look it up in the reference part of the textbook and use it. But I know there are a ton of other techniques that I used to know and that I do not know now. Sometimes they show up in the examples in the text, and sometimes not.

Every time I sit down to do this, I read the relevant part of the book, and then do some of the exercises (the odd-numbered ones, so I can check my answers in the back). I've run into a few that I can't solve (due, I think, to lacking some technique or other). I expect to post them to Google Answers at some point to get some hints.


Debbie said...

Or post them here. I bet your readers have a lot of mathematical knowledge. I review some of mine periodically, Robin just reviewed a huge amount of his a couple of years ago, and I think Sally uses statistics professionally. And many of us like solving puzzles.

Tam said...

Good idea. I only hesitate to clog up the blog with math stuff. But I will consider it when I get back home and find the problem(s) I got stuck on.

sally said...

I think we'd have fun with these problems, if only to luxuriate in the feeling that these problems are not ours. How could you deny us that?

You can post the problems in a hidden manner, can't you, so that interested parties can click to read the whole thing and disinterested readers can skip them; this would minimize the "taking over my blog page like kudzu" problem. (Or is it a bandwidth concern? I'm not up on this stuff.)

And in addition to exploiting Debbie's math-test-grader knowledge and Robin's recent review, this would give Robert a chance to put several years of teaching experience and economics PhD-level math to good use.

Of course I will be happy to supply my own radical (no pun intended) methods to approaching these problems, as I do when computing basic descriptive statistics "My Way." [Note to everyone but Tam: Long story.]

I could really use a brush up on this stuff too, but haven't had the pressing reason to motivate me to step away from the Yahoo Games site and pick up a calc book.

Tam said...

I have often seen other blogs post a link where if you click it, it then shows the rest of the post, but I don't know how to do it myself.

But then it's not like I have 10 problems a day that stump me, either. A calculus problem would probably only take up about 3 lines and then the rest could go in the comments, where nobody would be subjected to it, so... yeah!