Sunday, May 29, 2005

More on maths 

As I mentioned previously, maths in general, and calculus inparticular, has been on my mind. Last sumer, I read Snapshots from Hell ( supposedly an account of the writer's experience at Stanford GSB, but with small print that points out that it's not entirely factual). Somewhere in the book he reproduces a page of calculus equatiosn( can't remember whether it was differentials or integrals). I saw them and immmediatley my stomach somersaulted, my knees buckled and my pulse began to race, and although the symptoms may be pretty similar, it's safe to say that I wasn't falling in lust.

I've done calculus before, but a long time ago, and I wasn't very good at it. At least I don't think I was any good at it, but the memories aren't very clear (psychological protection from trauma I imagine). I think there were three major reasons behind the difficulties. Firstly, I was lazy. Up until 16 I'd pretty much breezed through education without having to put in much intellectual effort to get good results, and it took me a while to realise that I was going to have to start working harder. Secondly, I'm not big on memorising things. Ask me to learn and understand a concept and then apply it, and I'm fine. Give me a list of formula to memorise, and I struggle, mainly, I think, because I get bored. So I failed to memorise things like trigometric identities, which caused problems. Thirdly, I couldn't see the point. Sure, questions were shaped around 'real world' problems like calculating the speed and acceleration of a car, but I could never imagine a scenario where would need or want to do that. All in all, it wasn't a combination of factors destined to result in success.

This time round, that needs to change. In order to start to make that change and overcome my fears, I bought Calculus for Dummies last weekend. I've just about reached the end of the section on differentiation (integration is still to come), and things are beginning to improve. I get what differentiation does, and I can see how it's going to be useful. I can also see that there's no reason why I shouldn't be able to do it. More generally, over the last decade and a bit I've learnt how to put the effort in to master things, rather than expecting to pick them up instantly. Memorising by heart still isn't really my thing, and I have found myself looking at formula and thinking "do I really have to remember that?", but I guess I'll have to get over it. Now I need to sort out some practice problems to make sure I really am understanding things and that the learning is sticking. So all in all, I'm feeling rather less faint, rather less sick, and rather more hopeful that second time round I might just master calculus, rather than letting it master me.


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