Friday, February 23, 2007

Succeeding at College Math

With so many of California's students' having to take remedial math upon entering a CSU or UC, I thought this (well-written and entertaining) comment might give some insight on how to do well in college math:

I was, you see, born without the math gene. I can balance a checkbook and do all manner of basic computation, but when an equation trundles into view, I do not gain immediate and transcendental insight into the beauty, nature and majesty of the universe. I aced my mandatory college math courses, but that was due entirely to general scholarly ability and practice and not at all to an innate understanding of the concepts.

Those of you who think you're done with math because you've passed Algebra 2 and are going to major in psychology, think again! You'll be doing some pretty serious statistics work, so I'd recommend starting now to develop a "general scholarly ability". Do your homework, ask questions in class, and take your work seriously.

Update: Here's another post I wrote about "words" people needing math.


carol said...

Many careless and irresponsible parents let their kids off the hook by implying that math is some sort of innate talent, you either have it or you don't, probably more to defend their own failures to themselves than to help their children.

Yet so many successful people bit the bullet and became successes just through dogged work. They weren't geniuses by any means.

When I finally licked the math bogeyman in college it was because I realized that the basic courses I was taking were meant to be understood by quite ordinary people, and were considered elementary by mathematicians. I.e., they were "mere manipulation of numbers" as one prof put it.

Later on I wished everything were that easy.

Mike said...

Dear Darren:

Most kind of you to exhume a piece of my little missive from some time ago and to grace it with such kind words. In my teaching I encourage all of my students to do well in all of their courses, math included, explaining that we are exposed to a variety of disciplines not only because they might have future practical application, but because the study of different disciplines builds our brains in different and necessary ways.

The point of my original post was that standardized tests frequently don't measure what they purport to test and reveal little of use that cannot be more accurately and completely revealed, over time, by common, inexpensive and well established teaching practices. Recall that in a national teaching exam, I scored substantially better in math than in English, which was my major (and my current occupation) and an intelligence where I have scored in the "genius" range on IQ tests.

I fully support the idea of math literacy, but have little good to say about mandatory, high stakes testing.

Thanks again!

Darren said...

Valid, reliable tests have a place in the world of education. If a state chooses not to use valid, reliable tests, or chooses to use the tests for ends they're not designed for--well, that's not the fault of testing. That's just a poor testing regimen.

Robert said...

I started off as a psychology major in college before switching to a math major in my junior year. I always got a kick out of the folks who were majoring in psych specifically to get away from math -- only to find that there's about as much math used in psych as there is in some of the natural sciences. They all say they major in psych because they want to "help people" but it doesn't occur to them that "helping" involves being able to do and comprehend rigorous psych research, which involves lots and lots and LOTS of statistics.

Later on I got not only a kick but also a very nice side income out of these people by being a private tutor for the statistics class.

Darren said...

I heart capitalism!