October 20, 2007

Math Skillz

I got a call from a neighbor earlier in the week. Her son is not doing well in Algebra II and she’s worried. She asked me to tutor him.

His test is Tuesday and I tutored him today. I was worried we were attempting to cram for a math test, which you just can’t do, at least not a major test. No. It all builds on itself at this level.

I’ve actually been really excited about this. It’s been a long time since I’ve played in Algebra. I worked in the Math Lab in college and tutored a lot of College Algebra, but that was 20 years ago.

I called her this morning to make sure we were set and I told her on the outset I was not charging. She had a fit but I told her if she intended to pay me, I wasn’t coming over. First, I’ve not tutored Algebra in 20 years and was not sure I could be of any help. Second, I wasn’t sure what his problems were… it was too much of an unknown. Third, I was too excited at the prospect to get paid.

I told her, next go round, if I did help and he does well, if he and I clicked, then we’d talk about paying. But not now.

Holy crap, I had a blast. I had SO MUCH fun. I frickin’ LOVE math. It brought it all back. I just hope he had as much fun as I did. And he'd done all his homework... he just can't ask questions in class, so we weren't really cramming, but more going over things he KNEW he did not understand.

But what has changed? They use graph calculators now. Their book actually has the directions on how to plot functions and equations so you can find the answer to the problem they are asking by looking at the graph the calculator creates.

When I was in high school, calculators had four basic functions.

I was at a loss. It was the end of our session anyway (we’d been going at it for 2 hours), so I told him to call me tomorrow if he needs calculator help, which will amount to my reading it and figuring it out for him.

But because of this graphic calculator thing that everyone supposedly NEEDS, the problems they had regarded things I had never seen. It was really really odd.

(In college I had an HP that was fully programmable and could launch the frickin' space shuttle, but even it did not have a 'graph' screen.)

So other than that one section, he is now fully versed in functions, inverse functions, exponents and how to manipulate them, and graphing functions (by hand), to name just a few.

It was… so… much… fun.

I can't believe I could get paid for it. Holy crap.

Posted by Boudicca at October 20, 2007 08:26 PM | TrackBack

We are going to have to huddle over in the corner at Eric's and talk math. I started college as a math major and switched to computer science. I can honestly say that I have never used the quadratic formula in a real life setting.

Posted by: Jerry at October 20, 2007 09:05 PM

Mmm.. you know... i think I used the quadratic equation once at work. Believe it or not. But that's it. Otherwise, it is just something fun to play with. I think its to teach a way of thinking. and you need the basis for higher math...

Posted by: Bou at October 20, 2007 09:16 PM

I was one of the strange ones that found math fun in school, still do to a point.

My parents nearly had a stroke when they had to pay $100 for a TI-83 graphing calculator. Each student had to have one.

And then we figured out how to download games onto them like faux frogger and asteroids...all with little symbols.

Posted by: Sissy at October 20, 2007 10:21 PM

Bou - You probably know this anyway, but the manuals for the TI calculators are online for free. It's easier than using the manual that comes with the calculator, because you can just Ctrl F and find the topic you need. Which calculator does his class use? Also GCalc (an online calculator) is kind of nice because you can graph several functions in different colors.

I have a new student coming on Monday, but his mom said he doesn't really want to. Sigh. That usually makes it harder. At least they haven't waited until finals are breathing down his neck. I hate it when people expect last minute miracles!

Today my second son declared that math is his favorite subject. I got a warm fuzzy off of that, until I found out he only likes it because he doesn't have to write any compositions in math. I'll take what I can get.

In my daily adventures, I haven't used quadratic functions either. I was very pleased when I got to use logs to figure out how long it would take to train for a marathon. But a housewife doesn't get too many chances to use a math degree! However, it does come in handy for helping others with math and physics homework (but chemistry - keep it away, ACK!).

Hang on to the HP. They are worth something now! I think I'm done rambling ...

Posted by: Peggy U at October 21, 2007 12:01 AM

Hmmmm... I'll have to ask hubby, I can't think of practical daily use for it... nor do I ever remember finding a practical daily use for matrices. Have you?

Posted by: vw bug at October 21, 2007 06:42 AM

Sissy- that's what I said to him, "Every kid has to have this $100 calculator?" He's in Public school. There's a pretty strong 'free lunch' population at his school and these kids' folks are having to find the cash for a $100 calculator? Needless to say, they get stolen a lot at school.

Peggy- Yeah, his Mom found the manual on-line. It's just a matter of his learning how to use it now. They bought it on Ebay so they didn't have to spend the $100. (It's a TI.)

I think that the only thing I've had to use in real life is calculating area for fertilizer in the yard and paint in rooms and... I had to find the circumference of a circle for something I was doing in the yard. But no higher math on a day to day here...

VW- Mmm. I think I've not had to use any of my Matrix theory either. Ever.

I think I basically majored in doing puzzles...

Posted by: Bou at October 21, 2007 08:23 AM

I had to buy the stupid TI graphing calculator for my math classes, it was like $135.

And I told the teacher, who said you could use it in the real world so it's not a money loss, that no I have never had to use this kind of math in my job and I was an Quality Engineer and I never had to use a calculator at work unless I was lazy and didn't want to figure out stuff in my head.

He didn't like my answer, no wonder I got a C in that class.

Posted by: Quality Weenie at October 21, 2007 08:39 AM

Math has always made my hair hurt. I recall my knees actually buckling on the way to take the calculus final in college.

Oh, and our calculators consisted of a No. 2 penci, a ruler and a protractor.

Hell, I can't even figure out my change.

Posted by: Jimbo - PRS at October 21, 2007 10:09 AM

Last year we discovered the MS Student Encarta Program linked us to Hotmath.com for help. We found his text book then went to the page assigned for homework. On questions he had problems with, it would offer hints on how to solve for the next step. We get access to Hotmath.com for the full year through this program.

I believe there are pages you can access for free in the textbook. You just don't have access to all the questions on the page.

So glad you had fun and shared your enthusiasm so your student had fun too.

Posted by: cin at October 21, 2007 12:46 PM

Bou - I forgot. One thing you ought to stress to this kid, if you haven't already (although you probably did!), are the limitations of the calculator. For example when you graph functions, if there are "holes" they'll show up as vertical lines on the screen. The calculator doesn't identify and mark asymptotes. That's something the user will still have to do. He also needs to be mindful of the resolution of the window he is using. I don't know how much emphasis they put on this kind of stuff. Also, the TI calculators vary on where they hide the different functions. For example, working with matrices is very easy using the 83. Finding and using them on the 89, however, is a bit harder and kind of annoying.

On a side note, it is fun when you get a kid who is actually interested - and you can go above and beyond the lesson at hand. I hope that is your experience.

Posted by: Peggy U at October 21, 2007 02:34 PM

Oh ... One more thing. You can create "flash cards" using the TI graphing calculators, so you could probably use them for subjects other than math/science as well. Something that might make the calculator more useful and the expense more justifiable.

Posted by: Peggy U at October 21, 2007 02:37 PM

"...how to plot functions..."

Holy crap, indeed. I barely passed sequential I in high school, so just reading this brought all those bad memories back for me. Math is one of those things that I have always drawn a blank on, and God knows, I have tried.

As Jerry suggested, we are definitely "going to have to huddle over in the corner at Eric's," but please, let's talk about boys and music -- anything but math! -- instead.

Posted by: Erica at October 21, 2007 06:17 PM

Erica - How old are you? I'm only asking because the friends I have, who had math issues when they were younger and then found themselves back in college when they were in their 30's and 40's, had a much better time of it the second time through. You might just surprise yourself and discover that something you once dreaded is now pleasurable!

Posted by: Peggy U at October 21, 2007 06:28 PM

Matrices? They're used in linear algebra when you're computing in Euclidean n-space. Linear algebra is used in linear programming. It has numerous, everyday applications. How's that for a pedantic answer?

Posted by: Angus of Movern at October 21, 2007 07:43 PM

Dad- I'll ring you up next time I'm programming in Euclidean n-space, because you know... I do that a lot. ;-) Damn I hated linear algebra. I took that class... what... twice? Gah.

Posted by: Bou at October 21, 2007 07:48 PM

ROTFLMAO! I love your dad's answer...

Posted by: vw bug at October 21, 2007 08:30 PM

ahh! my subject. currently a math major, currently in my last semester of math class lectures [[three courses right now, and one directed study and the senior seminar to go -- yikes]]... and i'm looking toward being a high school math teacher, or a professor, so this post speaks volumes to me. love it.

Posted by: amelie at October 21, 2007 11:35 PM

Math humor is lame ... but I think I've found the right audience for this joke. You can blame Dr. Roger Higdem, retired College of Idaho professor, for this (always cite your sources; it deflects the blame back to the original perpetrator):

Noah was unloading animals from his ark. Down the ramp came the giraffes. "Go ye forth and multiply!" Noah commanded. Next came the ostriches. "Go ye forth and multiply!" Noah ordered again. And so it went until the last pair of animals left the ark. As two small green snakes slithered past, Noah also told them, "Go ye forth and multiply!" The puzzled snakes halted and looked at him. "What's wrong? Why are you stopping?" demanded Noah. "I SAID go forth and multiply!!!" "We can't," replied one snake, "we're adders!" .....

A few months later, Noah is going for a walk in the woods. He stops to rest on a fallen tree. Then he hears a noise ... a rustling and a giggling coming from down near the ground. He looks and looks, and finally he moves the tree and discovers ... the two snakes and a whole bunch of squirmy little snakes. "You've multiplied! It's a miracle!" Noah exclaims. "Not really," says one of the snakes. "We learned we could do it by logs."

Go ahead. Throw your virtual tomatoes.

Posted by: Peggy U at October 22, 2007 02:58 AM

I remember one of my math teachers saying, "Now I know you don't make up math problems in your head when you're bored" And me thinking, "ummm, yes, I do"

Posted by: holder at October 22, 2007 05:19 AM

Roger Higdem Probably had few friends when he was growing up.

Posted by: Angus of Movern at October 22, 2007 08:18 AM

Amelie- I could never teach unless it was college. I am going to sub, but its just frustrating to have all those students in one room... and teaching is A LOT of work. But there are people who have great passion for it, like my cousin, and I am so thankful for that!

Peggy- Boooo Hissssssss. Heh. I crack myself up at times!

Holder- Me too. That's how I get through long car trips.

Dad- You KNOW you will probably tell that joke to someone. :)

Posted by: Bou at October 22, 2007 09:10 AM

Bou, I think your Dad's answer shows one thing.... The apple didn't fall far from the tree. It sounds to me like you would be a wonderful teacher (for younger kids) and not just on the college level.

Posted by: Lukie at October 22, 2007 09:35 AM

Roger Higdem Probably had few friends when he was growing up.

He was (probably still is!) kind of a smart aleck, actually. And I think the reason he taught at the college was because it gave him time off to ski, which he loved. But he was a good lecturer. I enjoyed taking game theory, real analysis, and number theory from him. The college at that time was pretty small, and most of our upper division math and physics classes ranged in size from 3 to 5 students, so there was lots of interaction with the professors. Yes, it was fun!

One of my favorite memories of this teacher, however, was when he walked into our freshman calculus class (it was around Halloween time) with a large paper bag under his arm. He turned and wrote: "Suckers at the front of the class." Then he set the bag on the table up in front (the room was a large lecture hall mostly used for chemistry classes, so there was a lab table up front). But there weren't any suckers in the bag. Just some plastic conic section models.

Posted by: Peggy U at October 22, 2007 01:29 PM

I can envision all the students rushing to the front of the class and sticking their paws into the bag. It just proved his point. He probably used that every Halloween. It would have made an even better April Fools joke.

Posted by: Angus of Movern at October 22, 2007 03:29 PM

Lukie- I could do one on one. Maybe 5 kids. A whole class though... oh... I don't know. That's a lot of chaos!

Peggy- It is teachers like that, that make the course. So many of them were so frickin' uptight.

Dad- Heh, I bet you didn't have any profs like that at USNA, did you? Heh heh heh...

Posted by: Bou at October 22, 2007 03:37 PM

I've always loved math. I really loved algebra. 20 years later when I was bored in some IBM meeting I used to derive the quadratic formula by completing the square.

Posted by: Denny at October 22, 2007 10:41 PM