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How Do I Learn Basic Math as an Adult?

Date: 08/02/2004 at 12:40:18
From: Valerie
Subject: Psychology Stats

I am a counselor, and I would like to take a course on Statistics in
Psychology, but I have not studied math for over 20 years.  Math was
also never a strong subject for me.  I need to take an entry test to
get into the stats course, so I'm wondering what the best way to brush
up on my math skills is?  I'd also like to get over my dislike of
math.  What do you recommend? 

Date: 08/04/2004 at 23:22:29
From: Doctor Mitteldorf
Subject: Re: Psychology Stats

Dear Valerie,
You've asked an interesting question.  Here's my advice:

First, recognize that there are no shortcuts.  If you want to learn 5 
years of middle school and high school math, it's unreasonable to
expect yourself to do it in one year.  With intense study you might do 
it in 3, but it is more realistic to think of it as a long-term
project for a full 5 years.

Second, get out some books that make the stuff interesting.  Don't try 
to pore through your old 8th grade math text.  I remember the first 
math book I read, by Isaac Asimov, called "Realm of Numbers".  It came 
from a "gee whiz" attitude.  Isaac Asimov was a person of wide-ranging 
curiosity who constantly asked questions and found relationships, and 
was interested in whatever it was he was learning, from biochemistry 
to Gilbert and Sullivan.  That was 40 years ago, but there are other, 
more recent books that make math fun.  Try "Number Devil" by Hans 
Magnus et al.  There are other books as well, probably directed at 
kids, but don't be proud.

Third, solve problems.  Find them in the books, think them up
yourself, create them from the world around you.  Work on them in your 
spare time.  Dream about them and wake up writing down numbers and 
equations.  Go for long walks where you puzzle out loud how to solve a 
problem that has stumped you.  The time you spend trying out solutions 
that turn out to be dead ends is not time wasted.  In fact, that's 
where all your real learning is going to take place.  No one ever 
learned math from reading a book, or from watching someone else do it.  
The book is there just for inspiration, for posing problems.  You have 
to do the work yourself, and put in the time exploring your ideas 
wherever they lead, to their logical conclusion.

- Doctor Mitteldorf, The Math Forum 
Associated Topics:
High School About Math
Middle School About Math

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