Monday, July 10, 2017

Math Goals

I've always tried to stay a step ahead of my kids when it comes to their academics.

When we were homeschooling, this was a necessity. I couldn't very well teach them things I didn't know how to do myself.  On rare occasions, I would have to cram the night before, or give the "You know, maybe we should look that up together" answer to a question.  It's not a terrible thing to do that from time to time, but it's not ideal.  For the most part, I've been fortunate to have been able to navigate familiar waters.

This changed when Middle started taking the advanced science and math classes in High School.  I was no longer able to help him with his homework (and thankfully, he didn't seem to need my help).  I paged through his textbooks with envy, wishing I had been taught the cool things he was now learning. My own high school math career ended in my Junior year with Honors Algebra II / Trig.  I took Statistics in college and grad school.  No Pre-Calc or Calculus, and certainly no Linear Algebra.  I was advised that I didn't need these and it would only pull down my GPA.

Annoyed with the fact that I would soon know less than one of my kids, I started working on the math I never learned.  I had taken the oldest two boys through Algebra I and some Geometry before they started school, and that was all pretty fresh. On the other hand, Calculus was a complete mystery, and Trig was a distant memory from age 16. I dove in.

At the age of 42, armed with The Guru's college Calculus textbook (and some context to make it more comfortable), I started working through the course on my own.  I supplemented with Khan Academy and a few Coursera lecture courses here and there, and it was going well until I hit the chapter that dealt with Trig functions.

There was clearly stuff here I was expected to know but didn't.

I went back to Khan Academy and pulled up the Trig course.  Completely overwhelming.  Had I ever learned any of this?  If I had, it was gone.  I couldn't go forward without knowing this piece, and it seemed so overwhelming to start a second course at the very beginning. I took a break.

Several times over the last few years, I've revisited the course, vowed to make sense of it without the Trig, vowed to simply learn the Trig...  But I didn't. It just seemed like too much.

I've also attempted to take a few physics courses online and again, this Trig stuff comes up and it's assumed that I know it.  Being trapped by the lack of knowledge in this one area was definitely a source of frustration.

About a month ago, the frustration peaked.  I enrolled in a Coursera Trig class, watched the lectures, took notes, and did the practice problems.  I followed up with Khan Academy and as of tonight, I have about 90% of the course completed. Honestly, once I knew what I was doing, it was fun.

As I near the finish line in that subject, I've taken a look at the Pre-Calc and Calc courses offered on Khan Academy.  I had considered skipping Pre-Calc, assuming it was essentially just more Algebra and Trig, but the first time I pulled it up, there were questions on complex numbers and matricies, neither of which I've learned in a math class ever.  So it looks like Pre-Calc will be my next mission, both on Coursera and Khan.

We're currently at the beach with Little and my parents, and my mother noticed I was working on the Trig course after dinner.  She was surprised that I would do math for fun.  I thought about the kinds of things we do to pass the time when we have downtime, and I think learning a new math is not really any stranger than doing crosswords or Suduku or reading a novel or watching TV.  Yes, it's challenging, but it's also quite satisfying to work on a problem and get the right answer, and it's just as much of a mental exercise as reading or doing puzzles.

Even if I never need to use this knowledge, constantly challenging myself is as good for my brain as doing puzzles would be, and it feels good to know I won't be confused by one of Little's High School textbooks.  He will likely need my help with math in particular, and I want to be comfortable enough to help with it this time around.

Getting past the mental block regarding Trig was a big step.  It only took a few weeks, and, had I done that right away, 5 years ago when I hit the snag in the first place, I'd be miles ahead of where I am now.  It's a good reminder that the time passes anyway.

Starting the Pre-Calc classes tonight.  Should be fun.

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