Magic Math Wand Wanted

I always knew this would be my Appomattox. For twenty-plus years, I’ve put it off, and the day of reckoning has come. I’m in my first algebra class in more than two decades. This class is why I didn’t finish my AA so many years ago, and why I was always afraid to go back to school. I’ve been telling myself I can do this- untold numbers of people have passed this class to graduate from college, and I have to as well.

It doesn’t matter than it has no practical application in my life or in my field. It doesn’t matter if it’s hard for me, or if I don’t want to do it- the fact is, it’s what stands between me and my degree. I keep telling myself I can do it.

This week, I finally sat myself down and started to work. The part for me that is still confounding is my inability to associate the work with anything relatable. I remember things by applying it to meaningful areas of my life- but this these crazy quadratic equations and square roots of fractions and factoring polynomials, even when I grasp it long enough to do a problem, it’s gone again when I go to do the next one a day later.

I spent two hours tonight on nine problems. They were harder than anything I remember from my high school algebra- cube roots of fractions, synthetic division, things that simply finally made me close the book and shut the window, because even with the prompts, it was making no sense.

This terrifies me, because if I don’t pass this class, I don’t get my degree, and I could lose my spot at George Washington in the fall. Failure is simply not an option. It doesn’t matter one damn iota if this is hard. I have to do it, and I have to pass.

I have a midterm in my lab science today- and it’s feels like a breath of cool calm air after putting away the algebra book to pick up my lab notes on orthoclases, plagioclases and silica tetrahedrons. My lab science was too old (had to be within the last three years) so the University is making me take another one. I actually enjoy it- other than the cost and time. I got a 90% on my CIS midterm last week, so that’s one down.

If anyone has any brilliant ideas for getting this algebra to finally stick in my head and give me the boost I need to finally slay this dragon, I’m all ears. I know, one way or another, I will find a way. I just would like it to be with as little blood and tears as possible. It’s not like I have anything else going on…

Because I’m packing my house, planning a 2500 mile move, family is coming for my graduation, I’m looking for work, and I have three kids. Alone. Live, without a net, folks. Prayers, advice and magic math-wands are welcome. I’m here all night.

16 thoughts on “Magic Math Wand Wanted

  1. Algebra is fairly easy for me (at least through High School level), so I cannot really help unless I could tutor in person (I suspect I’m about 80 miles too far north for that to be practical). But, due to the wonders of the internet, there is a resource with an excellent reputation for helping struggling students at I cannot vouch for it other than it’s reputation, but you could give it a try. Also, remember from the Book of Mormon, by grace are ye saved (in math), after all you can do. Indeed, your struggles in life as you have blogged them are an inspiring example of exactly that principle. So try Khan, study, pray to remember what you studied, and if someone else gives you a better magic wand by all means take it.

    • I had a hard time with polynomials. A hard time with math in general, and I went to college in a very math-y major. A friend of mine told me something that helped me feel less stupid- “You just need practice to develop mathematical intuition”. It was true. And eventually I got mathematical intuition, but it came with hard work.

      This page has a nice explanation of synthetic division:

      Because I had such a hard time in math, I love to help people with math now. Email me, maybe we can work together with Skype or cell phones.

  2. I would definitely agree about finding an engineer in your ward to help. My girls have an aptitude for math but still find themselves frustrated in doing their homework. Five minutes with their dad and things fall into place. I think you are going to have to ask someone for help with this- it will make things so much easier and less time-consuming.

  3. I second the motion about Khan academy. I would also recommend either finding a tutor or going to the math lab to get help.

  4. I know time is at a premium for you, but if you can manage it, see your professor or grad student during office hours. One on one explanations always make more sense than the class instruction. Plus, if they get to know you and see how hard you’re working, they might go easier on you when they grade the test.

  5. It’s an online class- there is no professor. All tutorials and math-book and me alone at night after the kids are in bed. I don’t have another option.

    But I might be able to stop by the mathlab at school. I might try that.

    Thanks everyone.

  6. Long-time reader, first time commenter. My husband is a math teacher and I think he is very good at explaining things. We live far away, so I can’t offer you his tutoring services in person, but if you are at all interested in trying to set up some sort of video conference or phone calls, I am sure he would be happy to help. You can email me, if you are interested.

  7. I have been avoiding math since the day I walked out of high school, 12 years ago. I was telling a friend, who is a math major, that one of my life goals is to get through college math because I am so terrified of it! I need to face it and get through it. You are an inspiration! Anyway, my friend referred me to this website and he swears by it. I haven’t used it yet but he said you just chose the math class you are studying and Kahn Academy explains it in a way that helps to understand it and get through the class. I’m so sorry I don’t have personal experience enough to know if it really helps but it has worked for my friend! Best of luck to you. You can do it!!

  8. Whoops, I didn’t read the comments before mine! Looks like many others recommend Khan Academy as well. I hope it helps!

  9. Tracey, there are ways to use Skype or other technology to get tutoring free from those who love and appreciate you. That’s a long list of people, so don’t try one more day to do this one your own. Connect with those who have offered to help.

    /end of sermon 🙂

  10. I agree that most math classes don’t offer much in terms of practical application, especially if you’re not going to be a scientist or engineer. It ends up being just lots and lots of rote memorization, disconnected from practical experience.

    Do you like foreign languages? You can think of algebra as a type of language. Even if the rules don’t make sense at first, memorize them, practice them, and eventually it will start making more sense. At least it will feel less foreign and intimidating.

    I like math, but even for me I don’t understand the practical uses for all of it. I just memorize it and go with it. 🙂

    Good luck–you can do it!

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