Friday, May 13, 2011

Calculus and Me I: integrating derivative learning

A few months ago, I decided I had to learn calculus again.

It's not going very well.

Since about 1995, I've hated that I didn't remember the calculus I'd learned in 1981 and 1982.

For one thing, I believe I had to sweat blood to learn it. So the fact I've forgotten it feels like I wasted a lot of money, time, and tears (lots of tears). For another thing, everytime I hear someone talk about math, I want to be LIKE them. I don't know exactly why. The people who know more about math who I know often know a lot less about French, psychotherapy, or Soviet and US history than I do, and those are all things I care about more than math in general or calculus in particular. Maybe I just don't want them to know anything better than me.

I also am fond of anything that refers to math as "beautiful", "elegant", or in some other way aesthetically pleasing. Not because I always thought of it that way, but because there were two times during two college courses (one basic physics, one my first calculus class) when I experienced that beauty. It was a glimpse. The physics lesson that caught my imagination was on Koeppler's theories of the planets. The second was the Fundamental Theorem of least after about 6 weeks of Math 112 at MSU when it sort of just clicked. But it was a beauty that was elusive to me. I am able to use algebra and arithmetic a lot to live my daily life, and there's a certain pleasure in being able to use cold water volume displacement to measure peanut butter for a recipe, but it doesn't seem "elegant". I felt like I just for one nanosecond had the golden ring in my hands, then fell off the horse or something and it got away from me, probably when the professor of the third step of Calculus in MSUs general math program told me, "Dear, if it took you eight hours to do the first homework set, you really should drop the classs.  It will only get worse from here."

Right now, my armaments for reeducating myself include some things I've downloaded online (I'll try to remember to post the links later), a DVD and book set from the Teaching Company called "Change in Motion: Calculus Made Clear" (it isn't), the beginning Calculus textbook of my engineer BFF, and a square grid Moleskine planner with a pen (I could never get the hang of writing anything in pencil, which may have something to do with how slow I was at the whole darned thing).

But I have a book coming in the mail from Amazon (it was on Brian Dunning, "The Skeptoid's" website wishlist and I wanted to send something, but I ended up just sending a donation and sending the book to myself. It's called "The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse" , so it will pay for itself I'm sure with its multitasking options, even if it doesn't help me re-learn calculus.

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