Prepping for Engineering Math

Math has been a challenge for me. For one reason or another I’ve had a lack of confidence in my mathematical abilities for a very long time. I took a number of math classes at UC Riverside years ago and ultimately became so frustrated I gave up and changed majors.

In eighth grade I took an Algebra class but was lost for most of the year. I repeated Algebra as a freshman in high school, then took the usual Geometry, Algebra II and Trigonometry sequence to wrap up my high school math studies. It wasn’t my favorite subject and I struggled through it somehow.

At UC Riverside, engineering students needed to start in MATH 9A – Calculus I, but after taking the math placement test I landed in Math 3, then had to take Math 5, then finally was able to register for MATH 9A. In high school we used a TI-81 calculator for everything. UCR had a no calculator policy which was a huge shock after relying on a calculator for the previous four years. For a very long time, I figured that I just wasn’t meant to do college level math.

When I discovered ASU’s Online EE program and started to get  serious about going back to wrap up my EE degree I knew I was going to have to figure out how to survive and thrive at college level engineering mathematics. I knew there were gaps somewhere in my math knowledge, not to mention that a lack of use over the past 17 years had caused those math muscles to atrophy.

I stumbled across a book by Barbara Oakley titled a Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra). I didn’t exactly flunked Algebra, but I won’t say I had it mastered. Dr. Oakley’s relationship with math was very close to mine, yet she managed to earn a doctorate in Electrical Engineering! Dr. Oakley’s experiences discussed in the book combined the tips and techniques taught really inspired me get back on the math horse and master the beast. I would highly recommend it not only for math and science folks, but for anyone interested to improve their ability to learn.

In addition to the book, there is also a free online class on Coursera. I went through that over two weeks to help reinforce what I was reading. The techniques have been useful in my studies so far.

I spent most of the summer of 2015 reviewing videos and lessons on KhanAcademy.org. I started at the beginning with the Algebra lessons and progressed through Geometry, Algebra II, Trigonometry and the Precalculus areas. The exercises and Sal Khan’s videos really helped me identify areas were I was missing knowledge and got me thinking mathematically.

A struggle I had in earlier math classes was a lack of feedback on assignments and tests. Perhaps my fault for not following up and seeking help early and often, but something about the Khan Academy exercises and getting feedback immediately when submitting a problem, really helped me fill in the gaps quickly.

The Khan Academy exercises also will jump around to various topics to identify where a student needs to focus attention and then over the course of a few days, topics are reviewed and eventually mastered. The hours spent over the summer really helped me and I would highly recommend Khan Academy to students at all levels.

My older two kids have worked on Khan Academy grade levels over their past two summer vacations and both are well above their grade level mathematics wise.

 

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