In my opinion: Math is too hard

I was always very good at math – one of Canada’s Mathematic “Olympiad” geeks. I would submit that mathematics is useful both in everyday life (need it fairly often in my job) and as a way of teaching you how to think and problem solve (these abstract skills need to be built up somewhere). I know lots of people who were “bad” at math and clawed there way through – some of these are good at math today. The book “Innumeracy” argues anyone can be good at math. I will refrain from pointing out your opinion is shared by Barbie, since that would be patronizing.

First, if the OP needs math help, I’m available. Email me, I can provide support and explanations from someone who had to slog through learning math, too.

My father was a math teacher.
I transferred schools at critical times; this wound up causing me to ‘miss’ learning fractions and the multiplication tables with any fluency until I was in sixth grade, and my father discovered why decimal places were giving me such problems.

It took two months of being grounded, not allowed to eat until I got a few right, and drilling every night. I still have to pick up a calculator now and then to discover 6X8 = 48. But… now I have the comfort of knowing just how OFTEN the ‘good math’ people have to do the same thing. Or how often they don’t NOTICE a typo mistake, because they trust the calculator/computer/ don’t notice how ‘wrong’ it looks.

I had a great teacher for Trig/Elementary Analysis, and Geometry (all taught in ONE school year). She was understanding, and she NEVER scorned any question. No matter how stupid it sounded. It simply never fazed her, she was never rude.

Then, I started algebra. That teacher was cold, unwilling to explain. He was sarcastic. He was rude, he didn’t show his method of solution with ANY detail, skipping along with his reductions in several-a-step huge jumps. I had a terrible time with it, and my father wound up teaching me algebra at home, because I wasn’t ‘getting’ it from the classroom teacher. I STILL hate algebra to this day. I can do it, but I sure don’t enjoy it. Now, solving a geometric proof, I can do that in my head.

Then in second year, honor’s chemistry my senior year in high school (I had a GOOD school), the teacher starts writing funny squiggle things on the board. Well, I’ve learned by this point to be outright OBNOXIOUS with questions, just like the boys, or else I don’t get squat. So, up with the hand. “WHAT’s that funny squiggle mean?” I ask.

He says, “Aren’t you in the Calculus accerlerated class, like everyone else?”
“No. It wasn’t a REQUIREMENT for this course, either.” I say, being just as obnoxious as he was. This is the same guy who the year before accused me of cheating when I finished his ox-redux test in twenty minutes. Never mind I’d figured out his tendency to use certain large prime numbers long before the test… or the fact there was no one around me who finished as FAST as I did. Took it OVER, with another ox-redux test. Finished that one in 18 minutes. Men can be cretins around a woman with brains, is all I can tell you.

So, he had to teach me Calculus symbology, and derivation principles. Took about 15 minutes of explanation, and about two months skull-sweat on my part.

To make the story shorter, I’m now a chemical engineer. I had SOOOO much fun making every math professor SINCE that senior high school year EAT and CHOKE on his assumptions that ‘women can’t do math’, ‘you’re taking the place a MAN could have, and deserves more’, ‘you can’t understand, it’s way too hard for you’. Bleagh! Those were all LITERAL quotes, btw.

No, there is no gender ‘disadvantage’ to a woman’s mind working math. This has been tested by scientific method. That is, if you discount what meatheads and insulting jerks the men are about teaching it to them. Many times, a girl is ‘set up’ to fail. And she thinks it’s HER fault.

It’s not.

Men might have a SLIGHT (oh, 2 mm maybe) edge in being able to VISUALIZE in three dimensions - but I’ve found that after several months practice, I’m as good as most, and better than a portion of men, at sizing pipe by just looking at it, and such.

Those who are ‘bad’ at algebra, like Einstein and I, are usually much better at ‘spacial’ math, like geometry, calculus, transforms, linear algebra, and everything else.

I really loved quantum physics, and electronic circuits.
Oh! And Physical Chemistry. Mass Transfer. Thermodynamics. So cool. Heat transfer was hard, though.

My advice, to the OP, is to buy LOTS of ‘fun math’ guide books, which are available at all levels/types. They apply the math to ‘real world’ stuff, explain HOW it works (which for some reason, teachers sometimes don’t think is IMPORTANT), and most important, when math DOESN’T work, or can be misleading.

Math is just like driving a car. You’re not good when you START, or when you’re first learning. You get good… after many hours practice. Keep on trying; I guarantee it gets easier when you start seeing at least SOME parts of it as ‘a bit neat’ when the internal sense of it starts to become visible.

And don’t let those guys push you down. FORCE them to teach you. Ask stupid questions. A LOT. Be annoying if you must; they deserve it. You must say, “I don’t understand how you got from step 4, to step 5,” EVERY TIME you notice the prof made a MISTAKE in the step between! This will not penetrate for about two months… then the professor will suddenly realize you are smart, and just asking because you noticed his mistake. This will DEFINITELY moderate his rudeness, after a while. :slight_smile: Worked for me, with a Fluid Dynamics prof from Pakistan, who was DETERMINED to fail me.

He didn’t get a chance to; I would bedevil him mercilessly with questions. Nit HIS every mistake. Demand LOTS of extra explaining. I showed up with a steam chart from an ‘extra book’ JUST on the day he zinged a question at me, having barely touched the subject last session. I plopped out the chart, found the line, answered him, all in two seconds flat. After class, I was mobbed by the best students (all male). “How’d you KNOW he was going to ask that? Where’d you get the book?” Grin. I got a A- in the class.

Too long. But if you want help… PLEASE do write me.

I used to hate math class. I’m still not naturally good at it, and work very hard, but now I enjoy it.

The difference? A good math teacher. It made me realize how poor most of my previous math teachers were at communicating. I started looking forward to my math class because it was the most fun. My math teacher had a knack for asking you questions that would lead you to answer your own questions. He made it seem so easy and attainable. I always enjoyed solving logic problems, and I began to see math as extensions of those.

I think that Ziactrice illustrates the differences in teaching methods well, and I think she has some excellent advice, which I won’t repeat.

Working on the quote thing,so I’m faking it.
“I have to say that math is the most useless subjects ever known to man.”

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

“I hate math. I hate it worse that being force fed sardines while tied to a chair in front of a TV playing Jerry Lewis tapes”.

Funny! Funny! Funny! I hate sardines as much as some hate math.

Anyway,about math being useless,oops. I’m not in a “proffesional” trade and math is sooo important I am glad I am ahead of the curve. When I was in school,that math problem to me was an equivalent of a nintendo game. It was a challenge. Take it head on,work at it and win! Satisfaction. On the opposite side;typing. I thought I would never need it. My first job,17 years old. Coast Guard,assigned to a search and rescue staion.Watch room duty manning the radio room. There was the teletype. Peck,peck,peck peck,peck. One finger. Many years later, as I’m typing this now I am up to four fingers with one dedicated to the delete button.Oh,and the other subject I thought was not worth my time was Computers 101.Oops.

Keep at it with the best effort you can muster. You will be rewarded for your efforts.

I’m not a mathemetician. I always enjoyed math conceptually, but I hated how it required regular homework and problem sets. LOL Seriously, that was my main objection to pursuing it. I may not have been particularly good at it, but I liked the way it pushed my brain around. One of my friends once explained her senior project (for her math major) to me. She took a whole year to solve this problem that seemed to involve a goat tied to a rope chewing grass in a square pen. I couldn’t even grasp that this was a problem, much less one would work on all year, but there ya have it, it’s not my thing.

Math is both useful and important. Just last year I solved a really complex research problem at work – the kind I’d usually just throw into the computer and push some buttons to solve – using pure basic simple algebra like the kind we learned in 8th grade. I was amazed by that, though it’s not the first time I’ve been reminded that yeah, we DO need math. I regret that many of us don’t think so, and that we allow people to think there are those who “get it” and those who don’t, never the twain shall meet. I also think it’s unfortunate that so many believe that those who don’t “get it” can and should get through their lives and careers avoiding math.

I think that one of the problems with math education is that many of the people who are drawn to it (as a career) are people for whom it came easily. They don’t know what it’s like to struggle with math concepts. They don’t know what it’s like to need different examples than the typical math textbook or lesson plan provides. I think it should be the other way, at least at the more basic levels of instruction. Some of the best/most popular stats TAs in my grad program are the ones who struggled hard to get to their current level of understanding.

Participants on this thread might like the book “A mathematician reads the newspaper.” The author takes examples of how math comes up in everyday life (and news reporting). He talks a good bit about how numbers are misconstrued and misused. It’s not real advanced stuff, a quick read.

I feel so humbled now, I might shut up in math class more often now, well, no, not really, but I might think a little more before belittling IMP. IMP stands for Interactive Mathematics Program, It’s a four year program at my school that takes care of math right up until calculus, that we take senior year along with physics. To preface this I must say that I’m more of a traditional math person and I adored my Honors Algebra Two class, I aced it in 8th grade. I would be taking trig right now if I went to a “normal” school. However, I see that from what I’ve heard you all would adore IMP. It’s a really good program, sure some of the first assignments in every unit make you wince at the seeming stupidity. Why must I reasearch the westward movement of the pioneers for math? However, everything you do teaches you something useful and exactly how to use it in real life. We learned rates of travel and basic linear algebra in Year One IMP, in the unit Overland Trail. We had lots of problems that involved getting the pioneers from one place to another or rationing chores and other such semi useful stuff but we remembered it. The even seeming stupidity of some things helped us to better understand the concepts. That year we also used Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum to learn standard deviation and how to curve fit and create equations through experiments. We built our own pendulums and developed our own experiments to figure out what affected the period of a pendulumn and then using that information to create further experiments and later develop a general equation. That I could imagine being highly useful in a scientific field, and this was ninth grade math. We learned how to manipulate equations and derive them, basic trig, similar triangles and other such things in the unit, Shadows. We learned deriving equations from in-out tables in Patterns and we learned everything about probability in The Game of Pig. We learned all of that in ninth grade and we never had more than 10 practice problems, and even that was really rare. The thing you would all love about it is that fact that every unit has a unit problem that the assignments teach you how to solve on your own. It’s a wonderful program, even though you have to explain every last thing that you do. It teaches you the concepts behind the math so that you know “why?” instead of just memorizing the math. You have to explain your reasoning behind every problem. Writing out why you think like you do and why the answer is right helps you to remember things. The program is great for anyone who didn’t like math before, but the teacher I have right now helped a whole lot too. She loves math, she’s the kind of person that must have sat in math class and been excited, that sat there thinking “this could be mathier.” she’s a great person too, you almost hate to see the dissapointed look on her face when you don’t do your homework. Oh well, that my much too long story, buh-bye.


Throughout junior high I was a mediocre math student, I was always wondering what the hell that x plus whatever was on the board, it was complete greek, however, I was still somehow able to get into the “normal” math classes once in high school. To me, junior high math was a complete waste, I remember only one thing from those 3 years: SOHCAHTOA - I didn’t even know how to use it then, it just sounded funny. I believe part of the reason I did so poorly in junior high was the teachers - they sucked, but of course their liability only goes so far, most of it was my fault, I suppose.

Then came high school, my average after the first two reporting periods was a C. One day I missed a day of school, came back, and had to write the take-home (ie. open book) test in class because it was due that day and I obviously hadn’t gotten it earlier - I got ~20%, the teacher was being generous, too. Reality hit me and I realized I needed to study for the test tomorrow if I wanted to remain in the “normal” class. I went up onto the Net later that night and after 15 minutes I felt I had learnt most of the chapter, I got a B on the test the next day. It’s been my lowest mark since (granted, i’m only about to start Math 30 next semester) in math. Much more important than the mark is the fact that it gave me the motivation to learn - I realized math wasn’t impossible - a month later not only had I learnt all the topics I missed over the last 4 years but I also began learning different maths. It also helped that I had one of the best math teachers I have ever had that semester who gave me more motivation, even though I learnt most of it by myself.

After having experienced the above, I believe there are a few things that can greatly improve a mediocre math student, from order of importance, here they are:

  1. Motivation - You have to want to learn it. Having the attitude of “Why do I have to learn this completely useless subject?” doesn’t help. You have to learn it (for your case), asking the aforementioned question only makes understanding it harder.

  2. Either a good teacher who has the time to answer every single question or using the internet to actually learn (I know, I must be nuts). Using the latter you can obtain online study guides which are very useful, and if you still don’t understand a topic, you can ask on a site such as Also try to ask your peers for help, they can usually explain it better than the teachers (that is, if they know it).

  3. And of course, practice, and don’t cheat yourself by doing the easy problems, do the ones that actually require some challenge. However, after reading your post I don’t think the last statement about requiring some challenge appplies to you.

Anyways, YMMV.

One thing that I have found fairly amusing (at least for myself) is that I intensely dislike math. I have since grade 9, before that it wasn’t too bad, but now I really dislike it. But I have just finished Physics 30 with a 69% average and am going to take the diploma test next Tuesday. I did much better in Physics and enjoyed it more then I did any bit of Chem or Bio that I’ve done. That is quite ironic…

I’ve always hated math…not basic math. Hell, I loved doing math when I was a kid. Then we started doing crazy things like messing with quadratic formulas and trig. What was the point? I couldn’t find one…Asking random adults when the last time they had to convert a quadratic formula to its standard factored form just got blank looks and random “Well math is important. I’m old and wiser and I know better than you, so do it” type comments. Realistically, while everyone uses Junior High level math and maybe a bit of High School math, only a few who go into technical jobs are going to use anything past that, while the rest of us (some of us have figured out what we want to do in life and know full well we won’t be needing math) sit and suffer through the class being treated like idiots because we can’t do it.

Am I an idiot because I’d rather spend my time doing things that will have some relevance to me later in life than spending hour after hour memorizing how to perform useless numeric gymnastics that I’ll never use outside of Grade 12? Am I an idiot because I’ve looking into the profession I want to get into and I’ve come to the conclusion that I won’t be using most of what I’m learning and so I don’t put any effort into it? Maybe. I’m finishing up college right now (art-stuff, no math requirements, but they make us take English and some other courses), and I still haven’t had to use anything beyond what I was taught in Junior High.

Now I’m not saying more advanced math is useless for everyone. I mean, if you want to get a certain type of job, then yeah, you’re going to need those math skills. But for the rest of us who don’t, why are we supposed to keep doing it? I would have absolutely no problem if it was OPTIONAL…The people who like math and who want futures in math-related professions should be able to take the courses and have a jolly time, rather than forcing everyone to learn it and keep them from graduating if they don’t. If you want to become the world’s greatest kazoo player, then you find someone who’ll teach you how to play the kazoo, you don’t make everyone in the world learn how to play it including people who hate kazoo music.

Anyway, I’m just venting because I’m one of the “idiots” who started bombing math classes when High School began (and it wasn’t because I was stupid…I can do math if I have a reason to. It was because I found it completely irrelevant to “real life”, so while I dredged my way through it, I spent my time focusing on more important subjects (to me) instead) and had my share of the “Just trust me, it’s important” line.

  • Tsugumo (who has a knack for killing threads, and probably will do so with this one as well, sigh…)

Thanks Tsugumo that’s what I feel about math. (I was cut short and had to go) Yes some math is nescessary for what we need to do but the math I have to learn in Math 20 (and next semester in Math 33 since I got 48% in math 20) I have a fairly good inkling I will never do again. The Physics stuff applys to the real world the rest doesn’t seem to fit anywhere. Why do we have to bother with radicals and unreal numbers?

I know this is a bit late, but I couldn’t remember the straight dope message board address for anything. (My favorite list mysteriously got erased)

I took my first test in math and got a 65. It is very difficult, especially considering I’m an A student. It’s extremely hard to cope with. I am actively trying to learn the math but I admit that I am not putting all of my effort. Right now, I am really trying and math is somewhat looking more fun. Unfortunately, when I look deeper into the book, it looks very intimidating and almost impossible.

Thanks for all of the advice and support. Those who gave me permission for math help via email definitely have been scribed down. You WILL be contacted soon :smiley:

Math is still an all-consuming storm for me. But now, I suppose, there is a tiny sunray of hope.


P.S Yep, to whomever asked. I love history.

Sure, most people don’t use that much math in their jobs beyond arithmetic and simple algebra. But how soon should we let kids decide that they don’t need any more math? I know lots of kids who wanted to be firemen when they were younger who are now in technical fields. If they had been able to ditch math when they reached high-school they’d probably we working in Denny’s.

The thing is, if you can do arithmetic easily, you can do algebra easily, because algebra is simply backwards and upside down arithmetic. And if you can do algebra easily, then trig and calculus are easy, since they are just algebra used in funny ways. The trouble comes when you try to tutor kids for their trigonometry class and they still have trouble with fractions and the multiplication table.

Perhaps the best attitude is to imagine that math is simply a game, like doing a crossword puzzle, or figuring out that it was Professor Plum, in the Conservatory, with the Candlestick.

Honesty I feel your pain. I am actually dyscalculic, as are my brother & sister. (Like dyslexia, only with numbers.) We are all very bright people, but cannot do the simplest mathematical function. Despite fairly intensive tutoring as an adult, I can’t do 23 minus 17 if it’s written down. (I can do it in my head.) I have tried and tried, but if I think I have it at 8pm, the very next morning it just looks like sanscrit. Arithmetic that an eight year old can do, I cannot. (I have two undergraduate degrees with almost perfect GPA’s, and was accepted to a number of good law schools; though I didn’t go.) I’m not bragging, only pointing out that I am not academically challenged! My sister is a clinical psychologist, and my brother is an ad executive making an ungodly huge annual salary.

This is really quite an emotional topic for me. I really really wanted to be a vet, my whole life, but could never get through basic math. This was before learning disabilities were really recognised. The frustration of not understanding all things numerical is difficult…Thank god for calculators!

So I hope you continue to find math fun & don’t get intimidated!

After a ‘slow’ start with math classes in 8th grade, I started doing really well, and consistently got As and Bs all the way up until graduation. Took Algebra I and II, Geometry, and Trig/Solid Geometry. I also got a B in my College Pre-Calculus class.

But as soon as we started Calculus I, I had to drop out within the first couple weeks for fear of getting a failing grade on my record. For some reason–what we were studying, and what I was -prepared- for, were two completely different things. I blame California’s public school system for letting me squeeze through all those ‘college prepatory’ classes without even introducing the idea of ‘limitations’, ‘derivitives’, ‘integrals’, and ‘infinitesimals’.

Anyways–I’m still studying Calculus at home. Using both the textbook and the new edition of Calculus Made Easy by Silvanus Thompson and Martin Gardner. The Thompson/Gardner textbook is a good supplementary text, as it’s geared towards the people who have trouble thinking as mechanically as most class texts work. Now that I’ve got a pretty good grasp of derivitives, I find that the trickiest concept is understanding -what- the derivitives represent in a physical sense, and how they can be applied to material objects.

If anyone out there wants to talk about math–or even try to hook up with each other for chat and study, I can be emailed or reached on ICQ. :slight_smile: UIN # 34657474


I love math. Got a scholarship based on my math SAT’s.
The best thing about math is that it puts a hard wall in front of the jerks who get by without learning by bluffing through a blue book essay in other classes. I hate to hear them squeek by most classes on luck and crow about it.

Oh, do I HATE, despise and utterly LOATHE math!

I remember the uproar when Talking Barbie said, “Math class is tough.” Big fucking deal! Math class CAN be tough! Sheesh, math sucks, so what?

Tsugumo, you took the words out of my mouth.

Good teacher + Good book = Bearable
Bad teacher and/or bad book = Hell

Well, I love math, but I was never good at arithmetic. In fact I hated arithmetic. Long division is a core. You can take to math without liking arithmetic. I happened to have good math teachers.

If you have trouble, find a tutor. When I was in college, I gave help sessions in math and they were free. See if the college offers help sessions. Several times a student would tell me that the teacher made it seem hard, but I was able to explain it so it made sense.

Any teacher who has students leaving the class in tears is a bad teacher.

Sigh. Yeah, let’s all go back to living in caves. :rolleyes:

Sorry for the sarcasm, but I think you fail to realize just how important it is. Current technology requires a knowledge of math. We will need math if we want to continue improving ourselves. Civilization would be in grave danger if we continue with our current level of technological advance and most of society knows nothing of math, science, or technology.

Power - wisdom = danger

Just because it’s difficult is no reason to hate it. I’m not saying you have to like it, but at least understand its importance. As for learning it, just do your best. Seek assistance.

As you said, you can get by in life without knowing math…but do you want to just ‘get by’ or do you want to excel & contribute something to the world?