A New Term
I missed a lot of time at school, through being ill. I could keep up in most subjects as I was a quick reader and had a retentive memory, but mathematics was the one subject where I lost too much ground in junior school. By the time I was at senior school I just had to look at a page of problems to be too stressed to cope. I gradually slipped from the B stream to the D stream in maths, and it is a wonder to me how I managed to scrape through my CSE with an ‘O Level equivalent’ Grade 1. But I did, which meant no need for a retake, and therefore goodbye to maths.
Except…. I’ve always been fascinated by the bits of maths that don’t look like school work: patterns, symmetry, some of the logical stuff. I’ve often played around with numbers for fun. I use them happily enough for measuring and calculating, and I have worked in accounts for years. I knew I really wasn’t quite as bad at arithmatic as I thought I was — just struck numb with terror if faced with anything that looked like School Maths. (It’s caused me to fail a few job-interview assessment tests, too.)
Of all the things I failed to learn in school, the most terrifying was the algebraic stuff that made up much of the last few years of maths lessons. Just the sight of an equation more complicated than 6x – 20 = 4 will make me shut down my mind with fear. So now I’ve decided to tackle that phobia head on, and find out what I was supposed to have learnt 40 years ago. About time.
I am making my way through an very helpful set of worksheets that I’ve downloaded from the Mathematics Support Centre at Coventry University. Algebra 1. It’s clear and concise teaching, a step-by-step approach that doesn’t often leave me too far out of my depth. My progress has been very slow, as befits a mere tortoise, but I am getting there. Already the square root sign fails to hold quite the terrors that it once did, and I’m starting to get over my irrational fear of fractions. Sometimes I even catch myself enjoying myself.
Very slow progress, lots of mistakes — my pages of workings are full of marginal comments like ‘Why?’ ‘No, no, no!’ and ‘Now what do I do? and occasionally ‘HELP!!’ — but I am persevering with the worksheets and repeating the exercises until I am sure I really understand exactly what I am doing. I’m on sheet 11 of the 14 right now, and I may eventually find out what to do with a quadratic formula. (I remember memorising the thing, back then, but it’s long gone from my ancient brain. At the time, I am sure I didn’t actually know what a ‘quadratic’ equation was, come to that. Hey, I do now!)
I am definitely going to finish this refresher course. Then maybe next time I find myself staring at a maths problem in a test or a textbook formula, I won’t be quite so prone to freezing up in sheer blind panic. Whether I then go on to tackle Algebra 2, or some other maths course, remains to be seen. I shall be happy enough just to get through this one for now. Back to school, but in the privacy of my own home where the teacher can’t shout at me for getting something wrong. I may be 40 years late for class, but who cares? Wish me luck!