College Algebra this summer

Our first MAT-161 discussion forum was asking whether we experience Math Anxiety. For me, it’s now generally a “no” to math anxiety, but “yes” to fancy calculator anxiety! Here’s what I posted:

I took MAT-080 last Fall as a refresher course since I hadn’t had a math class in literally thirty years. I was surprised to see how much I actually remembered, but for me the stress was graphing and use of the calculator, the first of which we barely touched on in the early 1980s and the second of which was simply verboten because we did everything longhand. Period. I see for this class we need to get a graphing calculator, and honestly, that’s causing me much more stress than actually doing the homework and quizzes so far. I substitute teach at my local high school and feel confident enough after MAT-080 that I have been able to help a bunch of students understand their own assignments.

Last week I was helping in the Algebra I class and they were using the graphing calculators to find the vertex and x and y coordinates from a factored expression. Okay, simple, right? Well, I didn’t know they hadn’t learned FOIL yet to get it into quadratic formula, so here I’m showing them how to do it longhand to find the A, B & C positions, and the teacher shows me how to whip it out on the calculator the way the students were taught. I think the expression on my face looking at the graphing calculator work its evil magic must have been sheer aghastness, because one of my students giggled and said I looked like I had seen a ghost – it’s the too-smart calculators that make me anxious, not the math itself! I mean, how do I know that it’s giving me the right answer and that it’s battery isn’t weak or something?? Do I really want to depend upon that or trust my own sense and longhand processing to absolutely prove that my answer is right?? Didn’t they depend too much on the smart computer in “2001: A Space Odyssey” and look what happened there????

Be confident in your knowledge of how to work out the problems. It’s cathartic to look down at that paper and see your work justifying itself without some magic “easy” button telling you to trust it like some kind of smarmy used car saleman. My notes from the refresher class are my trusted guide for this coming semester and I can’t stress how important a tool good notes are to have for anyone feeling anxiety. Just let’s please leave the calculators out of this. :/

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