One of the ways I’ve tried to ease the fears of my incoming stats students has been to point out that you don’t have to be a mathematical prodigy to be good at stats.  In fact you can downright suck at math and still be a good statistician.  As evidence, I put forth my own history which includes my only high school C (in algebra 1) and the C I barely squeeked out on business calc in college.  I memorized enough to pass, but never understood a word of it.  Plus being a girl meant that I heard a never-ending litany of how I couldn’t be good at it anyway so why try so hard.

(That high school C was a particularly traumatic experience that convinced me that I couldn’t do algebra.  I later made course choices based on that particular assumption that were less than optimal.)

I’m not going to be able to use that excuse much longer.  In preparation for Calculus this winter I’ve been reviewing algebra and trigonometry using a tool called ALEKS.  Aleks is an online tool for both K-12 and higher education.  It is a modestly adaptive tool that first gives you an assessment, then has you work through a series of exercises with explanations if you need them until you can do each problem type without help at least 3 times.

Realistically this is drill and practice work, but it doesn’t keep drilling you on concepts you’ve got.  That makes it useful for the time crunched (like me).

The tool has a monthly subscription option for people who want to learn on their own (19.99/month, which isn’t bad when you only need a month or so).  More important it has a course called “Prep for Calculus” that will allow a student to go through all of the standard prerequisites of calculus in an organized fashion.  It doesn’t require me to re-do the pieces I know and provides enough help on the ones I don’t to remind me about all the stuff I haven’t seen since 1983.

The best part for me is that my confidence is increasing as well.  As I work through the different sections I am remembering more and more.  I am getting back into the habit of doing math and working through a lot of example problems that I otherwise might not have spent the time on.  The tool breaks things down into small enough skills that I can master a few each day.  The next day it has you review them (ie do more problems and make sure you get them right) before letting you move on.  The result is that I remember more each day and am feeling better about what I do or don’t know.

If you are in the position of needing to refresh yourself on a topic or tutoring a struggling student who needs more help, take a look at ALEKS.  For the price I find it an excellent bargain and the right investment for me.

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