Monday, March 2, 2009

Stuck on a Calculus Problem? Ask St. Patrick!!

With existing technologies and all the help available on the web I am incredulous that students still feel lost at sea the night before a major exam or just getting through an assignment. I've asked so many students what they do when they're frustrated by some math problem at 10 PM: "So who do you call? CalcBusters!"Seriously, they often just look at me as if I have two heads. Well, what are their options?

(a) Call their teacher/professor? Uh, not likely...

(b) Email their teacher/professor? Assuming one has this email address, what are the odds you will receive an immediate reply which will illuminate everything...

(c) Go into a Calc help chat room enabled by your teacher or one set up by some student. A good option if anyone is actually online at that moment. Your teacher or another student can establish guidelines for this so that students know a help session will always be available from 9 PM to 11 PM for example. See (e) below for a similar idea.

(d) Call or email a friend (remember you will then have only 2 lifelines left!). Of course this presumes you have a friend who understands it better than you and can communicate a solution over the phone or via email. Remember what time it is...

(e) Go to a Calculus forum/discussion group in which you can post your question and someone with the knowledge will reply in short order. This is a viable option as there are now many such help groups out there and I will review these and provide links in another post.


Go to YouTube and find a free video tutorial demonstrating a similar problem in detail.
For example, suppose you're floundering with "integrating by partial fractions." You can just Google "YouTube partial fractions calc video" or something like that and, presto, you are transported here. Ok, the video covers a more sophisticated problem involving a rationalizing substitution as well as partial fractions, but you immediately see dozens of related videos in the sidebar. There are many excellent free videos online from many talented teachers/professors but on this post I will feature one of the best.

If you're interested in seeing an exceptionally clear presentation of calculus or other math topics you cannot do better than Patrick's videos which he offers at no cost. Patrick does not know that I am writing this review so rest assured I am not getting any commission here! The link above is one of his lessons.

He tries to limit his lessons to 10 minutes to make the file size manageable. His writing on the whiteboard is crystal clear, his organizational skills are exemplary and his speaking voice is soooo calming. Further, his explanations are mathematically precise and include just enough rigor to make the purists out there happy without sacrificing clarity. Compare his videos to the amateurish attempts I have posted on this blog - uh, there is no comparison.

Patrick also has a website where you can find all of his free videos. Look here first on YouTube or go directly to his site.
Patrick's background (from his site)
About me: I have been teaching mathematics for over 8 years at the college/university level and tutoring for over 15 years. Currently I teach part time at Austin Community College, but have also taught at Vanderbilt University (a top 20 ranked university) and at the University of Louisville.

He runs a tutoring service in Austin and I'm quite sure he is doing well considering the quality of what he is offering for free. And his videos are not exclusively calculus. Enjoy!

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