Physics student Lána describes how she overcame problems with Maths in First Year

On the first day of first year I found my way to my first lecture having only gotten lost twice along the way. The class was called  ‘Applied Maths: Methods and Applications’. It was a whole new experience for me – I had to get to know the 60 strangers around me, but also get to know this new kind of maths I had never experienced before. It was exciting and daunting. Our lecturer, Dr Conor Sweeney, had so much enthusiasm and energy it was hard not to feel excited about what was to come!

Our lecturer Dr. Conor Sweeney – his enthusiasm for Maths is infectious!

Our lecturer Dr Conor Sweeney – his enthusiasm for maths is infectious!

A New Way of Learning

After the first few lectures of Applied Maths we had our first tutorial. A tutorial is like a problem solving class – we found ourselves sitting around tables in groups of 8-10, solving problems and asking questions. It was a completely new way of learning maths – interactive, applied, real. I had high hopes for this new way of  problem solving.

A few of us working on a problem in the Active Learning Environment (ALE). We usually have tutorials here and work on problems at the round tables.

A few of us working on a problem in the Active Learning Environment (ALE). We usually have tutorials here and work on problems at the round tables.

In this tutorial I began to notice something – people around me were catching onto the maths quicker than me, able to answer questions with ease. I began to get worried – I thought I wasn’t able for this level of maths, that I would fall behind. 

Maths and Physics were my worst subjects in the Leaving Cert. So entering UCD Science focusing on Maths and Physics may seem like a strange choice. But they were the subjects I enjoyed most, and the ones I was determined to work hard on. I wanted to know more about the world, the Universe and how it all works. To do that I needed to know the maths behind it all. I was enthusiastic to learn these things and that’s what drove me.

Help is at hand – UCD Maths Support Centre

But now I was surrounded by people who were catching onto the maths quicker. My confidence sunk. I found myself re-learning my Leaving Cert maths, writing pages upon pages of notes. I spent hours more on assignments than others.

I found out that Applied Maths was a Leaving Cert subject that most people in the class had taken. My school didn’t offer Applied Maths and to be honest I’d never heard of it.

A bit of weight had been taken off my shoulders – these people were more practiced in this kind of maths than me, it makes sense that they were more able for it. I didn’t feel any less pressure though – I still had to work harder to keep up. I think it was then that I realised that I could ask for help – a lesson that has stuck with me to this day.

UCD has a Maths Support Centre – a place where you can go to clear up any problems you may be having with certain topics or sections of your classwork. Between the Maths Support Centre, our tutor and our lecturer, I got some extra help and things slowly began to make more sense.

The Maths Support Centre in the Library really helped me to clear up any issues I was having!

The Maths Support Centre in the Library really helped me to clear up any issues I was having!

I think in those few weeks I began to learn how I study best, and also how my learning strategy is different to other peoples. I found out that I’m a slow learner and it may take a while for a subject to make complete sense to me. Making detailed notes and step by step problem solving guides is the best way for me to study.

An example of my study notes : labelling things in steps really helps me to understand the problem.

An example of my study notes : labeling things in steps really helps me to understand the problem.

Practice makes perfect!

In many ways the Applied Maths class lay the groundwork for my future maths learning. I’m not the best at maths and I can’t say that I’m entirely confident with it, but I know that with hard work and the support that UCD has given me I can continually work on my maths ability. It is a skill to be practiced, and I find myself falling in and out of practice sometimes but always trying my best.

A lot of people find maths daunting and want to avoid it. But like learning a language, it is a skill to be practiced and used. While some may catch onto maths quicker than others, with continued practice you improve and begin to unlock the tools you need –  to explore the Universe,  understand the stock markets,  predict the weather, analyse statistics, engineer the next technologies and much much more.

Maths shows its face everywhere!

Maths shows its face everywhere!

This blog is written by Physics with Astronomy & Space Science student Lána Salmon

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