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Website helps mathematically challenged

article by Margarita Morales

Are you one of the millions of Americans who consider themselves mathematically challenged? Does the thought of multiplying fractions and graphing parabolas make your hair stand on end? Then perhaps it's time to sit yourself down in front of a computer and check out S.O.S. Mathematics, a website designed to help even the most math-phobic students ace their classes. S.O.S. Mathematics can be found at The site was designed by UTEP math professors Mohamed Khamsi, Helmut Knaust, and Nancy Marcus.

Students often forget previous math material, which affects their performance in current classes, Knaust said.

"During class, some professors and I noticed that many students had forgotten the prerequisite material," he said.

"This makes it difficult for students to learn, because in math, one concept is always buried under another."

In order to solve this problem, Knaust, Khamsi, and Marcus began developing the website three years ago with funding from the university. Now the website is available to a worldwide audience and receives more than 50,000 page hits a week.

"Our audience ranges from kids in middle school to senior citizens who just want to relearn their math," Knaust said. "We decided to take the concepts that students most often have trouble with and present them to a larger audience. Our ambition is to cover everything from the last two years of high school to the first two years of college."

Knaust said the website helps students practice and review math material, but should not be used as a substitute for reading the book or listening to professors.

"The program was designed as a review for the things you might have forgotten in the past," Knaust said. "We assume you'll recognize concepts you learned a long time ago, and this will get you in shape again."

On the website, students can find assistance with topics such as algebra, trigonometry, calculus, differential equations and complex equations. The material is presented in worksheet format and requires students to actively participate in the learning process.

"We don't waste a lot of time on formal instructions," Knaust said. "We present some background, but it's mostly practice exercises so students can try the material on their own. The majority of people who use the website write to us saying they really like it."

Although S.O.S. Mathematics is already 2,500 pages long, Knaust said the website is constantly under construction. He also mentioned that the website is no longer funded by the university, but stands on its own as an independent commercial product.

"The good thing about S.O.S. Math is it shows the university that professors can come up with products that are commercially useful," Knaust said.