I am currently teaching Algebra to my junior students. Without fail, no matter if I am teaching students who struggle with maths or students who claim maths is their favourite subject, I am always asked the same question: “When will I ever use Algebra?”
Sometimes they phrase it differently. They’ll ask me what the purpose of learning certain Algebraic skills are. Or my personal favourite: “When will I ever use algebra in the real world?” I then have to check if we have slipped into a fantasy land which would mean I haven’t really needed to teach this pretend class all this time. It’s never the case, though.
Mathematics teachers sometimes struggle with how to answer these questions. I believe it’s quite straightforward. So straightforward, in fact, that there are multiple answers to the question! (Shocking, right? Usually in mathematics there’s only one solution! Har har.)
REASONS WHY ALGEBRA IS IMPORTANT / WHY WE SHOULD LEARN ALGEBRA
- Algebra helps you understand Science.
Most science courses require you to have a basic understanding of algebra. If I had a dollar for the amount of times a student has said “oh, it’s like a formula in Science!?” I’d be a billionaire. Yes, formulas. Like algebra! It’s the same thing, silly!
- Formulas are a part of every day life.
You’re using algebra without even realising it – and not just in Science class. When you drive a car and calculate distance, it’s a formula. When you are cooking and need to figure out how many times to double a recipe to feed everyone coming to your party, it’s a formula. Algebra is sneaky like that.
- Algebra helps you make life decisions.
Which is the best cell phone plan? This can be solved by using simple algebra. It’s the text book example! Interest rates is another classic example – many people get fooled by their banks because they do not know simple algebra.
- Algebra is a prerequisite for higher training.
Most employers and universities these days expect people to have completed some form of algebra (as well as most other forms of mathematics… usually for the reasons stated above.
- Modern technology and careers use algebra.
Spreadsheets, data entry, video game design, programming, internet, mobile phones, satellites, and other modern careers rely heavily on the use of algebra.
- Algebra helps you to problem solve.
Problem solving skills are an important part of our development. Using problem solving skills trains your brain to think in a logical way. Simply put, it helps to make your brain stronger and you’re always going to need to use your brain.
- It’s fun!
Alright, so perhaps this last one is me and other mathematical people. That doesn’t stop me from saying it to my students!
What do you tell your students when they ask you, “Why do we have to learn Algebra?” What did your teachers tell you when you were in school?