When a student says they’re studying algebra, a common reply from adults is, “I haven’t used that since I graduated from high school.” Responses like this can be discouraging to students who wonder why we learn algebra if it is not useful for life.
I have good news for algebra students: algebra does indeed enrich our life if we choose to understand it. Memorizing how to do algebra might get a course finished, but understanding algebra helps us notice when we can use it to solve everyday problems.
6 Reasons Why We Learn Algebra
1) Algebra is Faster And Better Than “Basic” Math
Just as multiplying two by twelve is faster than counting to 24 or adding 2 twelve times, algebra helps us solve problems more quickly and easily than we could otherwise. Algebra also opens up whole new areas of life problems, such as graphing curves that cannot be solved with only foundational math skills.
2) Algebra is Necessary to Master Statistics and Calculus
While learning one kind of math to learn more kinds of math may not be an immediately satisfying concept, statistics and calculus are used by many people in their jobs. For example, in my job as research analyst for Demme Learning, I use statistics every day. I help departments identify ways to measure their success. I also use statistics to predict how many books we will sell of each level of Math-U-See and Spelling You See in a year. In general, statistics are used in certain jobs within businesses, the media, health and wellness, politics, social sciences, and many other fields. Understanding statistics makes us wiser consumers of information and better employees and citizens.
Calculus helps us describe many complex processes, such as how the speed of an object changes over time. Scientists and engineers use calculus in research and in designing new technology, medical treatments, and consumer products. Learning calculus is a must for anyone interested in pursuing a career in science, medicine, computer modeling, or engineering.
3) Algebra May Be a Job Skill Later
A student may be confident they are not going into any career needing statistics or calculus, but many people change jobs and entire careers multiple times in their working life. Possessing a firm knowledge and understanding of algebra will make career-related changes smoother.
4) Algebra Can Be Useful in Life Outside of the Workplace
I have found algebra helpful in making financial decisions. For example, I use algebra every year to pick a health care plan for my family using two-variable equations to find the break-even point for each option. I have used it in choosing cell phone plans. I even used it when custom-ordering bookshelves for our home. My wife also regularly uses algebra in her crafting.
5) Algebra Reinforces Logical Thinking
I would not use algebra as the only means of teaching logic. There are more direct and effective means of doing so, but it is a nice side-benefit that the two subject areas reinforce one another.
6) Algebra is Beautiful
The beauty of algebra is an optional benefit because one has to truly choose to enjoy it, but algebra provides us with a basic language to describe so many types of real-world phenomena from gravity to the population growth of rabbits. That five letters can be used to describe how an entire category of matter, namely ideal gases, behaves is amazing and beautiful in its simplicity.
There is also a beauty when we start with a complex-looking problem and combine and simplify over and over until we have one value for each variable. The process can be enjoyable and the result immensely satisfying.
Algebra is an important life skill worth understanding well. It moves us beyond basic math and prepares us for statistics and calculus. It is useful for many jobs some of which a student may enter as a second career. Algebra is useful around the house and in analyzing information in the news. It also reinforces logical thinking and is beautiful.
So, keep an open mind about why we learn algebra and look for ways to share its applications with your student. Dispel the stigma that it is a boring list of rules and procedures to memorize. Instead, consider algebra as a gateway to exploring the world around us. Those are our top reasons why we learn algebra, and there are plenty more. What would you add to the list? Post your suggestions in the comments.