Every parent has gone through the ordeal of their children complaining about Algebra. The internet is rife with memes about when adults will actually use complex algebraic expressions and formulas in daily life. So what has given this branch of mathematics such infamous glory of being in-comprehensive and not useful?
Richard Henwood, Head of Math Department at Cranleigh Abu Dhabi, asserts that Algebra is an important gateway to higher level Mathematics.’ Basic Algebraic concepts can often be adapted and used to solve higher level problems and also prove mathematical theories’, he says.
In his classroom, Richard makes the subject fun by telling students that the main reason he uses algebra is because mathematicians (like him) are lazy. ‘I tell them that we can’t be bothered to write “4 bananas” so we write “4b” instead. Younger students always respond positively to this and find it funny.
Henwood claims that students find algebra tough because of the mixing of letters and numbers – especially when they see it for the first time. If it isn’t explained clearly first time round, there can be issues in the future. So teachers should take a little bit more effort to make the algebraic concepts clear from the very beginning.
Contrary to popular belief, Mr. Henwood also states that there are many instances that algebra can be used in daily life.
Taking out a loan – You have to pay interest on the loan. The formulas used to calculate that interest are built using the language of algebra.
Landscaping a garden or home improvements – You have to figure out how much area to cover (with paint, with grass, or with weed killer) and how much it would cost for different alternatives. The calculations to cost out the alternatives and figure out how much you need to purchase are done using algebraic rules.
Cooking – Sometimes you have to adjust a cooking recipe for a different number of people than the recipe was written for. You need to proportionally change the ingredients to match the needed servings. Restaurants have the same challenge. In both cases, algebra is used do the conversions.
The way to make algebra appealing to students of all ages is to make classes fun and interactive. Henwood’s biggest icebreaker in his algebra class is “I’m so good at algebra that I could replace your x and you would not even know y”.