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Who Cares About Algebra?

I have been teaching in the classroom for more than ten years now. I have taught Algebra I, 7 out of those 10 years. Why do they call Algebra One the gatekeeper? Why does this subject give students so many problems?

What most people do not know is that Algebra as a classroom subject is fairly young in age. Algebra as an area of mathematics, started back in the 1700's. The origin of Algebra can be dated back to the Babylonians who developed a method to solve mathematical problems using some sort of algorithm. They used these algorithms to solve many types of equations and systems. Other societies at this time such as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Chinese used geometrical methods to solve these same problems.

I personally believe that current Algebra classes emphasize too much on the algorithm versus looking at why the algorithm works as well as looking at other methods of solving problems that the early Egyptians and Greeks used. These "ancient" methods of solving problems show you in a clear picture why the more complicated algorithms work. Most of my students would get mad with me when I would show them the long way to work a problem and then show them the shorter way. Who wouldn't want to use the shorter method of solving a problem? That has been mathematicians' quest over time..... to find a quicker, more easier algorithm. However, showing the longer method makes students see why the shorter method works. When students graduate from high school and college, most won't be asked to solve a quadratic by using completing the square. However, the skill of being able to think critically and follow an algorithm is an important skill when learning a new job or career. These are the skills employers want to know that you possess on the first day of the job. Can you read the company manual and follow the process of how to process a request to obtain a reimbursement check? When faced with a problem on the job, can you reach into your bank of methods or algorithms to solve the situation?

So with all that said, who cares about Algebra? I care about Algebra. Employers care about Algebra. More importantly, you should care about Algebra.

Comments

Well said! I so wish there were more teachers/tutors such as yourself to understand an algorithm only works when you know how/when to use it. I get kerfuffled when students are passed on repetition of algebra algorithms and then need help with geo (not the proofs, the applications of algebra) and struggle into trig, calc, etc. If algebra were done well, students would have substantially more efficacy and be able to work through a maths problem to achieve success. OMGosh - did I just possibly work myself out of tutoring gigs by clarifying the importance of Algebraic thinking? :)