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  #1  
Old 11-15-2011, 10:41 AM
MysticCat MysticCat is offline
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Why Study Algebra?

Not in college, but in middle school/high school. Son is struggling in algebra right now, and part of his struggle comes from not liking math (really not liking math) and not seeing the point of algebra. He's the kind of kid for whom motivation typically comes either from being interested in a subject or at least seeing some value in it or reason to learn it. He's positive that he won't want to do the kind of job that will involve lots of math (though we remind him that could change, or he might surprised how math is used in some jobs). So we get "why do I need to know this?" from him. And frankly, I'm having trouble coming up with answers.

Why am I having trouble coming up with answers for him? Well, because I too hated algebra and all other forms of advanced math, and because I've rarely needed it in real life either -- I've never needed to know how to work linear equations or to know what polynomials are. (This, of course, means I'm useless at helping him with his homework.)

In fact, I've said for decades that I thought one of the real failings in my math education (algebra, algebra II, trigonometry) was that it was all presented so abstractly. It was always "this is the theory, this is the rule, here's how to solve the equation." No one ever said "and here's why it matters" or "and here's how you would use this outside a math classroom."

So what I have for him is:
  • It's teaching you a logical, problem-solving oriented way of thinking that can apply in all kinds of non-math situations; and
  • The Powers-That-Be have decreed that if you want to be on a college track, you need to pass algebra, geometry and algebra II.
That second reason was enough to motivate me, but it seems not to be enough for him. So, does anyone have suggestions for answering a middle schooler's "why do I need to know algebra?"
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Old 11-15-2011, 10:44 AM
knight_shadow knight_shadow is offline
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I work at a market research company, so statistics is a daily thing, but we have statisticians to deal with the heavy stuff. Things like this made me wonder why I needed all of the advanced math classes.

"Once I finish Math 101, 102, and 103, I won't have to take math anymore" was my motivation.
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Old 11-15-2011, 10:53 AM
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AZ-AlphaXi AZ-AlphaXi is offline
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Perhaps the argument that the logical thinking you learn for how to solve the problems can be used in all aspects of life.
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Old 11-15-2011, 10:57 AM
MysticCat MysticCat is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by knight_shadow View Post
"Once I finish Math 101, 102, and 103, I won't have to take math anymore" was my motivation.
Exactly -- that is the other motivation I forgot to mention, but that I've tried with him: "Because once you finish it, you won't have to take it again. Otherwise, you'll keep taking it over and over." (Oh, and I've also tried that this is an opportunity to learn how to get jobs you dislike done, because there's always going to be some part of your job you'd rather not have to do.)

And to be clear, obviously I know there are many professions and occupations where you would need to know higher forms of math. But I think he's like me: I knew I disliked math enough that any career that required lots of it was automatically excluded from consideration. I guess what I'm looking for are examples from anyone not in a math-oriented field as to how they've used what they learned in algebra.
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Old 11-15-2011, 11:10 AM
BraveMaroon BraveMaroon is offline
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The only time I ever use it is solving word problems: If I leave Nashville at 6:30 PM and travel to Atlanta going 70 MPH, what time will I arrive? Convert your answer to the correct time zone.

I'll also cross multiply to get a percentage.

And that's it.

I struggled with it, and became a Journalism major to avoid algebra in college.
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Old 11-15-2011, 11:12 AM
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AZTheta AZTheta is offline
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Algebra, I loved it! Geometry, on the other hand...ugh. Just, UGH.

Try equating Algebra to a "puzzle" or "mystery" that he needs to solve. ("something's missing...")

Use of visuals could be helpful (I'm thinking of a modified form of comic strip conversations), since visuals worked for me in understanding "how to solve for X". AAMOF, visuals work for me for just about everything. Don't tell me! Don't talk at me! SHOW me. (no I wasn't born in MO).
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Old 11-15-2011, 11:22 AM
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AOII Angel AOII Angel is offline
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I think I use algebra quite frequently. Though I never write it out equation style, because I learned the principles, I can do this in my head without having to think about it. I don't like math and always say I'm terrible at it, but it becomes intuitive. I never took calculus and avoided it like the plague in higher Ed. Passed physics and am board certified in radiation physics without calculus. Algebra, though, is very necessary.
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Old 11-15-2011, 11:37 AM
SydneyK SydneyK is offline
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My thoughts on this may not be helpful at all because I really enjoyed math. I treated algebra problems like puzzles (like AzTheta), and I've always been a fan of puzzles/games. I am a philosophy teacher. While I rarely use math-proper in my daily professional life, I certainly benefit from the logic skills I learned in math. Doing algebra problems (and later, geometry and trig) forced my brain to practice applying specific rules in specific situations. I know that having a solid background in math strengthened my ability to understand symbolic logic, and I certainly use symbolic logic professionally.
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Old 11-15-2011, 11:39 AM
MysticCat MysticCat is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BraveMaroon View Post
The only time I ever use it is solving word problems: If I leave Nashville at 6:30 PM and travel to Atlanta going 70 MPH, what time will I arrive? Convert your answer to the correct time zone.
Yeah, but that's basic math, not algebra: Distance divided by mph = travel time.

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Originally Posted by AzTheta View Post
Algebra, I loved it! Geometry, on the other hand...ugh. Just, UGH.
LOL. I hear so many people say this. My experience (and my wife's), on the other hand, was the exact opposite. I never had any problem with geometry, and it made perfect sense. I can see a circle, a sphere, a cone . . . . I can easily see how it applies to everyday life -- "How much carpet do I need to redo the downstairs? How much sand do I need to fill this sandbox?"

To me, geometry was concrete, and its relation to real life was obvious. Algebra, on the other hand, was totally abstract, and its relation to real life was completely lost on me.

As for visual helps, I think I'm about to order this book, which we've heard good things about: Algebra Survival Guide: A Conversational Guide for the Thoroughly Befuddled.

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Old 11-15-2011, 11:42 AM
agzg agzg is offline
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I thought I would never need math in my career (in fact, I hated statistics so much in grad school) and now I work with statistics almost exclusively, and even if I don't do much of the heavy lifting, understanding where it comes from and why is very helpful.

Sometimes things just have a way of shaking out that you need this stuff. I was a foreign language major to avoid math. Now I'm here.

For Algebra, the puzzle piece of it is great if he likes puzzles. Also, game designers use math A LOT, and A LOT of algebra - so if he likes video games, that might be a way to relate. People who write computer programs use all sorts of math, including algebra.

Something as simple as figuring out what you need to tip (total times .2 equals x) is a good example of algebra. Plus you need algebra to understand the equations for geometry, which he might like better.

Also, baking! How do you double or halve a recipe?
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Old 11-15-2011, 11:45 AM
ree-Xi ree-Xi is offline
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I hated math. I just never did well in it. In High School, I took Algebra 1 & 2, Geometry, Trigonometry, Analysis, and Pre-Calculus. I took Calculus twice in college - the first time, I just couldn't get it and dropped the class, then retook it at my second college - the professor definitely made the difference in my ability to understand the concepts.

Often, during algebra, I would get the correct answer but not by following the rules of theorems or equations (see, I can't even remember the correct verbiage). I can do math in my head, but kind of do it backwards. I can't explain it any better than that.

But as an English/Journalism major whose career went from the Newsroom to the Advertising industry to Product Management in a world-leading internet company, and now as a housewife, I can say with absolute certainty that math happens in every day life.

From figuring out tips (divide by ten then add half to get to 15%), to using geometry to figure out angles for household projects with the hubby, to adjusting recipes for fewer or more servings than the original calls for, to estimating project timelines, to figuring out how far it is from point A to point B, or reading a "to scale" map, I absolutely use math on a regular basis.

I don't know if any of that helps.
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Old 11-15-2011, 11:45 AM
knight_shadow knight_shadow is offline
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I love love love puzzles, and I am glad that math has allowed me to solve things in my heead very quickly, but the way that it's taught in college kills me.

It's great to get the principles down in MS/HS so that you understand when to use certain functions. I was a working professional in college, though, so when a professor tells me "In the real world, you can't use a calculator," I find it hard to take him/her seriously.
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Old 11-15-2011, 11:47 AM
agzg agzg is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by knight_shadow View Post
It's great to get the principles down in MS/HS so that you understand when to use certain functions. I was a working professional in college, though, so when a professor tells me "In the real world, you can't use a calculator," I find it hard to take him/her seriously.
LOL yeah - I don't use a calculator. I use an excel sheet.

But you have to understand the concepts to put it in your calculator (or excel sheet) correctly.

Also, if he ever gets a part time job he'll use it to figure out how much he makes a week, or to figure out an hourly rate for overtime, anything that takes more than one step.

And if he ever uses a budget. Or makes investments. Or pays his taxes. Anything that's not simple arithmetic or uses algebraic concepts in some way.

Last edited by agzg; 11-15-2011 at 11:56 AM.
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  #14  
Old 11-15-2011, 11:54 AM
knight_shadow knight_shadow is offline
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LOL yeah - I don't use a calculator. I use an excel sheet.

But you have to understand the concepts to put it in your calculator (or excel sheet) correctly.
Right, which is why I think it's helpful to "show your work" in MS/HS.

If I told my boss to hold on while I showed my work to figure out the future valaue of an investment, he's spit on me and then fire me. The "scare tactics" that professors tried to give us (since many of the students were full-time students with no jobs) were BS and that turned me off to many of the assignments.
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Old 11-15-2011, 11:59 AM
agzg agzg is offline
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I'm thinking of a million ways I use it now.

Figuring out the percentage of my income I spend on health insurance is a big one (since it's open enrollment right now).

These are all very "adult" answers that might be lost on him, though. I'd stick to baking.
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