The ABC’s of Learning X, Y and Z in Algebra

The foundation of high school mathematics is algebra. This is the basic building block of high school math. Why is it that most students do not master algebra? We know it is coming and it is a requirement. Are students fully equipped with the tools needed to be successful in algebra? What tools do students need in order to be a superstar in algebra?

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The biggest problem is that algebra is abstract; a misconception is that is useless, “just a bunch of letters and numbers that have no meaning.” Algebra must have meaning and relevance to the students. In order to learn algebra it must be concrete, something they can see, draw, relate to, manipulate in order for students to internalize, conceptualize, and understand algebra.

Since we are talking about making algebra concrete, let’s look at the concept of a linear function. The linear function is the foundation of algebra. It is the idea that relationships display a constant pattern that is consistent. Most of the relationships we experience in life are “linear” anyway. We can use our real world experience to teach the foundation of linear functions!

Here’s an example I like to use: You call a plumber to come look at your toilet. He tells you it costs $50 an hour to fix your toilet. He also charges you $50 just to look at it! From this point, it is relatively easy to write a linear function. There are two things to consider: how much it’s going to cost and how much time it is going to take.

This is how we write the function: we need to use two variables, c for cost and h for hours. Our function looks like this: c = $50 + $50h. Congratulations! You have just completed your first algebra task! Wasn’t that easy? Now, from this point, there are several directions we can take, such as graphing cost vs. hours or creating a table.

The point is that algebra does not have to be hard and tedious. However, you must start with the basic building blocks of algebra in order for students to have a solid foundation. Don’t forget, when learning algebra students must do their homework and ask questions.

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