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Why algebra needs to be taught and learned

Amanda DeStaso

ABSTRACT

In this paper I discuss the importance of the application of algebra to real life, in order to

convince ninth graders that it is necessary for them to learn and understand it. I discuss the

issue of math anxiety and how it effects students ability to learn math. This issue can be

resolved by relating mathematics to real life scenarios, so students can see where their

knowledge is being applied. This concept is especially important for algebra. I discuss the

importance of algebra in everyday life by providing examples of applications and professions

that use the skills provided by learning algebra. Overall, I state that it is important for teachers to

know how to incorporate real life scenarios into their classroom, so that the students can see

where exactly the information they are learning can be applied. If they see the real life

applications of algebra, they will be more open to learning and understanding it.

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Throughout my experience in high school, it was extremely common to hear students

questioning why they had to learn certain things, and complaining that they will never actually

use it after the exam. I found that this type of talk was very common within my math courses. It

is easy for students to see that English is important because we cannot survive without knowing

how to read and write, and without social studies history would repeat itself and we would be

unaware of how to avoid issues that our country and world has already overcome, and

understanding basic scientific concepts is important for environmental issues. On the other

hand, it is difficult to see the need for mathematics, specifically algebra, beyond the uses of

everyday arithmetic. It is math teacher's job to convince their students that algebra is necessary

to learn. Due to a lack of knowledge for the importance of math, students develop a fear of

mathematics, which affects their math abilities when they make it to ninth grade algebra. As

freshmen in high school, it is hard for students to see past this fear in order to realize how

necessary algebra is to their lives. In order to open their eyes to all the doors algebra opens in

life, these students need to become aware of its everyday applications.

By the time students get to ninth grade, they have been through enough math classes to

decide if they enjoy the subject or not. Unfortunately, most students develop a strong disliking

for it. As they step into their algebra classes, they are already beginning on a negative note,

questioning the relevance of this course to their lives. That is where their teacher comes in to

suppress those fears and to show them how important algebra really is. In order to take away

these fears and to make students enjoy algebra, teachers must bring passion and real world

applications of the material into the classroom.

First, the issue of math anxiety must be acknowledged before there any changes can be

made to the students outlook on mathematics. This math anxiety is influenced by students

beliefs of their own math abilities. For example, students who feel that they are good at

mathematics are less likely to express a fear of it, but those who struggle form a hatred for the

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subject. These fears often stem from previous negative learning experiences and/or their

feelings of incompetence with the subject. If a student has a bad experience in one math

course, they will most likely continue their schooling with hating the subject. This causes a

downward spiral for the students suffering from this fear. Students with high math anxiety get

lower grades and have less motivation to take math courses, and avoid taking any math that is

not required of them. The issue is The higher ones math anxiety, the lower ones math

learning, mastery, and motivation (Ashcraft & Krause, 2007, p. 245). This anxiety is triggered

when a student is required to apply math skills in both classrooms and everyday life situations.

The emotions they feel when coming in contact with math include dread, helplessness,

frustration, and fear, which results in them avoiding using math and leads to a poor mathematics

performance (Ashcraft & Krause, 2007, p. 245). It is a teachers job to get students over their

fears of math. It is important for teachers to encourage and motivate their students to do well,

and to show them that it is possible to get past a difficult problem. If the anxiety is not

suppressed, there will be no moving forward with students learning algebra. If students realize

how important algebra is in their lives, they will be more willing to put in the effort to do well and

understand the material.

In order for these fears of math to go away, students must be made aware of the

importance of algebra in their everyday lives. It is easy for students to see that arithmetic is

important for them to understand. Without it, they would not know how to deal with whole

numbers, fractions, decimals, and percentages, which are everywhere. The need for algebra

outside of school is not as obvious. Without knowing algebra, people are limited to what they

can do in life. Algebra overall serves three purposes outside of the classroom. It allows people

to solve problems more quickly and easily than without it. For example, a simple algebraic

equation can help you make a recipe smaller or when youre doing home repairs (Demme,

Ethan, 2014, p. 1). Second, the skills used in solving algebraic equations helps with problem

solving skills. It helps people think logically in order to work through issues step by step. Lastly,

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algebra is important in order to understand and critically evaluate the math done by others such

as reporters, political candidates, insurance salesmen, bank loan officers, etc. (Demme, Ethan,

2014, p. 2). If one does not understand algebra, it leaves them vulnerable to being lied to by

people trying to convince them of something with false statistics. People use the skills from

algebra every day in order to succeed. If students can be convinced that algebra is beneficial to

their future, they will be more willing to understand it and work with it for their lifetime.

Algebra is everywhere. Whether we realize it or not, we use algebra for everyday tasks,

simple or complex. The issue is, the need for algebra is just not that obvious. This leads to many

people being skeptical of why algebra is even necessary. In order to bring algebra to life,

teachers must incorporate real life examples and scenarios into the classroom. First, it is

important to emphasize how much algebra has in common with reading, writing, and arithmetic.

There are many tasks that one cannot do easily within these areas without algebra. The most

important application of algebra is that it is the language of generalizations. Thus, if you do

something once, you probably wont need algebra. But if you are doing a process again and

again, algebra provides a very simple language for describing what you are doing (Usiskin,

1995, p. 31).

The general patterns that algebra describes are formulas, which are the language of

algebra. Formulas are everywhere, whether you realize you are using them or not. For example,

there are formulas for area that come in handy if you want to know how much room you will

have, or if you are sewing and need to know how much material to use, or for mapping out the

perimeter of a fence or garden. They also play a major role in sports. One cannot calculate an

ERA in baseball, the rate at which a football quarterback throws, or the probability of a player

making two free throws in a row without formulas. Algebra is also very important when it comes

to finances. Formulas are involved in calculating income tax, discounts, and sales tax, which are

all things people come into contact with on a daily basis (Usiskin, 1995, p. 31). The applications

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of algebra in everyday life are endless, and it is very easy to see once you have a strong

foundation of the subject.

Not only does algebra help with everyday tasks, but it is also involved in different

professions, which will affect students future. Many jobs, or even programs that get people jobs,

require skills that algebra provides It is impossible to be able to understand many ideas and

concepts within topics such as chemistry, physics, earth science, economics, business,

psychology, and many other areas. These subjects are involved in a wide variety of professions,

such as engineers, accountants, marketing, architecture, doctors, and many more. Research

shows some people can change jobs thirty to forty times throughout their career, so you never

know when you may need to use algebra within your profession (Usiskin, 1995, p. 33). Without

algebra, people have to resort to others to do certain things for them, such as tasks involving

money and financial issues. This limits peoples ability to work in certain places if they do not

have a wide set of skills in those areas. It is almost impossible to grow in your profession

without having a strong foundation of algebra skills.

Some may not feel as if algebra is all that important for students to learn. It is easy for

them to just say it is not necessary and in turn, they avoid trying to understand it. Some feel that

algebra is an onerous stumbling block for all kinds of students (Hacker, 2012, p. 29). This

illustrates that, people against the need for algebra feel that todays society puts too much

emphasis on mathematics. Students who struggle with math are at a great disadvantage with

their academics and with their future of getting into colleges because of their struggle to do well

in their math courses (Hacker, 2012, p. 29). This gives them a disadvantage with getting into

the school or profession that they want, even if they do not want to do anything with math in

their future. Thus, their future is at risk, even if they are not going to college for mathematics.

This leads to people stating that algebra is only necessary for those trying to go into a

profession that is not mathematics or science. If this is not the path they plan to take, then they

should not have to take higher level math classes because it is not related to what they want to

Page 6 of 8

do with their lives. Lastly, people feel that although it is important to learn basic math skills, the

higher level math courses are not necessary for everyone. Thus, they are wasting their time in

courses that will not benefit them in their interests or future plans (Hacker, 2012, p. 29).

Although people do not see how important algebra is, they need to be made aware of its

benefits. The oppositions to learning algebra are extremely unrealistic in order for students to

succeed in life without algebra.

Although not all students like math, that does not mean they do not need it. Yes, it is

important for students to know math before entering college, which is why education put major

focus on the subject. There are many programs and resources available to help all students

succeed on the math portion of the college exams. This gives both math and non-math people

an even chance at doing well. Also, it is important for students to be taking classes that they like

in high school, but there are certain courses that have been found to be essential for students to

learn, as stated in the Common Core Standards. Algebra is one of those courses. Students can

take algebra, plus another elective class that they may enjoy more. That way they still have a

say in what courses they are taking. It would not be beneficial in producing well rounded

students if they got to pick and choose which classes they wanted to take and which they

wanted to avoid. As previously stated, algebra is incorporated in many different parts of life and

fields of work. Thus, if students are allowed to choose not to take algebra, they are put at a

disadvantage. Lastly, the most important thing is for algebra teachers to be sympathetic to the

students fears of math, and to cater to their needs. In order to make the material more relatable

and enjoyable, the teacher should incorporate real life examples so the students are able to see

where the material can be applied in their lives. This will help them form a strong foundation of

the material, which they will carry with them forever.

Mathematics is a subject that students fear due to having anxiety of the subject, which is

developed at a young age. This anxiety can be overcome through becoming more familiar with

the material through real life examples. Although it is not very clear, algebra is used every day.

Page 7 of 8

It is important in making tasks and calculations more simple, sometimes without the person

even knowing it is being used. Without knowing algebra, students miss out on many

opportunities in their life, beyond just not doing well in the class. If the algebra teacher can take

the material and show the students all the applications in society, then the students will be more

open to learning and understanding the material. Algebra is extremely necessary, and people

need to see its importance and be open to learning how to use and apply it to their lives.

Page 8 of 8

Works Cited

Ashcraft, M. H., & Krause, J. A. (2007). Working memory, math performance, and math anxiety.

Psychonomic bulletin & review, 14(2), 243-248.

Demme, Ethan. (2014). Three Reasons Why We Learn Algebra. Demme Learning, 1-2.

Hacker, A. (2012). Is algebra necessary. New York Times, 29.

Usiskin, Z. (1995). Why is algebra important to learn. American Educator,19(1), 30-37.

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