Why Study Algebra

Many of the students in my algebra class wonder why they should study algebra since, for the most part, they will never use the algebra concepts after taking the class. I will tell you why you should take it and why you should try to do really well at it.

You will not find a better environment than algebra for learning and developing problem solving skills. The rules of algebra do not change and therefore algebra gives you a solid framework to practice in. You do not need to worry about uncertainties in the problem environment. When you work on an algebra problem, you examine what you do and do not know about the problem and you note similarites between the problem at hand and others you have done or have seen done in the book or in class. You make a guess at how to solve it, you try it, and you have ways to check your answer when you come to your solution. Nothing magical or unpredictable happens. You take a path, you get a solution, you verify your solution, and you try again if you get an incorrect solution.

We can define algebra as the study of the relationship between sets of numbers. The relationship produced by a given function remains the same no matter what we do. If we try to develop problem solving skills in the relm of human relationships, then we have the added complexity of uncertainty between individuals. We cannot always know if we really solved the problem and therefore our practice may allow us to develop poor problem solving skills. In algebra we know that we can get the right answer if we use the right solution method. We learn to not trust an answer until we have verified the results. We may have made incorrect assumptions about the data or the solution method, or we may have made an arithmetic error somewhere along the way. Practicing problem solving in algebra helps us work more carefully when we examine problems in sociology, psychology, biology, chemistry, or physics*.

To conclude: have no fear of that algebra class. Take it knowing you will struggle, but that you will also learn very valuable lessons in problem solving that you can take with you to other disciplines. Sure, you will probably forget the formula for compounding interest right after the final exam, but you will work more carefully in the rest of the classes. You will also know that such a formula exists for computing interest when you get that credit card bill — you will not think your banker does magic tricks with numbers to steal money from you.

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