Friday, March 13, 2009

Why Algebra is Important

This week, I attended an economic development meeting in a South Carolina community. The meeting assembled local businesses, government agencies, and educators to discuss upcoming changes in the region's economic environment. One of the best agenda points was having the businesses articulate what they needed from potential and current employees-skills, talents, etc.

One of the speakers mentioned a good understanding of Algebra. I silently applauded the comment and could not agree more. It is simple-Get good at Algebra and your way of thinking develops and matures into a disciplined exercise of logic and rationality.

But the age old question posed by middle schoolers (and some parents) has been- Why do I need to learn this? What in the world does x mean? What does y represent?

The x and y really mean nothing. It is the art contained in Algebra that is more important. It is sitting at a table with pad and pencil staring at a problem having to solve for x. Scratching your head over and over to find the answer.

It is learning and following a process for solving problems: (Algebra problems)
1. With pencil, write out the equation
2. Work down the page one line at a time. Each line contains work that gets you closer to the solution.
3. At each line, simplify and cancel as much as possible
4. Continue down the page one line at a time until you solve for x or y.
5. Look at your work and plug what you got for x (or y) into the original equation
6. If it fits, you know the answer is correct. If it does not, you must start over.

So you still wonder why this is remotely necessary. Well, follow this process enough and get half decent at it and before long, your thought process adopts this rational and structured approach. It prepares you to be a problem solver for business. It gives you the skill and talent to improve processes and manage projects. Sure, there is much more training involved but it all starts will old school Algebra.

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