Showing Students how they can use Algebra

When I would finish with my algebra work, my teacher would always have me help the other students. My first approach is always the way the textbook describes it, explaining out the steps individually. However, not everyone is a textbook learner, and most people need a more practical approach. For instance, let us say you have the following equation, “x-3=2”, and you need to show the student how it relates to practical, everyday life. One of the best methods, is to pull out a few one dollar bills. Go ahead and set two of them to the right, and place three of them in the middle. Ask the student if they can find “x” now. If they can’t, ask them to take the three dollars, and add it to the two dollars. At the same time, with your equation, proceed to move the “-3” to the other side, adding 3 to 2. So now the student can see the equation saying “5=x” and can also see that basic algebra is used anytime money is involved. In addition, the student has a mental image of basic equations, and knows that in the future, he/she can use money to solve the problem.

This method works well with the easy equations, but for some of the harder stuff, a different example is needed. I always use money for my problem solving, because everyone uses it, we all need it, and it’s usually available everywhere. The next example is about interest. Normally, this is one of algebra’s most confusing concepts.

First, we start with $10.00 and place it in the “bank.” The bank has an interest rate of 5%. At this point, I show my fellow students that interest is written as 1.05, because you have what you start with (100%) and add what you gain (5%), then put it in decimal form. Now, I write the formula for this equation, to give a guideline for the steps involved. We need our money “x” and our interest “1.05” to find out our new total “y”. From there, I take the $10 and ask the student to divide it into ten, since 10% is twice of 5%, I know then they need to divide that number by half. “10.00 divided by 10 equals 1.00; 1.00 divided by 2 equals .50;” So 5% of $10, is 50 cents. You then add 50 cents to the $10. Your total amount is now $10.50, and your interest is 50 cents…that is the easy part. We shall say this occurred in a month’s time.

Now the tricky part comes in. Another month has gone by, and you are due interest again. Only you have $10.50 this time. You still follow the same steps, just use different numbers. This time, you find interest for $10.50 and follow the same steps.

Money is one of the easiest ways to demonstrate algebra usage in life. Other ways include measuring liquids and distances, to measuring weights, and in more advanced algebra, picking objects at random.