Sometimes it can seem hard work studying algebra. Hopefully at least some of the reasons below will help convince you that it is worthwhile in the end!
1. Algebra will help you in your career
The fact is that you can’t get a good grade in your mathematics GCSE without some algebra. Getting a good maths GCSE opens up more career choices, access to college, university and some apprenticeships. If you study algebra beyond GCSE all the evidence shows that A-level maths and mathematical degrees help you earn more than you would otherwise. So algebra helps you earn more and gives you more chance of being able to choose a career which you enjoy. (Just take a look at the hundreds of career profiles of people who took maths to a more advanced level!)
2. Algebra is a powerful tool
One of the main reasons for algebra is that it allows you to take a situation and make it more general. For example take the humble triangle – because of algebra we have a formula which tells us the area of every triangle in the world. (area equals times base times height). Formulae are powerful as they tell us rules which work in every single situation. Formulae have been discovered ranging from simple things like the area of a circle to Einstein's famous formula for energy: . Formulae impact us in every area of our lives, from the price of our energy bills to how much getting a mortgage will cost.
3. Algebra helps you think logically
Studying algebra helps your mind to think logically and break down and solve problems. One day you might reach a point where you don't use algebra on a daily basis. However your brain will have been trained to think in a logical way, which will not only help you in the workplace, but also in daily life, when choosing which mobile phone contract to select, or trying to work out if you have paid the right amount of tax.
4. Modern technology needs algebra
The fact is that all modern technology relies on mathematics and algebra - Google, the internet, mobile phones, satellites and digital televisions wouldn’t exist without algebra. You are relying on other people having studied algebra when you use a phone or play a computer game and as technology is everywhere more and more people are needed to work behind the scenes with knowledge of mathematics and algebra. If you like algebra, then you are giving yourself a chance of getting a job in the rapidly expanding technology sector.
5. Algebra is a challenge which is worth facing
Let's face it - algebra can be hard and there will be a point for everyone when they find using algebra difficult. However algebra can also give a great sense of achievement and for those who become good at it in school, it can give a real feeling of satisfaction every time a problem is solved. In fact algebra can easily become the favourite area of mathematics for some pupils! Even it is a real challenge to you at school, try and talk to someone who struggled to get a grade C but finally managed it, or someone who has gone back to study maths later in life. Overcoming a difficult hurdle in life can feel really worthwhile and says a lot about you as a person.
6. Algebra opens up other subjects
There are a huge number of other subjects which require knowledge of algebra and mathematics. Here are just a few which at university will require algebra: biology, chemistry, physics, engineering, computer science, economics, food science, environmental science, medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, psychology and social sciences. Many of these subjects require a good knowledge of algebra found by studying A-level maths or A-level Further Maths (or equivalent).
7. Algebra helps us understand numbers better
You might not realise it, but studying algebra helps you get better at solving problems which involve only numbers. If a pupil did not study any algebra, then it is likely that they would be worse at solving numerical problems, as their grasp of how numbers work would not be as good. So you can thank algebra every time you solve a tricky arithmetic problem!
8. Algebra helps you get the best deals
Algebra can help you understand better how to make some big important financial choices in life. Without algebra it is difficult to understand compound interest and to really get a handle on how mortgages work or how debt repayments function. This could lead to some big mistakes if you choose the wrong mortgage deal, pension or loan. Having a basic grasp of algebra along with good numeracy and an understanding of percentages, could literally save you thousands of pounds. Martin Lewis from moneysavingexpert.com believes the average family can save £5,000 by getting the best deal on all their bills. There is no doubt that algebra and maths is vital to many of these calculations.
9. Algebra can be beautiful
Believe it or not, but algebra can be really beautiful! Unfortunately this is not necessarily obvious when you are first learning the basics of the subject. By the time you get a little bit further, perhaps studying GCSE higher paper or A-level maths and further maths, the elegance of algebra should be becoming more obvious. Read an article here about what is possibly the most beautiful equation - Euler's equation.
G.H.Hardy (a famous 20th Century mathematician) wrote:
"Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics."
10. Algebra is part of our culture
Education is not just about learning a narrow set of information or skills which you will use every day in the future. Learning is also about being educated about a wide variety of topics, so that you can make sense of the world which you live in. Algebra has played such a big part in our history, (without it there would have been no industrial revolution, no man on the moon etc.) that we should at least know a bit about it, just like we learn about Shakespeare, or the history of the Roman empire.
Article by Hazel Lewis
"Why study algebra?" If you're a parent, it's a question that you will no doubt hear as your children study the subject. If you're a student, it is a very natural question to ask, "What's the point of learning algebra in the first place?"
After all, all of the math leading up to algebra that we learned growing up such as addition, multiplication, decimals, fractions, and the like, seem to have a concrete meaning. These concepts all deal with numbers in some way or another and because of this we can wrap our brains more easily around the concepts. After all, I can pick up six pencils and give two to a friend and by using math I can figure out how many pencils I am left holding in my hand. We can all imagine situations where basic math serves us well - calculating your change in the grocery store for instance.
In short, basic math deals with numbers. Since we are all taught how to count at a young age the concepts of basic math, even though challenging at first, seem to have a practical value - even to children.
Enter Algebra. Suddenly, we are asked to deal not only with our comfortable numbers but with letters. And it doesn't stop with this. You start seeing parenthesis and exponents, and a whole potpourri of other symbols that seem to make no sense at all. This single fact more than any other turns many people off to learning algebra. At the very beginning you are asked to learn certain rules on how to calculate things in algebra. You must learn which steps are legal to do before others, and if you do them in the reverse order you get the wrong answer!
This leads to frustration. With frustration, despair follows in short order. And so the thoughts begin:
"Why do I need to learn this?"
"When would I ever use Algebra in real life?"
What you have to remember, though, is that basic math is riddled with special rules and symbols as well. For example, the symbols "+" and "=" were at one time foreign to us all. In addition the concept of adding fractions, as a single example, is filled with special rules that we must learn. When adding 1/3 to 1/3, for example, you keep the common denominator and add the numerators, so that 1/3 + 1/3 = 2/3. The point here is that when you begin to learn algebra it may seem overwhelming with the rules that you must learn, but this is no different from the multitude of rules that you had to learn that dealt with basic math such as addition and subtraction.
Learning Algebra is achievable for all, you just need to take things one step at a time and learn the basic rules before moving on to more advanced topics.
But this does not answer the question of "Why should I learn Algebra?" This is a difficult question, but the simplest answer is that Algebra is the beginning of a journey that gives you the skills to solve more complex problems.
What types of problems can you solve using only the skills you learned in Algebra? I invite you to take a journey with me back to your childhood. We've all been to the playground and had a great time on the see-saw, the merry-go-round, and the slide. At one time all of us were completely fascinated with these trips to the playground, but Algebra can help you understand them. The physics of all of these playground toys can be completely understood using only Algebra. No Calculus required. For example, if you knew the weight of a person at the top of the slide and you knew the height of the slide you could roughly calculate how fast you would be traveling as you exited the bottom of the slide.
On the see-saw, let's say that a person was sitting at one end and you knew that person's weight. You'd like to sit on the other side of the see-saw, but not at the very end - you'd like to sit opposite your partner in the middle between the seat and the pivot point. Using algebra, you could calculate how heavy you'd have to be to exactly balance the see-saw.
Moving away from playground equipment, as children we were all fascinated with the magical way that magnets attract each other. Using algebra, you could calculate how much force a given magnet would pull on another magnet.
There are examples all around us of things in the everyday world that you could fully understand using only the tools in algebra. If you drop a rock off of the roof of a house, how long would it take to hit the ground? If you dropped a second rock 100 times as heavy off of the roof of the same house, how long would it take to hit the ground? If you somehow brought a bulldozer up to the roof of the house and dropped it, how long would it take for the bulldozer to hit the ground? The answer in all three cases it takes the same amount of time to hit the ground! The time of free-fall depends only on the Earth's gravitational field (which is the same for us all) and the height of the roof you drop from. Even though the bulldozer is "heavier" than the rocks, they all fall at the same rate to the ground.
Most people would assume that learning about more "advanced" topics such as rocket propulsion and Einstein's theory of Relativity would require much more advanced math than Algebra. It is true that more advanced math is necessary to understand every facet of these and other advanced topics. However, many of the fundamental principles can be understood using only the tools in algebra. For example, the equations that describe how a spacecraft orbits the Earth only involve algebra.
Moreover, many of the central topics in Einstein's theory of special relativity can be understood only using algebra. For example, it turns out if you are traveling on a spaceship near the speed of light time actually slows down for you relative to your friends back on Earth. In other words, if you were to fly in a spaceship near the speed of light for some time and then you returned to Earth, you would find that you had aged very little while your friends on Earth have aged a great deal! Albert Einstein coined this phenomenon "time dilation" and it can easily be calculated using only Algebra. This effect is not a theoretical effect - it has actually been measured many times. In fact, the GPS system of satellites in the sky that the military and police forces depend on must take into account the effects of time dilation or else the system would not work at all! Because the satellites are moving in orbit around the Earth at speeds much smaller than the speed of light, the time dilation involved is very small - but it must be accounted for or the system would not function.
Now, you might be thinking, "I never learned how to calculate things such as this in my algebra class!" This is in fact true. All of the applications we have been talking about here are known as the study of Physics. If you had to boil the word Physics down to one sentence it would be: "Physics is all about studying the world around us using math as a tool."
Simply put all the math that you ever learn is really a tool for understanding the world around us. And believe me, we have only begun to scratch the surface of understanding how the world works. Algebra is a stepping stone to learning about this wonderful universe that we live in. With it you have the tools to understand a great many things and you also have the skills needed to continue on and learn Trigonometry and Calculus which are essential for exploring other types of problems and phenomena around us.
So, try not to think of Algebra as a boring list of rules and procedures to memorize. Consider algebra as a gateway to exploring the world around us all.