Teaching Algebra


When students start learning algebra at secondary school, are they aware that they have been doing simple algebra at primary school? When in their early years the teacher put on the board 5 +  = 10 and they had work out what was in the box, this was algebra. So I guess I am suggesting that this is a good way to de-mystify algebra by building on what they already know.

Another hook is to revise simple number patterns such as the even numbers:

2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18……….

A simple rule to generate these numbers is “add one to the odd numbers” (E = O + 1)

As Mathematics teachers we will hear from time to time:

“When are we ever going to use this?”

Hence, when teaching Algebra, I think it is important to list some applications and their relevant formula. Here is a list, perhaps you would like to add some more?

1.  Australian Rules Football:


(where  P = points,  G = goals scored, B = behinds scored)

2.  Temperature Conversion:


(where  F = temperature in degrees farenheit, C = temperature in degrees celsius)

3.  Young’s rule for Medicine:


(where  d = child’s dose, D = adult dose, a = age of child)

4.  Forensic Science:


(where  h = height of male, F = length of femur bone)

You can find more forensic formula (with student exercises) here.

5.  Period of a Pendulum:


(where  T = period, l = length, g = accel. due to gravity)

6.  Decathlon Point Scoring System:


(where  P = field performance in prescribed units, and A, B and C are set constants for each event) 

Another very important use of algebra is using formulas in spreadsheets.

Finally, I feel that it is extremely important to provide students with ‘hands on’ algebra experiences. An excellent resource for these is Maths300, which has 57 Algebra related activities such as ‘Algebra Walk’.


About webmaths

I have been teaching Mathematics in Victorian secondary schools for 30 years. I use the www to make my maths lessons better. I hope this blog will give other teachers some ideas to try in their own classes.
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