So how important is algebra?

Everything from basic math up through high school!

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So how important is algebra?

Postby lisalinnay » Tue Oct 16, 2007 4:14 pm

I have a 14 year old son who hates math. He can do it, but he hates it. He's not at all likely to go into a career where he'll need algebra. He's very adventurous, loves the outdoors, loves to fight for justice, and he's an awesome writer. He writes like a novelist. My husband is in law enforcement, and he'll likely follow in his footsteps or become a conservation officer, or writer, or writer about nature, etc. But, he's only 14, so who knows?

Anyway, my question is - how important is algebra?
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Postby ncmom » Tue Oct 16, 2007 10:47 pm

In my opinion if you can do basic algebra...fill in the missing number type stuff that is all you need. All the other math you will need is real world type math and I don't mean the type where they give you the word problems about mixing coffee beans. I mean to cook, sew, build something, read a tape measure, things like that. I took algebra in high school and college and have yet to actually use what I was taught. I have my own way of solving the problems I come across in life and it is not by using the formulas I had to memorize in class. I guess it really depends on what you end up doing in life as to how important it is. If he can function in life and in the career he chooses doesn't require he have it then I wouldn't worry about it. However, if he is going to college he will need to pass it either by testing out of it or taking it as a course as it is required for all the degrees that I have ever read about. So if college is in his future he may want to at least go through alg. 1 so he isn't lost when he gets to college.

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Postby Theodore » Wed Oct 17, 2007 1:41 am

Algebra is quite useful for chemistry and physics, and it's probably going to be a requirement just for graduating from high school, never mind making it through college. Given, he won't need algebra much in real life, but it's just one of those things he'll have to grind through anyway, just like I had to work through a bunch of useless humanities credits (I was a comp sci major). Will I ever need to know anything about poetry? Not in a million years, but it was a requirement and I did it anyway.

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Postby Ginia » Mon Oct 22, 2007 6:37 pm

Whether you feel that Algebra will be useful in daily life or not, learning and practicing the higher level maths does a couple of very important things for the student:
(1) It teaches the student to think things through logically, step-by-step, to get to the final answer.
(2) It teaches him to do persevere through an entire problem until he reaches a solution.

When my daughter was in Algebra II, it was clear she would never use this math in her chosen career. Yet we persevered. She learned how to think things through. These critical thinking skills helped her tremendously in writing essays for college.

And in almost any 4-year college, math is a requirement for the degree.

On another note: I have a nephew who struggled with math.
He didn't want to go to college.
He wanted to become a carpenter, and when he applied to be apprenticed, he had to take - guess what! - a math test.
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Postby mark_egp » Wed Oct 24, 2007 9:22 am

Algebra is essential. Not everyone will solve equations for a living. But you need to be able to think in terms of "functions" - meaning how one thing varies as a result of a change to another thing on which the first thing is dependent. To have an intuitive sense of this is priceless. Algebra trains this type of thinking. "Functional" thinking works in politics, relationships, science, finances, etc - really in all of life. Algebra is just learning to convert various functions into different forms so they can be understood and manipulated more easily. This idea of "transforming" one problem into another type is also essential. Some problems are truly unsolveable as presented, but clever rethinking may show how it can be solved from another perspective - another essential life skill!

Algebra is wonderful to train proper thinking, as there is always an "objectively" correct answer - not a subjective "I think/you think" impasse common to so many of the "soft" sciences.
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the training asepcts of ALL higher math

Postby Bob Hazen » Tue Dec 25, 2007 11:47 am

As a former home school dad, as a current public school teacher, and as a contributor to the PHS magazine and forum, I'm here to say that ALL higher math can be of great help for students in several ways.

I'm going to skip the "pragmatic" approach - "Well, you'll use algebra when you..." or "You'll need trig when you..." While I don't dismiss the pragmatic aspects of higher math (and it is pragmatic), I want to emphasize the "training" aspect of higher math.

I tell my students that higher math is marvelous for three things: 1. to learn how to pay attention to detail (Was that exponent a 3 or a 5? Was that a positive or a negative? Is this sine or cosine?); 2. to learn to keep the big picture in mind (Wait - the square root of a negative number has no real number answer); 3. to learn how to solve problems.

Then I tell my high school kids, "I'll break the news for you: Many of you after you leave this precalculus class will NEVER use trigonometry again, ever. BUT.... but... but... if you realize that math is a training program to do #1 and #2 and #3 above, then I've got another bit of news for you. ALL OF YOU indeed WILL spend the rest of your lives needing to pay attention to detail (Was that bill due on the 14th or the 24th?); needing to keep the big picture in mind (Wait - call the customer - nobody could possibly want to order 14,000 cupcakes); and needing to solve problems (One of the four boxes on the shipping order isn't marked - how do we figure out which one? What's the shortest route for me to take to deliver these orders in as little time as possible? as little mileage as possible?).

Math is a training program in which you have trememdous opportunity to train your eyes, your brain, and your will to pay attention to detail, to keep the big picture in mind, and to solve problems. Hope this helps!

Bob Hazen

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