This is why Algebra matters

14 07 2013

A sportswriter sarcastically wrote that an opening preseason basketball game will “become about as significant as algebra formulas learned in high school.” The writer may not realize it, but nearly all sports statistics are produced using algebraic equations. Average points per game are used to determine the Most Valuable Player. Winning percentages are used to determine top rankings. These are calculated with concepts learned in Algebra.

 There are some significant reasons why Algebra matters so much in life.  Student success in algebra can help predict salary earning, math confidence, high school courses and college readiness.

Zalman Usiskin, the director of the University of Chicago School of Mathematics, writes in “Why is Algebra Important to Learn” that without a knowledge of Algebra, students:

  • are kept from doing many jobs or even entering programs that will get you a job;
  • are more likely to make unwise decisions, financial and otherwise; and
  • will not be able to understand many ideas discussed in chemistry, physics, the earth sciences, economics, business, psychology, and many other areas.

Students who leave middle school with a strong understanding of Algebra have more confidence in math and consequently envision themselves as more likely to go on to college, according to research from The National Center for Educational Statistics, Early Childhood Longitudinal study data published in 2010.  At Flagstaff, our goal in middle school is for every student to successfully pass Algebra by the end of 8th grade. To achieve this goal, we have two different ways we approach learning Algebra.  Typical Algebra students at Flagstaff take Algebra over the course of 7th and 8th grades.  By taking two years to study Algebra, we ensure students have the time necessary to fully master the content.  Some students who have proven ready to master the content in a single year take the full Algebra course in one year and go on to take more advanced classes in subsequent years.

By taking Algebra in middle school, students can take more advanced math classes in high school. Students who take advanced math classes in high school are more likely to enter into a Science, Technology, Engineer and Mathematics (STEM) profession later in life.  According to the 2011 study “STEM: Good jobs now and for the future,” published by the U.S. Department of Commerce, this is important for two reasons.  First, STEM occupations are projected to grow by 17 percent from 2008-2018, compared to 9.8 percent growth for non-STEM occupations.  Second, STEM workers command higher wages, earning 26 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts.

Algebra is helpful for many reasons.  The mind develops new ways of thinking through the process of learning algebra.   It helps us understand and make sense of patterns in life.  As educators, we are committed to helping students master Algebra, because Algebra matters in life.




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