## Who uses algebra?

October 14, 2008 by musesusan

Via Uncertain Principles, I came across this article:

I am told that algebra is everywhere – it’s in my iPod, beneath the spreadsheet that calculates my car payments, in every corner of my building. This idea freaks me out because I just can’t see it. I sent out a query on my blog last week asking, Who among us in the real world uses algebra? Can you explain how it works?

Since I’ve been posting so much recently about how important it is to learn algebra and how poorly most students learn it, it’s taking a huge effort not to go off on a rant here. But at least the author is trying to understand, even if the huge list of formulas she provides quite misses the point. The commenters have done a nice job explaining this, as well as providing some examples of when she might use algebra-like thinking in everyday life.

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on October 14, 2008 at 12:58 pmThe Perky SkepticEVERYBODY!!! Everybody uses algebra! (Or SHOULD!) I use it

every single dayto calculate ratios, because the only way I can set them up properly is in solve-for-x equation form. Algebra is AWESOME!!! Anyone who doesn’t learn to use it is robbing themselves of AWESOME! The world needs more AWESOME!!!/rant

on October 14, 2008 at 1:02 pmmusesusanCouldn’t have said it better myself!

on October 14, 2008 at 7:45 pmEfriqueI use algebra every day, typically seven days a week.

I use it a lot in my job (I work for a software company). A day I don’t use algebra to solve a problem in my work is likely a day where I haven’t achieved a whole lot.

I use it to do research.

I use it in my hobbies.

I use it when I go shopping.

Mostly, I just use it to think.

on August 4, 2009 at 2:52 amGregPlease fuck off! No one can demonstrate even one real example in life of using an exponent!

When was the last time you did “Prime Factorization”. If you answer anything other than “Never!” you are a fucking liar.

Algebra is difficult for people to grasp because it cannot be defined. As is evidenced by all the rambling and evasiveness in the so called answers above/below.

I’d challenge anyone to come up with an actual definition of Algebra in under 20 words.

Later you insufferable know-it-alls

on August 4, 2009 at 8:36 amJohn ArmstrongIn the context above, we’re talking about high-school algebra, so..

The abstract study of equational relationships in the system of real numbers.

Twelve words. No go wash your mouth out, Greg.

on August 28, 2010 at 1:10 amEssJay10 Everyday Reasons Why Algebra is Important in your Life

Mathematics is one of the first things you learn in life. Even as a baby you learn to count. Starting from that tiny age you will start to learn how to use building blocks how to count and then move on to drawing objects and figures. All of these things are important preparation to doing algebra.

The key to opportunity

These are the years of small beginnings until the day comes that you have to be able to do something as intricate as algebra. Algebra is the key that will unlock the door before you. Having the ability to do algebra will help you excel into the field that you want to specialize in. We live in a world where only the best succeed.

Taking a detour on not

Having the ability and knowledge to do algebra will determine whether you will take the short cut or the detour in the road of life. In other words, ample opportunities or career choices to decide from or limited positions with a low annual income.

Prerequisite for advanced training

Most employers expect their employees to be able to do the fundamentals of algebra. If you want to do any advanced training you will have to be able to be fluent in the concept of letters and symbols used to represent quantities.

Science

When doing any form of science, whether just a project or a lifetime career choice, you will have to be able to do and understand how to use and apply algebra.

Every day life

Formulas are a part of our lives. Whether we drive a car and need to calculate the distance, or need to work out the volume in a milk container, algebraic formulas are used everyday without you even realizing it.

Analysis

When it comes to analyzing anything, whether the cost, price or profit of a business you will need to be able to do algebra. Margins need to be set and calculations need to be made to do strategic planning and analyzing is the way to do it.

Data entry

What about the entering of any data. Your use of algebraic expressions and the use of equations will be like a corner stone when working with data entry. When working on the computer with spreadsheets you will need algebraic skills to enter, design and plan.

Decision making

Decisions like which cell phone provider gives the best contracts to deciding what type of vehicle to buy, you will use algebra to decide which one is the best one. By drawing up a graph and weighing the best option you will get the best value for your money.

Interest Rates

How much can you earn on an annual basis with the correct interest rate. How will you know which company gives the best if you can’t work out the graphs and understand the percentages. In today’s life a good investment is imperative.

Writing of assignments

When writing any assignments the use of graphs, data and math will validate your statements and make it appear more professional. Professionalism is of the essence if you want to move ahead and be taken seriously.

Can you see the importance of algebra? Your day can be made a lot easier with planning. In financial decisions this can save you a lot of finances or maybe get you the best price available. It all comes down to planning and using the knowledge and algebraic skills you have to benefit your own life.

Use the key you have and make your life a lot smoother.

Algebra is used in everyday life by scientists and others who study issues like how fast diseases spread, or how to build a car that gets better gas mileage.

on August 4, 2009 at 9:32 ammusesusanOooh, my first troll! How exciting!

Say you’re in the grocery store and you have a total of $8 to spend. You know you need to buy milk and a box of cereal which together cost $4.80, and you see that bananas are on sale for 40 cents each. How many bananas can you buy?

You could figure this out by trial and error and just keep guessing different numbers of bananas, but it would be easier to solve it by subtracting $4.80 from $8, to get a total of $3.20 that you can spend on bananas, then divide that by $0.40 to see how many you can buy. That is, by solving the equation $0.40x + $4.80 = $8.

You’re driving to a different city 70 miles away for a job interview and you have an hour and a half to get there. How fast will you need to drive to get there on time? What if you want to get there 15 minutes early? What if you know there is a 5 mile construction zone partway through where the speed limit is 20 mph?

As for exponents, Wendy’s has a little advertisement that smugly states that there are 256 ways to personalize one of their hamburgers. How did they get this number? How many different toppings are there? Should you be impressed?

on February 10, 2010 at 2:50 pmHoward LautherAll right, “musesusan” — may I call you Susan? — I’ll accept your reasoning that a strong grasp of algebra can be an important tool in one’s education, even though I’m a bit stunned that the first respondent’s overuse and misuse of the word “awesome” seems to have impressed you. It almost makes me question your judgment, but you expressed yourself so well in your follow-up that I’m going to assume you were just being kind.

Anyway, perhaps I and most of my classmates suffered during algebra simply because of sub-par instruction. That is, the subject was never made relevant to our everyday lives. No one showed us when and how to USE algebra, rather than allowing that subject to use us. It was dry, dry imponderable stuff, and the textbook itself seemed to be an exercise in Greek.

For example, if our algebra teacher (it was a male, I’m almost sure of it) had presented problems similar to what you stated, then maybe he would have tickled our interest. Better still, if he had said something like “If one out of four of your classmates are the best-looking…blah-blah-blah” … well, maybe our ears would have perked up. We would want to know the shortest distance to finding the answer.

Indeed, how does algebra work for the homeowner? The person who wants a raise? The individual who wants to save money for a new car? The couple who must put money aside for a new baby? That person who owns a credit card? And so on. Until schools teach students how algebra can be a valuable tool in their everyday lives, it will always be something that’s dreaded and unappreciated.

on October 14, 2010 at 7:25 amIs there an algebra overkill? « Republic of Mathematics[...] Algebra has been a big concern of mathematics educators for many decades. My late colleague and friend Jim Kaput, famous for his work on algebra learning, essentially moved away from traditional algebra to simulation and modeling as routes for students to learn about change in mathematics. Jim was a visionary, and the cognitive difficulty of algebra sent him exploring many routes to help all students obtain mathematical competency. x Discussions about the utility, or otherwise, of algebra surface regularly. Recently an Education Week article “Is There an Algebra Overkill” tackled this question again. x The author, John W. Myres, comments: x “Most people add, subtract, multiply, and divide, using whole numbers, fractions, decimals, and percentages. They purchase food and clothing, balance checkbooks, create budgets, verify credit card charges, measure the size of rooms, fulfill recipe requirements, and even understand baseball batting averages or horse-racing odds. These activities don’t require a real knowledge of algebra.” x I feel the implication here is that it is not the “average” person that John Myres wishes to refer to, but the “typical” person. The implication, to me, is that it is a relatively rare bird who would find a need for algebra in their lives, or am I misreading Mr. Myres? x Is Mr. Myres right? I know my wife does not use algebra in her job as a university administrator, though she does use arithmetic in her job and at home to balance budgets. I am am a mathematician and I rarely use algebra except when I am teaching it! or when I am teaching other parts of mathematics. Then I use it a lot. So, who else apart from mathematics professors like me, and other mathematics teachers, uses algebra on a regular basis as part of their job? If we can scarcely find anyone then Mr. Myres is right and we have to ask why we are inflicting on school and college students what is known to be a fairly painful experience, one at which many students are likely to fail miserably. x Here’s a comment on the blog Intrinsically Knotted: [...]

on January 7, 2012 at 1:23 pmMoliahEvery time I look for ways that people use algebra in real life its always, “Oh well if you are filling up your car and you have $20 to spend and gas costs $2.50 a gallon (I wish!) then how many gallons can you buy? well 2.50x=20 now solve for x! YAY!” But who the heck is actually going to solve that? NOBODY! Your gonna stick the freaking gas nozzle in your little car and watch the thing till it gets close to $20 the stop it. DUH! Its ridiculous that they make kids learn algebra in school when not all of them will need it in life. They are gonna forget it and lead a perfectly fine life. If you want to be an engineer or something that uses algebra then you can spend your own time in college learning it and they don’t need to waste my time in the 8th grade learning how to formulate quadratic equations!

on May 30, 2012 at 8:40 amabcwell every1 uses algebra!!!!!!!!!!

on June 12, 2012 at 11:06 pmJ MThe last time I used algebra was when I was taking my algebra exam in high school. After that I promptly forgot all of it because I never used it again.

on August 21, 2012 at 6:47 pmALHi Greg, Could not have said it better. All those Mo Fos think pie are square. Pie are round, Cornbread are square. Thank you very much. AL

on August 27, 2012 at 8:52 pmSusanI am a high school math teacher and would completely agree that most people do not use algebra in their daily life and like Moliah pointed out, when given the chance to solve one of our own daily problems, we probably would probably not use the algebraic way to solve it.

In making this concession, however, I think one needs to think about the purpose of elementary and secondary education. As I see it (and therefore practice it), these are years of exploration for students to see all the possibilities for their future. As Mark Twain states, “the two greatest days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” The first 12 years of education are hopefully helping a student figure this out. By teaching kids reading, writing, science, history, foreign language and higher order mathematics we are teaching them to become critical thinkers. In addition, by offering this educational “smorgesbord” kids have an opportunity to figure out what interests them. I would hate to see an 8th grader making a decision about their future because he/she thinks that a particular subject is too hard or uninteresting. Limiting oneself at such a young age could have long lasting consequences.

I do agree that whatever the discipline, as teachers, we should always strive to make the curriculum both relevant and personal. This is not always easy to do, but it should be our goal non-the-less.

on August 28, 2012 at 1:35 ampyreeIf u just realized u use algebra everyday, and need some help to consciously use it: http://www.appup.com/app-details/formulalator