For many of us, maths classes can be a distant memory, and it may be worth briefly introducing what algebra is, and why it is particularly important for children to study carefully.
The word algebra comes from the book published by the Islamic scholar Al-Khwarizmi in A.D. 820, a faculty member of the House of Wisdom of Baghdad, called "Al-jabr wa'l muqabalah", or "The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing". So, the word algebra comes from the Arabic word "al-jabr". Algebra is the study of mathematical symbols and the rules of how to manipulate those symbols, which we call variables and constants, and which are used in mathematical expressions.
So why is algebra so important for children?
Maths helps us to develop logical thinking, and algebra bolsters these logical skills and introduces and develops abstract thinking. These skills and techniques are not just useful for doing well in maths (which is useful in it's own right!), but they are also useful in almost every educational, professional, and commercial activity your child will eventually encounter as they grow up into a successful adult.
The main idea of algebra is using symbols such as x, y, and z to represent numbers, where their values vary. This is then written in algebraic language to solve a problem and find missing pieces of a puzzle. Students can then pin down and represent complicated relationships between the unknown numbers or quantities – 'variables' in algebraic language - and create a model for calculation of the problem. This model can then be used to predict any other similar problem with different x, y and z values.
If you want to understand more about how this helps more broadly in a child's personal development, here is a little quotation from the EdSource (https://edsource.org
) about its importance: "In algebra, students learn to reason symbolically, and the complexity and types of equations and problems that they are able to solve increase dramatically as a consequence," according to California's Mathematics Framework. "This ability to grasp complex, changing, and abstract concepts stimulates the brain, helping students learn how to think in new ways. Algebra also helps students organise their thinking, making it easier for them to craft reasonable responses when confronted with complicated or dynamic situations."
These problem-solving and critical-thinking skills can help students succeed in their jobs, whatever these may be, and are useful, lifelong skills, even if they do not continue their education beyond secondary level, or do not pursue a maths- or science-oriented career.
Therefore, we really need to focus on students' engagement with algebra from an early age, build the early concepts and develop the brain connections which will prepare them for the more complex and abstract thinking required in later years, regardless of the path they will choose for their studies or career.