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Algebra: Getting Off to the Right Start

A Sequential Step by Step Process


First of all, math cannot be fully understood or learned well without practicing. Algebra is no different. If you just remember all the rules and procedures without truly understanding the concepts, you will no doubt have difficulty learning algebra. Algebra can begin to make sense with the determination to take small steps, practice and increase the difficulty in the types of equations you solve in a step-by-step sequential process.

Sometimes it helps to treat algebra like driving a car. You learn to drive with practice and there are certain rules to follow, knowing the rules makes driving easier and you avoid making mistakes. Algebra requires you to apply certain rules and the better you become at following the rules - which takes practice, the better you become a solving algebraic equations. Don't let the rules and procedures throw you off - those are part of life, you use them to drive, to follow recipes, to use a computer and to play games. Don't let rules and procedures throw you off algebra - treat it like a game and most of us seem to like games!

Why learn Algebra?

For starters - it's math! Careers today demand skills like problem solving, reasoning, decision making, and applying solid strategies etc. Algebra provides you with a wonderful grounding in those skills - not to mention that it can prepare you for a wide range of careers. Algebra is a great mental workout and it's the only path to moving on to more advanced maths. And....believe it or not algebra IS much easier to learn than many of us think!

The Basics of Algebra

  1. Take the real situation and turn it into an equation.
  2. Find out what the unknown is.

For example.........Here's the 'real' situation: Tabitha was carrying 20 balloons until the wind carried a few away and she was left with 15.

Now you need to take this and turn it into an equation:


That's the first step! Now this is pretty easy to figure out, however, when the problems get harder you will want to understand exactly what you do to solve the problem. That's when the balance scale comes into effect. Algebra is like a balance scale. To keep a balance scale balanced you will need to do the same to each side. If you have an 8 ounce block on both sides and add a 4 oz. block to one, you'll need to add it to the other side to keep it balanced. Let's apply this strategy to solve our equation.


We need to isolate x. So, if we subtract 15 from one side and subtract 15 from the other side, we'll solve x

What happens? You've taken 15 from the left side leaving nothing. You've taken 15 from 20 which gives you x=5

Easy? Well, that's step 1 and as I stated earlier, you will want to progress solving algebraic equations in an increasing level of difficulty.

You'll also need to apply the order of operations and you'll want to remember the following:

You keep trying to manipulate the equation to try to isolate the unknown.

Always do the same thing to each side whether you add, subtract, multiply or divide.

Learning algebra is a sequential process. When you are struggling, it's time to back up and review, I call this, closing the gap! Remember, there's lots of full year courses at a variety of levels devoted to Algebra!

With so many individuals owning tablets, iPads and Smart phones, here's a great list of my favorite apps for better understanding algebra.

A slow steady approach with lots of practice will provide you with the path to success! Good luck!

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