Monday, September 28, 2009

Hands-On Algebra

Do your high schoolers have problems sorting out those complicated algebraic problems? I discovered a way to help them get their hands around the problem -- literally!

When our eldest son was faced with the following equation, his brain just froze:

8ab2 - 1ba - 3ab - 3yx + 5ab2 - 2yx

However, when I wrote it on paper and had him dissect it, he quickly learned how to sort it out properly in his mind.

1. Write the equation on a slip of scrap paper with spaces between the terms. Include with the term whatever symbol (+ or -) is in front of it.

algebra problem

2. Divide the terms and highlight those with matching variables.

highlighted problem
3. Cut the terms apart and re-arrange them in matches. (This is acceptable for addition and subtraction in algebraic equations as long as you keep the positive and negative symbols intact.)

divided problem
4. Add the matching positive/negative terms, being sure to use the rules for adding positives and negatives. Notice that the variables may be in different order, but are interchangeable within the element since they are actually multiplication problems within the element.)

simplified problem

5. Re-attach the simplified terms and you have a simplified equation.

You can email me if you have questions.

Send your comments to for monitoring, and I will post those which are appropriate.