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What is Algebra?

Date: 08/24/97 at 21:56:12
From: Kathryn Bowser
Subject: Algebra

Ok, I know this may seem stupid but I really haven't started to do 
actual algebra in school.  I was wondering if u might write back and 
explain from ground on if it not to much trouble.  thanx.
Kathryn Bowser

Date: 08/25/97 at 14:50:50
From: Doctor Ken
Subject: Re: Algebra

Hi Kathryn -

Wow, that's a pretty tall order.  It would be pretty difficult for me 
to try to explain high school algebra from the beginning!  But there's 
nothing wrong with you asking the question.

Let me start by trying to say what algebra is. This is kind of hard, 
because different people mean somewhat different things when they say 
algebra (a professional mathematician might mean something different 
from your teacher, for instance, but they're sort of talking about 
different aspects of the same kind of thing).  

But here's my simplistic view: algebra is the class where you learn 
how to work with "unknown quantities."  

For instance, let's look at a simple math problem: Kathryn has 22 
dollars, which is 4 more dollars than Momma Bowser.  How much money 
does Momma Bowser have?

In algebra, you learn to write "equations" to solve problems like 
these. Here's an equation for that problem: 22 = 4 + M . M represents 
the amount of money Momma Bowser has. In algebra, you learn how to 
solve problems like that, to get the answer: M = 18.

If you want more algebra stuff, you might try looking at our Algebra 
sections on the Web:   

Good luck!

-Doctor Ken,  The Math Forum
 Check out our web site!   
Associated Topics:
Middle School Algebra

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