What the lesson is about
At a basic level, algebra is an effective form of shorthand; at an advanced level, a vehicle for expressing and examining theories and discoveries, writes Naomi Sani. We should be doing more algebra in primaries and promoting it positively. Simple algebra is a natural extension of simple number work. For example, find the value of y in:
4 + 5 = y Answer: y = 9
12 - y = 8 Answer: y = 4
If young children have been taught well, they will readily complete such a task; only those who have learnt to fear algebra will freeze.
Primary pupils at ease with the above can cope with more algebra basics. For example:
n + n + n + n is the same as "4 lots of n" or 4 x n;
4 x n is conventionally shortened to 4n;
n x 4 is also shortened to 4n, as n x 4 is the same as 4 x n and the convention is to write the number first.
Writing expressions is easy when pupils know that any lower-case letter can be used to represent the unknown number. For example: add 5 to an unknown number: answer: n + 5. Subtract 3 from a number: answer: n - 3. Multiply a number by 10: answer: 10n.
So more algebra please! Let's banish the fear and ensure it's universally well taught.
Algebra can be easier when letters are given meaning. Try shivabob's paperclip activity to give those symbols a real context. And enjoy a colourful maths activity with tafkam's algebra hunt.