Maths - More algebra? Yes, please

20th April 2012 at 01:00

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.

What else?

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.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today