Do you love math? Or are numbers the bane of your existence? No matter whether you're a fan of math or not, it's clearly an important subject to learn. After all, how would you buy food at a grocery store, cook it, and then divide it amongst your family members without knowing basic math?

Most of us start our mathematical journey learning the basics of addition. From there, we move on to subtraction. After we've mastered the pluses and the minuses, we advance to multiplication and division. Sooner or later, we all reach the point where we make the leap into more advanced math. What are we talking about? Algebra, of course!

Some people refer to algebra as the point at which letters get involved in math. Algebra is a broad field of advanced mathematics that involves the study of mathematical symbols and the rules for manipulating those symbols. Algebra forms the basis for advanced studies in many fields, including mathematics, science, engineering, medicine, and economics.

In its simplest form, algebra involves using equations to find the unknown. Real-life problems probably spurred the development of algebra, which dates back over 4,000 years to the ancient Babylonians.

For example, a wagon carrying a load of hay bales hits a rut in the road and six bales fall off. How many bales of hay were originally on the wagon if 10 are left? The expression x – 6 = 10 would represent the simple algebraic equation to answer this question. In this equation, x represents the unknown (how many bales of hay were on the wagon at the start) and equals 16 when the equation is solved by adding six to each side of the equation.

Algebra gets much more complicated than that simple equation, leaving many students WONDERing when, if ever, they'll use algebra in real life in the future. Does it have any use? If not, why do you have to learn it?

For starters, algebra is foundational for advanced math classes, as well as many of the other subjects you'll learn as you proceed through high school and then college. Learning algebra helps to develop your critical thinking skills, including problem solving, logic, patterns, and deductive and inductive reasoning. Many professions, especially those in science and math, require an extensive knowledge of algebra. Even if you don't go into one of those fields, you'll probably use algebra without even realizing it!

Consider these examples: It's time to fill up your car's gas tank. The price of gas per gallon is $3 and you only have $25 to spend. How much gas can you purchase? This can be answered by the algebraic equation, 3x = 25. You must divide each side of the equation by 3 in order to isolate x. In this equation, x is equal to 25 divided by 3, which is 8.33 gallons of gas. If you need 10 gallons of gas, how much money do you need? When you solve that equation, you have algebra to thank!

Or how about this example? You would like to purchase Internet service for your home. Company A requires a setup fee of $10 and charges a monthly fee of $25. Company B does not charge a setup fee but charges $26 per month. Which company is less expensive for one year of service? We can find out by first calculating the total cost for Company A: x = $10 + $25*12 (months in a year), which comes to $310. The equation for Company B is x = $26*12, which totals $312. At first glance, it might have seemed like Company B would be cheaper, because they do not charge a setup fee, but algebra showed us differently!

There are many other examples of real-world uses of algebra, from comparing prices on similar products in a grocery store, to figuring out what time you need to leave your house in order to meet a friend across town on time. If you ever WONDER why you need to learn something like algebra, don't be afraid to ask your teacher or parent (or Wonderopolis!). Odds are, there's a good reason!

Wonder What's Next?

Join us in Wonderopolis tomorrow for a lesson that’s really just common cents!