If you remember Algebra as that daunting class in junior high that the “advanced” students took, you may be surprised to learn that children now begin studying algebra as early as kindergarten. Algebra is essentially the study of patterns, relationships, and variables. As soon as a child asks, “How many crackers can we each have for snack today, Mom?” or “How many more minutes of TV time left?” she is doing algebra.
In late elementary school, algebra goes from being an underlying element in math work to a main element in class. But algebra is still all around us, from the data in the news to real life situations such as shopping and sports. Here are three activities you can do at home and around town to bring algebra into your daily lives:
What You Do:
Shop Till You Drop
Take your child grocery shopping and make them do the hard work! Armed with a calculator, pencil and paper, a shopping list and a budget, challenge him to select the groceries and keep within the total cost limit. He can also calculate the savings on various sale items. If he manages to keep your bill below the budget, the surplus can go towards a favorite treat!
Take Me Out to the Ball Game
The next time your child has to sit through a sibling’s ball game, bring along a calculator and a pencil and paper. Use the narrative of the game to create engaging word stories with various unknowns for your child to solve. For example, “If Maya scores six points in each quarter, how many points will she make for the entire game?” Or “The Bluejays are down by ten. How many baskets do they need to make in order to win? What if the Cardinals score two more three-pointers?” Have your child create the questions for you. Writing out the equations using variables will connect the real life situations to the abstract representations.
A Graph a Day
Each morning scour the newspaper for graphs and charts. The weather page, the sports section and the business section are good places to look, but they can be anywhere. Read the graph together, describe each axis and discuss the meaning. The more your child has exposure to graphs in a real-world setting, the more relevant the graphs in algebra will be.
Jes Ellis has a BA in American Civilization from Brown University and a Masters in Elementary Education from Smith College. She has taught for over five years in Central America, Central Africa and Central New Hampshire. She currently teaches in Concord, NH where she lives with her husband and two young children.