Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Gurkeerat. Gurkeerat Wonders, “Do you use algebra in everyday life?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Gurkeerat!

Do you love math? Or are numbers the bane of your existence? Whether you’re a fan of math or not, it’s an important subject to learn. Just think of all the things you couldn’t do without basic math! Math helps you buy food at the grocery story. It even helps you cook and divide it among your family members. Face it, folks. We need 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 the study of mathematical symbols and the rules for manipulating those symbols. It 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 drove the development of algebra. The subject dates back over 4,000 years to the ancient Babylonians.

Here’s an example. A wagon is carrying a load of hay bales. Suddenly, it hits a rut in the road. Six bales fall off! Luckily, ten bales are left.  How many bales of hay did the wagon have when before it hit the rut? You can use the algebraic expression “x — 6 = 10” to answer this question. In this equation, x represents the unknown (how many bales of hay were on the wagon at the start). Six is the number of hay bales that fell off, and ten is the numbers still on the wagon. By adding six to each side of the equation, you’ll find that x equals 16. So, the wagon had 16 hay bales before it hit the rut in the road.

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

For starters, algebra is foundational for other classes. That means you’ll apply what you learn in algebra throughout school. Learning algebra helps to develop your critical thinking skills. That includes problem solving, logic, patterns, and reasoning. You need to know algebra for many professions, especially those in science and math. Not planning to go into those fields? You’ll probably still 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!

Standards: CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.3.OA.A.4, CCSS.MATH.3.OA.B.6, CCSS.MATH.2.OA.A.1, CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.OA.1, CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.6.EE.A.2, CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.6.EE.B.6, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.SL.1

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