My ole brain ain’t what it used to be, but I have found a way to keep my gray matter from turning to mush—algebra. I don’t remember even taking algebra in high school—50 years ago– but I do remember taking geometry from Mr. Ingram. After high school I remember taking college math but I still don’t remember taking algebra. So why study algebra now? There are plenty of reasons to study algebra—at any age.

I have a 9th grade niece who often asks for my help with assorted homework. Last year she sat down at the breakfast table and whipped out a sheet of algebra problem. “Algebra? I don’t know anything about algebra, you’re the one with the young brain—and a teacher.” Still I tried to help—whipping out a book on the shelf that helped us solve the problems. So what exactly is algebra?

If you try to find a good one sentence definition of algebra you won’t. One website says that algebra goes back to the 15th century, either with Hindu or Arabic origins. One definition is this: “Algebra (from Arabic al-jebr meaning “reunion of broken parts”[1]) is one of the broad parts of mathematics, together with number theory, geometry and analysis. As such, it includes everything from elementary equation solving to the study of abstractions such as groups, rings, and fields. Elementary algebra is essential for any study of mathematics, science, or engineering, as well as such applications as medicine and economics. Abstract algebra is a major area in advanced mathematics, studied primarily by professional mathematicians.” Still don’t know what algebra is? Well it involves equations. It also involves using a formula with a certain known to search for an unknown. Algebra deals with evaluating an algebraic expression using what is called “Order of Operations” to arrive at a solution. Algebra deals with variables represented by a letter, usually x or y. Got it?

Well, I didn’t get it either, but helping my niece with her 9th grade algebra peaked my interest in buying an algebra book and learning more. So off to the Blind Council Thrift Store I went—and lo and behold it was a .10 book day and I found a brand new Introductory Algebra for College Students hardback book for one dime, including a new unopened CD. So starting about a month ago, I starting on page 1 and began learning algebra. Every day, for at least 30 minutes I read the chapter and work the problems. As of today I’m on page 171 and I have been amazed at how my ole brain is learning what I thought would be impossible to learn. I’m now on the chapter called, “Solving linear inequalities,” and I can now work out some problems in my head. Algebra is teaching me a lot more.

First of all algebra has taught me not to be afraid to tackle something new. One of the primary reasons people don’t live up to their potential is that they allow fear to overcome them and convince them that they “can’t.” As the old saying goes, “Can’t died and Can preached his funeral.” The second thing I’m learning from studying algebra is that it is helping me to learn process—as in do this first before you do that. The “order of operations” for solving algebraic expressions uses this study tip “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally,” which means to approach each problem by solving grouping within the Parentheses, then solve the Exponents, then Multiply, Then Divide, Then Add, and Then Subtract. The third thing I have noticed since studying algebra is that my ability to remember numbers has increased dramatically. As we age, our memory fades—and with continuing age dementia and other ailments can beset us. Algebra is helping me to keep my brain cells active and challenged with increasingly more difficult problem solving. The other benefit of studying algebra is that it has taught me to slow down, read the problem, understand the problem, and to take one small step at a time. Algebra prevents panic attacks by reminding us take small steps toward problem solving. The other day I noticed yet another benefit from solving algebra problems. For some reasons when I now read sheet music I am able to move through tough passages of music with less difficulty. I have no idea what the connection could be but my sight reading of sheet music is much improved since I have been studying algebra.

So, grab an algebra book. Get busy learning the basics—take it slow. You can do it. Try solving for x in this equation: 2x – 15 = -4x + 21. And the answer is what? 6 How? Get all the like operations to one side—move 4x to the left side of the equal sign and add 4x to 2x which changes the algebraic expression to 4x + 2x -15 =21. Note when you move -4x to the left of the equal sign the – minus sign changes to a plus. Next add 2x to 4x which makes 6x. Next move -15 to the right side of the = sign which makes it a +15; again the minus changes to a plus when you move it to the left of the = sign. Next add +15 to +21, which equal +36. Next divide 6x into 36 which means that x = 6. Easy as pie. Learn algebra. Your brain will thank you for helping it to develop and stay young and alert.

Copyright 2014 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.