Math Background

Equations: When Students Ask

  • Why should I bother learning this?
    This is an excellent opportunity to explain to students that balancing equations is the foundation for algebra. This can be a great incentive for many students since some of their older brothers and sisters might be in an algebra class. Be sure to explain that algebra uses letters to replace the boxes or blanks they see in equations, but the process is the same.
  • Is an expression the same as an equation?
    No! An equation is a mathematical statement that shows two expressions to be of equal value. An equation contains two expressions and an equals sign. Expressions can contain numbers, symbols, and/or variables. Examples of expressions are
    3 + 5
    6
    12a + 4

    Examples of equations are:

     2 + 6 = 4 + 4
     7 − 2 = 5
    12 − 3 = 15
  • When will I use equations in real life?
    Tell students that they already use equations in real life—for example, when they think of quantities that are equivalent to other quantities, or when they make comparisons between sizes. For example, if they want to know their height in inches and have a measure in feet, they use the equation 1 ft = 12 in. and multiply to convert the measurement from feet to inches. When they compare their height to that of a classmate or younger friend, they are thinking an equation such as, “Marina is Joe's height less 4 inches,” an equation that could be written M = J − 4.

Houghton Mifflin Math Grade 4