Writing and Solving One-Step Linear Equations in One Variable: When Students Ask

• Why should I bother learning this?
A sound understanding of algebra is the gateway to careers in areas such as economics, computer science, psychology, engineering, architecture, physics, and statistics. Fundamental to the study of algebra is the ability to solve problems by writing and solving equations. The transition from arithmetic to algebra needs to begin in the middle grades and continue through secondary school.
• How do I know what operation to use when solving an equation?
Knowing what operation to use to solve an equation can be confusing to students. Emphasize to your students the idea of “undoing” an operation by using its inverse operation. Have them verbalize what an equation means. For example, a simple equation like x − 5 = 8 means that “five is subtracted from a number and the difference is eight.” Have students explain how they can find the value of x.
• Why is my answer wrong if I don't have a label on it?
Students often forget to put the proper labels on their answers. Point out to students that this can often lead to problems and even be costly in real-life situations. In 1999, NASA sent a probe to Mars. Ground control gave instructions based on numbers given to them in meters, when in fact the flight designer had calculated the numbers in feet! Consequently, the probe smashed into Mars and cost the government several million dollars.