De-mystifying algebra

Math, and in particular algebra, with its abstract concepts of equations and solving for variables, can be daunting for many students. Manipulatives (concrete objects that can be touched and moved, that aid in counting, equations, fractions, multiplication and other math tasks) help students visualize complex math concepts. 

“Equations are like balances,” teacher Brittany Fitzgerald explains to her seventh-grade class. “Each side must be equal to the other.” She demonstrates by moving red cubes, representing positive integers, to both sides of a scale. “If I replace the cubes on one side with this single unmarked blue figure, which represents a variable called X, then we know that X is equal to the total number represented on the cubes sitting on the other side.”
— Brittany Fitzgerald, 7th grade teacher

Students have been enthusiastic and quick to adopt the method. They say, “This is much easier. Very hands on, more visual,” and “I can actually see the answers with this.” Soon they will be able to solve equations using only paper and pencil. Manipulatives can help them master the abstracts of algebraic concepts more quickly and be better prepared to win at math.