**Elementary algebra** introduces the basic rules and operations of algebra, one of the main branches of mathematics. Whereas arithmetic deals with specific numbers and operators (e.g +,-,*,/) (e.g. 3 + 2 = 5), algebra introduces *variables*, which are letters that represent non-specified numbers (e.g. 3*a* + 2*a* = 5*a*). Algebra also defines the rules and conventions of how it is written (called algebraic notation). For example, the multiplication symbol, is sometimes replaced with a dot, or even omitted completely, because its context makes its use obvious (e.g. 3 × *a* may be written 3*a*).

Elementary algebra is typically taught to secondary school students who are presumed to have little or no formal knowledge of mathematics beyond arithmetic as "algebra". As an introduction, elementary algebra can be found in books from the early 19th century.

Elementary algebra is useful in several ways, including (a) describing generalized problems (e.g. if Ann is 3 years older than Bob, this may be written algebraically as *a* = *b* + 3). (b) defining mathematical rules such as (*a* + *b*) = (*b* + *a*) stating that when adding two numbers, the order of numbers does not matter (see commutativity). (c) describing the relationship between numbers such as between temperatures on the Fahrenheit scale (*F*) and the Celsius scale (*C*), given by *F* = (9*C* ÷ 5) + 32.

The pushing of algebra from high school, where it has traditionally been taught, to elementary school has met with some controversy. Whereas students 30 years ago memorized multiplication tables in math class, students today, driven by the new Common Core Standards, are being introduced to variables as early as 6th grade. Educational theorists calculate that by age 11 children begin developing the ability to reason abstractly. However, this may not be true for all children and may account, at least in part, for the great difference in mathematical ability among students.

Still, there are ways to make algebra more concrete through the use of manipulatives and real-word problems. Equation-solving flowcharts allow students to work through abstract algebra problems in a more concrete way.

Read more about Elementary Algebra: Algebraic Notation, Solving Algebraic Equations

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