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Algebra with words, symbols or a computer

"If some one say: "You divide ten into two parts: multiply the one by itself; it will be equal to the other taken eighty-one times." Computation: You say, ten less thing, multiplied by itself, is a hundred plus a square less twenty things, and this is equal to eighty-one things. Separate the twenty things from a hundred and a square, and add them to eighty-one. It will then be a hundred plus a square, which is equal to a hundred and one roots. Halve the roots; the moiety is fifty and a half. Multiply this by itself, it is two thousand five hundred and fifty and a quarter. Subtract from this one hundred; the remainder is two thousand four hundred and fifty and a quarter. Extract the root from this; it is forty-nine and a half. Subtract this from the moiety of the roots, which is fifty and a half. There remains one, and this is one of the two parts."

~ Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī (Source: Wikipedia)

The tools for doing algebra have evolved over the years. When Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī was working on algebra, he did all of his work in words (see above). The symbols we have invented are a different tool we use for solving algebra problems. The fundamental structure of algebra is therefore something different than either of these tools.

Can we do algebra with a computer (which is today's new tool for doing algebra) and preserve the underlying qualities that are algebra? How does access to a computer, and knowledge of programming, change what we can do with algebra? 

About David

David is a Formative Assessment Specialist for Mathematics at New Visions for Public Schools in NYC. He has been teaching since 2002, and has worked in Brooklyn, London, Bangkok, and Vancouver before moving back to the United States. He has his Masters degree in Educational Technology from UBC, and is the co-author of a mathematics textbook. He has been published in ISTE's Leading and Learning, Educational Technology Solutions, The Software Developers Journal, The Bangkok Post and Edutopia. He blogs with the Cooperative Catalyst, and is the Assessment group facilitator for Edutopia. He has also helped organize the first Edcamp in Canada, and TEDxKIDS@BC.

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