The word "algebra" derives from the Arabic al-jabr meaning ``the reunion of broken parts.'' Algebraic concepts were used as early as 1650 B.C. in Egypt and Ancient Babylon, and were brought into Europe by the Arabs. And now, thousands of years later, judging by the mail in my inbox, it is a subject that many students need help with.
Want to amaze your friends and family? Start with a monthly calendar and a volunteer from the audience. Ask your volunteer to pick 4 days that form a square such as March 17, 18, 24 and 25. Your volunteer should tell you only the sum of the four days (for example 84), and you'll be able to tell her which four days she picked. How is it done? With algebra, of course!
What a scream! Meet Gwynn and Alison, two sisters doing the mall "California style" each trying to outspend the other. How much do they have to spend? Well, Gwen got a $50 present from her uncle, and managed to borrow $20 from Dad. Alison squeezed a birthday advance out of Mom. Then Dad went on a business trip and bought Gwynn a really nice present, but only bought Alison a crummy teddy bear. How are they ever going to figure it all out? It's Al-Jabra to the rescue!
What it lacks in fancy graphics, Introduction to Algebra makes up for in clearly-written definitions and easy-to-understand examples. Starting with "A variable is a symbol that represents a number." And moving on to "An expression is a mathematical statement that may use numbers, variables, or both." Each definition builds on the previous to present a straightforward introduction to algebraic concepts.