## Algebra? It’s Just a Box!

Algebra is a scary word. I know because it scared me when I was younger. I hated maths at school. I didn’t understand it, I didn’t want to understand it and I have no idea how I managed to get my maths O’level! It’s only since deciding, later in life, that I wanted to become a teacher that I have relearned maths and, thanks to family and this brilliant book by Derek Haylock, discovered that it doesn’t have to be hard.

I can remember sitting in lessons, struggling with numbers and then being horrified when suddenly we had letters thrown in as well. That didn’t make sense – letters belonged in English lessons, not maths.

Given all that, I can understand why children panic when it comes to algebra. The best way I have found to reassure them is to tell them it’s just a box.

5 + n = 7 looks impossible to some children, so we take the letter away and replace it with a box.

5 + □ = 7 is the sort of thing they’ve been used to since KS1.

Once they are happy with this it’s only a small step to coping with 5n = 20. They agree that writing 5 x n = 20 would be confusing because it looks like two letters, but it’s still algebra so it’s still just a box, so they just add in the x themselves. So now we have:

5 x □ = 20 . Simple!

I’ve had children go from tears and tantrums to smiles of delight in about 10 minutes, as they ask “Is that it?” From then on if you ask them if algebra is difficult they’ll smile at you and say, “No. It’s just a box.”

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## How do they celebrate Christmas in France?

This is a guest post from Caroline Skudder who works as an English teacher at the Université Stendhal-Grenoble.

Christmas is a special and magical time of the year. Both adults and children look forward to it for different reasons: children for the tons of presents they get and adults for the fine food and chocolates they are going to eat. Both Christmas eve and Christmas day are celebrated. It is often the opportunity for couples and families to spend one of these days at one family’s and the other at the other family’s so everybody is happy. Father Christmas often comes two or three times: in the evening of Christmas eve (at one set of grandparents’) , in the morning of Christmas day (at home) and at lunch time of Christmas day (at the other set of grandparents’).

The Christmas tree is often put up at the start of December and all the family set to work to decorate it. It often ends up being a little unbalanced but the children are proud of their work. Recently, there has been the fashion for outside electrical lights to decorate the house and neighbours often compete for the best decorated house.

Some families go to midnight mass and watch a nativity play played by children.

Tables are set up. Often several old tables are put next to each other to host everybody and we struggle to find a chair for everyone. We decorate them with Christmas table cloths and bits and pieces.

Christmas is about eating refined and delicious food you do not get to eat in the year. Several members of the family prepare a dish for the meal. The whole evening from 7 to past midnight is spent eating. There are several starters (there can be up to 3 or 4, for instance smoked salmon, prawns, snails or frog legs, foie gras), two main courses (for instance Turkey and Chestnuts or duck or poultry), the traditional cheeses and the Christmas logs. We often have enough food for the rest of the week!

Joyeux Noël (Happy Christmas)

If you want to learn French and you are based in Birmingham, you can contact me via my website for private French lessons.