When people find out I am a math teacher, if they don’t tell me how much they hate math and how they were never “good at it” (this comment, BTW, usually culminates with them vomiting on my shoes), they invariably offer that they were good in Geometry and bad in Algebra, or vice versa.
I never ask people which they preferred in school; for some reason they almost always volunteer their preference. If you happen to be of this same mind – that you preferred Algebra to Geometry in school or vice versa, consider the following reason why this may be so.
Geometry is very spatial. Nary a Geometry problem is not accompanied by a figure, usually involving angles, triangles, quadrilaterals, or circles with chords and tangent lines, all chock full of capital letters denoting vertices and such. True, there may be some algebra involved in the solution of the geometry problem (which, incidentally, is why Algebra generally precedes Geometry in most high school coursework), but diagrams and figures reign dominant in Geometry.
Algebra, on the the hand, is typically void of diagrams and figures and relies instead on a student’s ability to manipulate symbolic expressions in solving problems.
Therein lies the distinction. The left hemisphere of the brain is dominant in the cognitive processes using LOGIC, SYMBOLS and LANGUAGE. The right hemisphere of the brain deals with SPATIAL, CREATIVE, and MUSICAL processing. That is to say, Algebra and Geometry are processed in different hemispheres of the brain: Algebra is a left-brain pursuit while Geometry is right-brained.
Of course, some of Geometry requires left-brain logic and some of Algebra requires right-brain spatial/linguistic processing (as in the case of solving word problems). But on whole, doing Algebra has more in common with writing an English paper than with doing an Geometry problem – at least cognitively.
I myself am a case in point. I am much more an Algebraist than a Geometer by trade and I am also a writer (not only in the case of this blog, but also for a forthcoming book I am writing that will published by Corwin Press).
I am willing to bet that those folks who liked Geometry tended to pursue artistic careers (sculptures, painters, photographers, architects and musicians) and those who liked algebra tend to pursue left-brain careers (scientists, economists, writers and lawyers).
If you had a preference, which did you prefer in school: Algebra or Geometry? dven.