I previously related elementary school word problems with math topics in secondary schools. The photo below shows a method to help elementary school students unpack the multiplication problem, to help middle school students identify the unit rate, and to help algebra students identify slope (you can focus on simple problems like this as an entry point to the linear function type problems).

In advance of this method, a review is conducted on the representation of multiplication using the groups of items model (below). By drawing a picture for the two parts of the problem that have a number, the students are guided to break the problem into parts and then to unpack the parts. The “5 boxes of candies” is represented by squares (or circles if you prefer) with no items inside. The “each box holds 6 candies” is represented by a single square with 6 items (dots) inside.

In turn, the drawing of the group of items leads to the multiplication statement, “6 candies x number of boxes.” I prompt students to include the items with the number as sometimes they will write this statement as “6 x number of candies”. I point out that 6 and candies go together. As seen in the previous blog post, the next step in this problem would be to replace “number of boxes” with the quantity given and then compute.

One step in reading and analyzing scatterplots is simply identifying what the dots on the graph represent. If students do not understand the dots (including the position) how can they analyze. An approach I have used is start by having students create their own scatterplot for mileage and price of used cars they shop for on Carmax.com. This allows them experience the scatterplot from a data and context point of view.

Then I present the scatterplot of used Ford Mustangs on a Jamboard (image above) with ads for two used Mustangs along with a cutout of each car. The goal is to help the students understand the reasoning behind the position of each dot.

First, I take the cutout of the first car and “drive it” along the x-axis (top 3 photos in gallery below). This helps them understand the horizontal axis placement. Then I move the car up to the appropriate price (bottom row left). Finally, I replace the car cutout with the bigger blue dot that was placed by the ad with the car. We then discuss that a dot can be used to represent that car and the location on the scatterplot is based on the two values in the ordered pair (which can be typed into the ( , ) in the Jamboard next to each car.

The same steps are used for the other Mustang (see it “driving” along the x-axis below).

The next step would be to identify additional points on the scatterplot. I then revisit driving the cars and show that driving the car more miles results in a lower price and driving the car less miles results in a higher price. Finally, we discuss that this is a general trend but that it is not always true for each car. I highlight a couple points where one of the cars has more miles and a higher price (below). This leads into a discussion about additional factors influencing price.

When our 3rd child was born, we decided to buy a used Honda Odyssey as 3 young kids were not fitting into a sedan. Being the stats geek I am (master’s in statistics at the University of South Carolina – total geek) I collected mileage and price data for all the used Odysseys for sale on dealer sites throughout South Carolina. I then created a the scatterplot shown below. I went to a dealer, showed an agent my graph, and he immediately exclaimed “Where did you get that? We create graphs like that every week!”

It was this experience that led me to the idea of using used car data to introduce linear functions. Shopping for a used car has proven to be a relevant, real life activity the students enjoy.

Here is a link to a comprehensive activity that walks students through various components I use for introducing students to linear function topics.

Used car shopping to collect data on 10 used cars of a single make and model.

Creating a scatterplot for price vs mileage of the used car of choice.

Creating a line of best fit (regression line) to model the data.

Creating a linear bi-variate equation (regression equation) to model the data.

The activity is presented on a WORD document (feel free to revise). It shows screenshots to walk student through the Carmax website (subject to Carmax revising their website). The screenshots make it easy for the student to navigate, which increases independence. (NOTE: there is an ample number of Youtube videos on using Google Sheets for this activity.)

The end product looks like this. Note the importance of using 1000s of miles as the slope is more meaningful, -$140.64 per thousand miles, as opposed to 14 cents per mile. I would start with the scatterplot alone to unpack the variables, the relationship between the variables, and the ordered pairs. Then the line and equation can be introduced to show a meaningful use of the line and the equation. The y-intercept has meaning with “0 miles” equating to a new car (I do not explain that new cars have miles already accumulated until we unpack the math).

The scatterplot above is an approach I use to introduce systems of equations. Here is the process I use. (Note: I have found that students like math associated with buying a car – relevant, real life application for them.)

In my class, students would have seen a scatterplot with mileage and price for a single car. I explain that we will now compare two cars.

To review, in a do now or initiation at the start of class I would have one group generate a scatterplot for the Toyota Camry data and the other groups, Mustang (Excel sheet for all of this note: this data is old). Then they would share with each other

We would revisit the relationship shown and revisit the idea of depreciation.

I show a Camry and Mustang and ask two questions: Which car do you think costs more brand new? Which do you think depreciates faster and why?

Then I show them the scatterplot above and ask which car has higher dots at the far left? Explain what this means (Mustangs start off with a higher price). Then I ask about the dots at the far right.

The students are then asked to estimate when the cars have approximately the same value.

Then I present scatterplot below, with lines of best fit (trend lines) and they are asked the same question. We estimate the specific mileage and price and write as an ordered pair.

Finally, I explain that this is known as a system of equations and the ordered pair is the THE solution. The entire unit will focus on finding an ordered pair as a solution.

I have frequently encountered the presentation of absolute value as a positive value or opposite. This is part of the repertoire of memory devices we (certainly I have in the past) use as a short cut to learning how to do the steps for a problem. The meaning of the absolute value of a number is it’s distance from 0 (below).

Below is an image of a Do Now or Initiation handout I use to introduce absolute value. From the start I focus like a laser on the meaning of distance for absolute value. I start with a situation that may be prior knowledge for them. Then take a step towards the mathy part with the numbers and slowly make my way to the symbol.

The TI-83 appeared only 6 years after Miami Vice but it and the upgrade versions are still suggested or even required in SOME* US colleges (see gallery of math syllabi below). This has implications for math classes in high schools, as seen in many teacher Facebook posts.

*In a previous iteration of this post I wrote “many” and wanted to clarify.

Teachers are faced with a dilemma, do they use Miami vice era technology because the higher institutes of learning may require it or do they avail themselves and their students of user-friendly and effective technology like Desmos, which is FREE!

I suggest using Desmos (or similar technology) to unpack topics and then assigning practice with the TI model of choice, with it used on the tests as well. This will mirror what students will likely see in college.

To make this situation even more disjointed, a commonly used math placement test for colleges does not allow either Desmos or a TI calculator.

Clockwise from top left: syllabi from CCSU (Connecticut), Gordon State, Texas A&M Commerce, THE Ohio State University, University of Kentucky, and University of Oregon.

I previously tackled the difference between the ” – ” symbol used to represent a negative and a subtraction problem. This post gets into multliplication through the context of buying a Wendy’s frosty.

One comment to preface what is presented here. Negative numbers are abstract and challenging for many students. Multiplying by negatives is even more so. The approach presented here for multiplying gets a little complex, which is inherent to the topic. In other words, this is an involved process as “there is no royal road to geometry.” What I present here is a path I develop over time, as seen in the sequence below.

First, review of a couple building blocks. Multiplication can be represented at groups of items. 2 x 3 can be represented as 2 groups of 3 $1bills, e.g., you bought 2 Frosties for $3 each.

Negative in terms of money can mean you owe money. Hence, -3 means you owe $3, e.g., you order a frosty and owe $3.

If you change your mind and cancel the frosty, the $3 you owe is cancelled and you get your money back. +$3.

If you order 2 frosties, you owe $3 and another $3, which is -3 + -3. (You owe $6 or -6.)

Cancel those two frosties and you get your money back. -(-6) is now +6

2 x -3 means you means you have 2 negative 3s – repeated addition, or -3 + -3.

If you ordered the 2 frosties and owe $6 then cancel, you get your $6 back or +6.

In mathy terms, cancelling the 2 x -3 is written as -(2 x -3) or -2 x -3.

The – for the -2 can be held out front to focus on 2 orders of frosties or 2 x -3. That was covered previously. Then the extra negative cancels that order so you get your money back. And so you have multiplying two negatives!

IXL.com is a site that provides online practice for math (and other topics). It has a hidden feature that allows for very effective differentiation. This can be highly useful in a general ed math class and in settings for special education services. This includes special ed settings with students working on a wide ranges of math topics, for algebra students who missed a lot of class or enter the course with major gaps, and for the general algebra population to meet the range of needs. IXL can be used before the lesson or after, for intervention.

By way of example, assume you have a student or students working on graphing a linear function using an XY table (image below). Using a task analysis approach, this topic can be broken up into smaller parts: completing an XY table, plotting points and drawing the line, interpreting what all of this means. I will focus on the first two in this post.

IXL has math content for preschool up to precalculus. For the topic of graphing (shown above) many of the steps are covered in earlier grades. For example, plotting points is covered in 3rd grade (level E), 4th grade (level F), and 6th grade (Level H). To prepare students for the graphing linear functions, they can be provided the plotting points assignments below to review or fill in gaps.

The tables used to graph are covered starting in 2nd grade (level D) and up through 6th grade (level H). These can also be assigned to review and fill in gaps.

When it is time to teach the lesson on graphing a linear function, IXL scaffolds all of the steps. For example, the image below in the top left keeps the rule simple. The top right image below shows that the students now have an equation in lieu of a “rule.” The bottom image below shows no table. All 3 focus on only positive values for x and y before getting into negatives.

The default setting on IXL is to show the actual grade level for each problem. I did not want my high school students know they were working on 3rd grade math so I made use of a feature on IXL to hide the grade levels (below), which is why you see Level D as opposed to Grade 2.

Here are excerpts from two handouts I use to help students understand how to write multiplication and rate word problems as math expressions. The image, below at top, shows a problem from the first handout I present. The students draw a single group represented by the rate expression (for elementary school word problems the term rate is not used). The image at the bottom is the same problem with scaffolding to write the multiplication problem. I find that students working on rates and slope in middle school, high school, and even in college struggle with this topic. I use this approach as part of a review of prerequisite skills before getting into rate and slope.