In general math is taught by focusing on the steps. Conduct a Google search for solving equations and you will see the steps presented (below). You need a video to help your student understand solving and you typically get a presenter standing at the board talking through the examples. (I’ve posted on my approach to solving equations.)
When the math is taught through the skill approach the student may be able to follow the steps but often does not understand why the steps work (below). The brain wants information to be meaningful in order to process and store it effectively.
To help flesh this situation out consider the definitions of concept and skills (below). Concept: An idea of what something is or how it works – WHY. Skill: “Ability” to execute or perform “tasks” – DOING.
Here is how the concept first approach can play out. One consultation I provided involved an intelligent 10th grader who was perpetually stuck in the basic skills cycle of math (the notion that a student can’t move on without a foundation of basic skills). He was working on worksheet after worksheet on order of operations. I explained down and monthly payments then posed a situation shown at the top of the photo below. I prompted him to figure out the answer on his own. He originally forgot to pay the down-payment but then self-corrected. Then I showed him the “mathy” way of doing the problem. This allowed him to connect the steps in solving with the steps he understood intuitively, e.g. pay the $1,000 down payment first which is why the 1000 is subtracted first. Based on my evaluation the team immediately changed the focus of this math services to support algebra as they realized he was indeed capable of doing higher level math.
I introduce solving equations by building off of the visual presentation used to introduce equations. The two photos below show an example of handouts I use. Below these two photos I offer an explanation of how I use these handouts.
First I develop an understanding of a balanced equation vis-a-vis an unbalance equation using the seesaw representation.
I then explain that the same number of guys must be removed from both sides to keep the seesaw balanced.
I then apply the subtraction shown above to show how the box (containing an unknown number of guys) is isolated. I explain that the isolated box represents a solution and that getting the box by itself is called solving.
I use a scaffolded handout to flesh out the “mathy” steps. This would be followed by a regular worksheet.
I extend the solving method using division when there are multiple boxes. I introduce the division by explaining how dividing a Snickers bar results in 2 equal parts. When the boxes are divided I explain both boxes have the same number of guys.
The students are then provided a scaffolded handout followed by a regular worksheet.
61 cents per ounce is a rate of change. Graph the line modeled by this (y intercept is 0) and it becomes slope of the line. In referring to algebra we often hear, “when will I ever need this?” My response is “all the time!” Our job as teachers is to make this connection for students.
This is a meaning making approach to introducing equations. I will walk through the parts shown in the photo in the space below this photo. (A revised edition of this handout will be used in a video on this topic.)
First I explain the difference between an expression (no =) and an equation (has =). An equation is two expressions set equal to each other (21 is an expression).
I then develop the idea of a balanced equation and will refer to both sides of the see saw as a prelude to both sides of the equation. I also focus on the same number of people on both sides as necessary for balance.
At this point I am ready to talk about an unknown. Here is the explanation I use with the photo shown below.
There are multiple instructional strategies in play.
I have posted on how to effectively provide support for current math topics. Here is an example (below) of how support can focus on both the current topic and prerequisite skills.
For example, on the 22nd in this calendar the current topic is solving equations. The steps for solving will include simplifying expressions and may involve integers. The support class can address the concept of equations, simplifying and integers which are all prerequisite skills from prior work in math.
This approach allows for alignment between support and the current curriculum and avoids a situation in which the support class presents as an entirely different math class. For example, I recently encountered a situation in which the support class covered fractions but the work in the general ed classroom involved equations. Yes, equations can have fractions but often they do not and the concepts and skills associated with the steps for solving do not inherently involve fractions.
Graphing linear functions and the underlying concept are challenging for many students. The video below shows a scaffolded approach to teaching how to graph. This approach also addresses the concept of the graph as a visual representation of all possible solutions (see photo above). Students often do not realize that the line is actually comprised of an infinite set of points which represent all the solutions. Here is a link to the document used in the video.
Function notation is challenging for many students yet we teachers overlook the reasons for the challenges. For example, students see the parentheses and rely on the rule they were taught previously, y(5) is “y times 5”. Because this is overlooked by teachers we often skim over the concept of notation and delve into the steps. This document is a means of presenting the concept and the use of function notation in a meaningful way. Feel free to use or revise and use the document as you wish.