Tag Archives: algebra

Concepts vs Skills – Need Both

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.

calvin hobbs toast

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.

definition conceptdefinition skill

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.

solving equation with conceptual understanding first

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Introduction to Solving Equations

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.

intro to solving equations

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First I develop an understanding of a balanced equation vis-a-vis an unbalance equation using the seesaw representation.intro to equations balanced vs unbalanced

I then explain that the same number of guys must be removed from both sides to keep the seesaw balanced.

intro to solving equations balance and unbalanced

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.

intro to solving equations adding

I use a scaffolded handout to flesh out the “mathy” steps. This would be followed by a regular worksheet.

solving 1 step equations add scaffolded

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.intro to solving equations multiplying

The students are then provided a scaffolded handout followed by a regular worksheet.solving 1 step equations multiply scaffolded

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Rate of Change in Real Life

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.

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Introduction to Equations – (Meaning Making)

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.)

intro to equations

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).

intro to equations definition equation

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.intro to equations balanced vs unbalanced

At this point I am ready to talk about an unknown. Here is the explanation I use with the photo shown below.

  • I start with the seesaw at the top. The box has some guys in it but we don’t know how many.
  • We do notice the seesaw is balanced so both sides are equal.
  • This means there must be 2 guys in the box.
  • I follow by prompting the students to figure out how many guys are in the box(es) in the bottom two seesaws.
  • Finally, I explain that the number of guys in the box is the solution because it makes the seesaw balanced.

intro to equations definition solution

There are multiple instructional strategies in play.

  • Connection to student prior knowledge – they intuitively understand a seesaw. This lays the foundation for the parts of an equation and the concept of equality.
  • Visual representation that can be recalled while discussing the symbolic representation, e.g. x + 1 = 3
  • Meaning making which allows for more effective storage and recall of information.
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Videos Making Algebra Accessible

Below is a screen shot of a video in a series of videos that provide instruction on algebra topics. The videos are designed to make algebra more accessible for almost all students.

screen shot relations video

The presentations include the following instructional strategies

  • A focus on conceptual understanding (not just teaching steps)
  • Connection to prior knowledge
  • Breaking the math topics down into “bite-sized” pieces (chunking)
  • Color coding
  • Making the math relevant

The videos can be used in the following ways

  • Differentiation for students who need an alternative presentation
  • Initial instruction for students who missed instruction
  • Initial instruction as part of a class, e.g. flipping a classroom
  • For use when a substitute is covering a class
  • Intervention based instruction
  • Part of math support services (especially for special ed teachers who are not well versed in algebra topics)
  • Homework support

The videos include a link to the handouts used in the presentation. Additional practice worksheets will be included as well.

NOTE: this is only a sample, with more samples to follow. Please share feedback or ask questions.

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Graphing Linear Functions

Screenshot 2017-12-22 at 11.52.09 AM

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.

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Function Notation

Screenshot 2017-11-24 at 8.24.37 AM

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.

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Functions Introduction Video Lesson

This video provides instruction to introduce the definition of and conceptual understanding behind algebraic functions.

Functions video

Functions

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Snow Math

2017-03-14 10.03.23

Here’s a common word problem used for linear functions and equations (y=mx+b):

There are 6 inches of snow on the ground. Snow is falling at a rate of 2 inches per hour. Write a linear equation showing total snow as a function of time (in hours). The equation would be y=2x + 6.

Often the word problems like this are presented on a sheet of paper in isolation as an attempt to make the math relevant and to develop conceptual understanding. For students who have trouble with conceptual understanding, words on paper are likely too abstract or symbolic to allow applications like the one above to be meaningful.

The real life application is useful if presented more effectively. Here’s an approach to use the same scenario but in a more relevant and meaningful presentation. The photo above shows the current amount of snow – call it 6 inches. Students can be shown the photo to allow for a discussion about accumulation and for their estimates of the amount of snow shown. The photo below shows an excerpt from a storm warning. Showing this warning and a snow fall video can allow for a discussion about rate of snow fall and the purpose for storm warnings. Combined, this approach can lead into the above word problem.

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Once the application is presented students can be asked to compute snow levels after 1 hour, 2 hours etc. Then they can be asked to determine how long it would take for the accumulation to reach 18 inches (the prediction for the day this post was composed). After computing the answers WITHOUT the equation the students can be shown how to use the equation – the “mathy way.”

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Introduction to Slope

which-jobSlope is one of the the most important topics in algebra and is often understood by students at a superficial level. I suggest introducing slope first by drawing upon prior knowledge and making the concept relevant (see photo above).  This includes presenting the topic using multiple representations: the original real life situation, rates (see photo above) and tables, visuals,  and hands on cutouts (see photos below).

10-dollars-per-hour-graphA key aspect of slope is that it represents a relationship between 2 variables. Color coding (red for hours, green for pay) can be used to highlight the 2 variables and how they interact –  see photo above and below.5-dollars-per-hour-graph

The photo below can be used either in initial instruction, especially for co-taught classes, or as an intervention for students who needs a more concrete representation of a rate (CRA). The clocks (representing hours) and bills can be left in the table for or cut out.cut-outs-hours-bills

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