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.

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.

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.