Engaging students: Solving two-step algebra problems

In my capstone class for future secondary math teachers, I ask my students to come up with ideas for engaging their students with different topics in the secondary mathematics curriculum. In other words, the point of the assignment was not to devise a full-blown lesson plan on this topic. Instead, I asked my students to think about three different ways of getting their students interested in the topic in the first place.

I plan to share some of the best of these ideas on this blog (after asking my students’ permission, of course).

This student submission comes from my former student Delaina Bazaldua. Her topic, from Pre-Algebra: solving two-step algebra problems.

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How can technology (YouTube, Khan Academy [khanacademy.org], Vi Hart, Geometers Sketchpad, graphing calculators, etc.) be used to effectively engage students with this topic?

I have a love for TED ED videos because of how the videos can explain math, science, etc. with real world examples which is often foreign to students. Bill Nye has always been a hero of mine growing up; his witty ways to communicate math and science to students is admirable. With that being said, when I found, http://ed.ted.com/on/vUO3lcyK#watch, I was really excited that Bill Nye and TED ED made a video that included a subject that was seemingly abstract to students and related it to something very common such as, in this case, cupcakes. Bill Nye takes the viewer on an errand he has to run to pick up cupcakes for his niece and nephew. Of course, since they’re siblings, they have to have an equal amount of cupcakes or World War III may happen. This creates balance between the equal sign. From there, he and we determine the amount of cupcakes in each box (the x) that he is giving to his niece and nephew.


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How could you as a teacher create an activity or project that involves your topic?


Every child loves playing games and students in Pre Algebra are no exception to this assumption. In order to manipulate math into games, the resource I found used Bingo as a game to play with a high school class: http://makingmathfun.wikispaces.com/file/view/Two-Step+EQ+BINGO.pdf. I find this as an exceptional game for students to receive practice solving two-step algebraic equations because they may not necessarily realize they’re learning math in the process of playing even though they inevitably are. I am a strong believer in making something seemingly difficult much more fun so that it can be enjoyed by more people. If Bingo is fulfilling this dream, then I am doing my job because passion in math through a game for example leads to understanding of the material and to hard-working students. Playing games to teach algebra makes math seem like less of a chore and hassle, which unfortunately, it is often perceived as. If I can, as a teacher, change this perspective, I could have an effect on students’ lives for the rest of their education career and possibly even their life.



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What interesting (i.e., uncontrived) word problems using this topic can your students do now?


As I had previously mentioned, algebra is often viewed by students as abstract and unrelated to the real world. I felt like I needed to include word problems that translate to things that happen in life such as the TED ED/Bill Nye video example that portrayed two-step algebraic equations; math isn’t just simply numbers, but instead is applicable to everyday activities. I found a great PDF file, http://cdn.kutasoftware.com/Worksheets/PreAlg/Two-Step%20Word%20Problems.pdf, which includes 14 word problems that students are familiar with. Another great characteristic about word problems is you can receive a deeper understanding about what a student knows and doesn’t know based on what numbers they write from the word problem that forms their equation. Way too often teachers give students the numbers they need to work with instead of allowing the students to figure out the numbers on their own from a problem that they may actually encounter in life. This habit becomes a disadvantage and a hindrance to students which is why they feel that math is foreign to the world around them and become frustrated with “a pointless subject.” These two reasons make word problems extremely important and useful for students and I believe the worksheet I chose is perfect for accomplishing the goal of allowing students to learn with relevant scenarios.








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