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 again comes from my former student Jessica Bonney. Her topic, from Pre-Algebra: solving two-step algebra problems.

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

A great activity to use in the classroom with students for this topic would have to be algebra tiles. The tiles are a good manipulative that can be used to improve the students’ understanding and offer contact to representative manipulation for students that are more kinesthetic learners. The algebra tiles can be used to help justify and explain the process of solving two-step equations. They were developed on the basis of two ideas: (1) we can isolate variables by using “zero pairs” and (2) equations don’t change when equal amounts of tiles are used on both sides of the equation. Algebra tiles come in different colors and sizes, which can be used to represent different parts of an equation that can help students solve two-step algebra problems.  I think this would be a fun and interactive activity to help students learn and understand how to go about solving these types of problems.


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How can this topic be used in your students’ future courses in mathematics or science?

Once a student gets to a certain grade level, they constantly start building upon what they learn. This material can be carried into high school and even college level courses.  Before a student learns two-step equations, they must master one-step equations, and even before that they need to understand basic arithmetical operations. Once mastery has been achieved, students will move onto solving larger polynomials, which can later be used in future algebra, geometry, and calculus courses. Another interesting use for two-step algebra problems is for future science and even computer science courses. In science, let’s say physics or chemistry, the students can use the two-step method for solving how fast a ball fell from a rooftop or for solving how fast a chemical evaporated at a certain temperature. Now in computer science students can learn how to develop algebraic functions in a computerized setting.


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What interesting things can you say about the people who contributed to the discovery and/or the development of this topic?

Rene’ Descartes, born in March of 1596, was a French mathematician, philosopher, and scientist. He is widely known for the statement, “I think, therefore I am,” deriving it from the foundation of intuition that, when he thinks, he exists. After obtaining a degree in law, his father wanted him to join Parliament, but sadly he was only 20 and the minimum age to join was 27. In turn, he moved to the Netherlands where he was influenced to study science and mathematics. During this time he formulated a common method of logical reasoning, centered on mathematics, which can be related to all sciences. This method is discussed in Discourse on Method, and is comprised of four rules: “(1) accept nothing as true that is not self-evident, (2) divide problems into their simplest parts, (3) solve problems by proceeding from simple to complex, and (4) recheck the reasoning.” We use these rules everyday when directly apply them to mathematical procedures.



“Rene Descartes”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia

Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 07 Sep. 2016 <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Rene-







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