Engaging students: Solving one-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 Deetria Bowser. Her topic, from Algebra: solving one-step algebra problems.

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What interesting (i.e., uncontrived) word problems using this topic can your students do now? (You may find resources such as http://www.spacemath.nasa.gov to be very helpful in this regard; feel free to suggest others.)

To create a successful word problem that would both interest, and engage students, the teacher must “know his class.” Knowing one’s class involves knowing the many different students your students have. For example, if one knows that there are a lot of baseball players in the classroom, then creating word problems that involve baseball would be engaging for these students.

Additionally, to benefit all students you could do problems that involve finances. Including more “finance problems” will help students realize the importance of math, and how they can apply it in everyday life. An example of such problem would be “Damon’s earnings for four weeks from a part time are shown in the table. Assume his earnings vary directly with the number of hours worked. Damon has been offered a job that will pay him $7.35 per hour worked. Which job is better pay (Tucker, A.)? Including word problems that students can relate to now or in the future can help students stay engaged while learning, and answer the question that is most commonly asked by students: “When will I ever use this in real life?”

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

As a teacher, creating engaging activities and/or projects can prove to be quite difficult for word problems that are one- or two-step algebra problems, due to the fact that most students completely shut down once a word problem is presented to them. To combat this I have found that making it into a cooperative game can help soothe the anxiety caused by word problems. One game that is great to play with one or two step algebra problems is called rally coach. In this game, students are paired off. Student A is expected to work on solving the problem, while Student B is expected to watch, listen, check, and praise just as a coach would. Once the students think they have the correct answer, they will raise their hand so that the teacher may check it. If they get the answer correct, then the teacher will give them another problem (this time Student A and Student B switch roles). If the answer is incorrect, they must continue working on the problem. The end goal of the game is to answer as many questions as possible before time runs out. By playing this game students are able to help each other solve one or two step word problems.



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

In future courses many problems will involve one or two step algebra problems. For instance, in science courses like chemistry and physics, one will need to know how to solve for different variables of equations. For example, if one is in a chemistry course and is given a word problem (i.e If a 3.1g ring is heated using 10.0 calories, its temperature rises 17.9°C. Calculate the specific heat capacity of the ring) that provides heat energy (Q) mass of a substance (m) and change in temperature (deltaT), but is asked to solve for the specific heat, students will need to know how to solve for the specific heat either by isolating the variable in the beginning (Cp=Q/mdeltaT) or plugging in the givens and isolating the variable (Daniell, B).


Daniell, B. (n.d.). Energy Slides 3 [Powerpoint that contains Specific Heat problem].

Tucker, A. (2016). Direct Variation. Retrieved September 01, 2017, from




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