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 Jessica Williams. Her topic, from Pre-Algebra: solving two-step algebra problems.

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

Learning two-step algebra problems can difficult for students at first glance of the equation; therefore I believe using a hands on manipulative to demonstrate is a big help, especially for your visual/kinesthetic learners. I’ve recently helped demonstrate this lesson I’ve seen online to my sister, who is in 7th grade. It worked marvelously with her; therefore I would definitely do it in my actual classroom. To teach this lesson, I would bring in cups and colored chips for each student to use to demonstrate the equation given. For starters, present the students with an equation to solve. (2x+3=9) Next, present the students of the guide lines/rules of the cups and chips. Let them know that if the variable is a positive number, to place the cup facing upwards. Similarly, if the variable is a negative number, tell them to place the cup facing down. Let the students know that the coefficient of the variable is what lets you know how many cups to use. Next, you would guide the students with questioning but asking them to display what 2x is using their cups. They should each have two cups facing upwards. Next, they will place 3 chips next to their cups to represent the +3 and have an equal sign with 9 chips on the other side. This would lead into asking the students what they could do to get rid of the 3 chips on one side, which results in having to get rid of 3 on the side with 9 as well. This will lead the students to 2x=6, and you can ask the students if 2 cups equals 6 chips, then how many does only one cup equal. They should get to x=3, with enough scaffold questioning. Then the teacher could provide multiple more examples to do on their own with the objects in front of them. This allows for the students to visual see why solving the two-step equations work the way they do. It shows students how you have to “do to one side what you do to another.”

How does this topic extend what your students should have learned in previous courses?

Prior to learning about two-step equations the students will have worked with one step equations. They are used to seeing simple equations, such as x-2=6 or 2x=10, where they only have to complete one step. Before teaching the students two-step equations, the teacher should allow a couple practice problems to access the student’s prior knowledge. The two-step algebra problems are only a slight extension to what they have practiced. It also extends on basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. They know how to do all of these things; however adding a variable to the mix is quite an extension in the perspective of the students. They have to be taught the meaning and definition of a variable and how it has a specific value that needs to be solved for in order for the equation to be correct. Learning this topic will also help prepare the students for more difficult math such as solving quadratic equations, word problems, etc.

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

Technology can always be made fun for the kids, however it can be very good for extra practice as well. For example, http://www.math-play.com/Two-Step-Equations-Game.html is an amazing way to practice and have fun at the same time. The game requires player one and player two to go against each other. Each player has to answer a two-step equation correctly in order to shoot his or her ball at the basketball hoop. The player at the end with the most points wins the game! This game is extremely engaging for the students because it involves competition. What does every student love to do? WIN! It boosts their confidence. If the student would rather work alone, that’s fine as well. It still benefits every student why keeping their mind in the game and focusing on answering correctly. The students can also answer question on Khan academy or watch videos for refreshment before the next class. There are so many ways technology can be beneficial. In previous lessons, I have used Kahoot and plickerz. Both require 100% engagement from each student and they both require individual accountability.

References:

http://www.math-play.com/Two-Step-Equations-Game.html

Annenberg Learner: https://www.learner.org/workshops/algebra/workshop1/lessonplan2.html

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