4th Grading Period in Algebra – Closer to Testing Season!

I cannot believe that the 4th grading period has come and gone already. Where does the time go? I’ve concentrated on solving systems, exponent rules and geometric sequences. We have just started the beginning of growth and decay for exponential functions. I feel like I’ve done a lot, but I was talking to a teacher today from another district that said that they are almost finished with the curriculum and they will have about 5 or six weeks to review for the STAAR test. I’ve still got to wrap up exponentials, foil, factor and get through quadratics in the 5th six weeks before I’m ready to start reviewing.

Here are some specifics about what I’ve done this grading period! Let’s start with systems. One thing about solving systems is that if you are behind in your curriculum, this is where you can catch up. You can hold off teaching your students the substitution method and the elimination method until after the test and just make sure they know how to set up systems and that they know how to solve systems on a graph or using linSolve on the nSpire calculator. I did not show them linSolve yet. I showed them how to find the intersection on the graph, but it gets complicated if students need to solve for y or if the graph’s window needs to be altered. LinSolve is a life saver and I’ll show my students how to use it before the test. I have a quick google slides activity that I like to use after I teach students how to graph systems. It also helps me to know which students are still struggling with solving for y. I have three free videos too on solving systems using various methods. These are perfect for a flipped classroom or just extra practice. The video on graphing would be great to show before doing the google slides activity! By the way, be sure to check out the new TEA calculator rules as of 2/13/2020.

I love exponent activities and I have created quite a few for my students to use. I’ve also experimented with different ways to get the students to understand the rules. The STAAR test usually has several exponent problems. I’ve seen some complicated multi-step problems. I try to get my students to understand how to find equivalent answers. I want them to know there is more than one way to write 5x^-2. I do a lot of practice with negative exponents and I work hard on the exponent of zero. I talk about how exponents are kind of like 9th graders, they don’t follow the rule of the problem. They are rebels and follow their own rules. I’ve tried PowerMan too. PowerMan is a fun way to get the students to write down the rules. See below:

The PowerMan Explanation is at the end of my Properties of Exponents Activity in my store. I tend not to use it as the introductory method of learning exponents. Instead, I wait until I’ve taught the rules and then I’ll say, “Now, here’s how you can remember all these rules.” I get bored with worksheets, so I’ve also got a few digital exponent products. One is a google slides activity and another is just for the product property only and it is a Boom Card activity. I have a Time Flies Boom Learning Store too. If you have never heard of Boom Learning, it is worth your time to check it out!

Before I really get into exponential functions, I like to introduce geometric sequences. This leads perfectly into exponentials. Students like patterns and even though the formulas are not exactly student-friendly, they usually figure out what the explicit and recursive formulas are all about. I like to do some hands-on activities too. This is my lesson that I use. It take the students through all the terminology. This is all they really need to know to be successful on the STAAR. (Which by the way, really isn’t what I’m all about, but it is part of my job to make sure they pass the test!)

My students took a benchmark created by our district this grading period. I noticed that the person that created the benchmark, took the 2019 May test and basically wrote a similar version. The first problem was a slope question and the second problem was a range question for a quadratic just like the 2019 test. I’m kind of glad they did this because I’m going to go over the benchmark and then I can use the 2019 test questions to see if the students understand their mistakes from the benchmark. If your district does not have your students take a benchmark, then I would suggest using the 2018 test as a benchmark. Divide the test up into several days and let the students take it. You can get the students to help you grade it. The TEA website has all the tests and answer keys here.

Out of 28 students, I had 20 pass the test with a 21 or better raw score. There were no surprises there. I had one person, only get 14 correct which is disturbing. She has struggled all year, but I didn’t think she was one of my lower students. I gave the students their benchmarks back this past Friday. I’m having them make corrections on the problems that have been taught in class that they missed. At the point of when they took the test, we had not learned about exponents and quadratics, so all of those questions are not important right now. The way we are correcting the test is I’m having them make three columns on a piece of paper. The first column is the problem number. The second column is their original answer. The last column is for their new answer with an explanation or work shown. I plan on looking at these very closely and working one-on-one with students that are not sure of how to work through some of the problems. I told them it was ok to say, “IDK”. I usually hate them writing this as an answer, but I really do want to know if they are clueless. I have not shown them one single calculator trick so far (nsolve). I hate showing them how to work problems without really knowing what they are doing, but there will come a point when I’ll bite the bullet and explain some of those tricks.

I’ve started a tutoring time during my advisory (homeroom) on Tuesdays. I started this before the benchmark but now I need to reevaluate the students that I have in there. Most will not change, but I have one I can take out and put a different student in his place. They are working in a program provided by our district. I’m not entirely sold on the program. I feel like I’m useless because I’m just making sure they are working in the program. These kids need more than this, I think. They have gaps and I doubt they are getting what they need from the program, but I’m going to continue to use it and give it a chance.

So there you have it. The fourth six weeks is done! My new plan is to focus on finishing the curriculum and focusing on the students with the most issues. I have my own review material that I will be starting. One thing that will be happening soon is I will have my students make some flashcards. I will have them start working through the flashcards and then we will begin taking quizzes over them. I make the students take the quizzes until they make at least an 80 or better. Originally the flash cards were meant to be task cards. You can find the cards and the quizzes in the resource below. I’ve also attached my STAAR Review Bundle. Good luck and hang in there! Our students will succeed!