First 6 Weeks in Algebra 1

Algebra 1 is a fun but challenging class to teach. So many thoughts run through my head when I think about the beginning of the year in Algebra. One of the biggies is how much do the students remember from their previous math class? This is especially a big question since last year our district went to a distance learning format. I’m not sure what to expect from the incoming students, so I need a plan.

This year will be interesting. Our district has decided to have both online learning and in class learning. I’m working hard to make sure I have plenty of lessons that will work for either scenario. I’m going to start the year off with a two day review of number sense, order of operations and basic operations with integers. I’ve used this in the past because I always get a range of abilities, so I want to know where the students are. I have a print version of what I use and I’ve recently made a digital version. After I do the two day lesson, I give the students 3 quizzes (yep 3… because I want the repetition and plus it’s a challenge). All the quizzes are similar to each other but ask slightly different questions. The quizzes contain 15 questions. To move to the next quiz, students must make an 80 or better. If they don’t, they retake it. (These are timed because I don’t want the students to take too long. Either they know it or they don’t.) This can last up to 3 weeks. It’s not hard to keep up with because I take a grade on each quiz. Here’s a peek at the print version of the quiz vs. the Google Forms version:

The majority of the six weeks should (and hopefully will) be spent on solving equations. The days in the plan are block-schedule days. We have classes every other day for 80 minutes except on Fridays when the classes are only about 35 minutes. Below is plan that I will follow with the activities:

# of Days Topic
2Pre-Algebra Review – PDF Version or Digital Version
1Patterns (Boom Card Lesson)
1.5*Setting up and Solving Equations and Inequalities
1.5*Solving Equations and Inequalities
1*Literal Equations
1*Review Equations and Inequalities
My First 6 Weeks Plan

*Get all of the resources above in a bundle: Equations Bundle

I’ve linked the topics to some of my lessons and worksheets that I used in my TpT store, but as I see the need, I go find content in other places. My district uses a couple of resources that I pull from as well, but our students know how to find answers online for these assignments, so I don’t like to use them for homework.

If you’ve never used, you should try it. The kids really enjoy doing these. I like that the students can do them more than one time. I have the students show work in their journal. Basically it’s just a digital quiz with 4 answer choices. These are teacher-made and there are a ton to choose from on just about every topic.

One of my favorite digital resources is Boom Learning. If you like task cards, then you will love Boom Cards. Again, these cards are teacher-made. There are a variety of ways kids can answer questions. I started creating my own decks. I used two of my own creations the first six weeks. One set of Boom Cards covered patterns and how to write an expression from a pattern. The other set was for practicing solving equations and inequalities. The kids can go through them as many times as they want so they get a lot of practice and get the best grade possible. To use Boom Cards, you need a teacher account. The free account is perfectly fine, but you don’t get to see the reports. The best thing to do is to get a paid account which is only $15 – 35 dollars a year depending on which plan you choose. Make your own decks or purchase decks. There are free choices as well. Click here to go check out my store. I’m brand new at making these, but I can already tell that this will be something I work on because all of my classes love Boom Cards!

After I get used to my students and find out who has gaps in their learning, then it will be time to dive into tutoring. I will engage my students through online tutoring this year. It will be an interesting year to say the least. I know that I will need patience and I will need to be flexible. I’m ready for anything and I hope you are too. I wish you well in your new year!

Happy Teaching!


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!

Algebra – 2nd and 3rd Grading Periods – Moving Toward the STAAR!

This is a continuation of some of my earlier posts. I was so proud of my students last year for passing the Algebra STAAR, so I wrote about it here: How I Got a 100% Passing Rate on the Algebra EOC Part 1 and Part 2.

I promised that I would keep anyone interested up-to-date this year on my progress. I love doing this because I’m going to be able to look back and see where I want to improve after I get my results this year. Here’s my post on the first six weeks: First Six Weeks in Algebra I

I lumped the 2nd and 3rd 6 weeks together in one post because I have so many interruptions during this time. Every time I turn around there’s a field trip, a district benchmark, PSAT, TSI or other disruptions. My strategy has been to get through as much content as possible. I know my students very well at this point and I know who to keep an eye on.

The content that we’ve covered heavily is seen below:

I’ve pressed on and given lots of quizzes, tests and homework.

Some of my favorite activities have been some boom cards that I’ve made. The set of cards in the the resource below has 20 questions. Click here to go do the first four cards in the student view.

So far I haven’t pulled many questions of old STAAR test. Their minds were blown when I was explaining the recursive formula in arithmetic sequences. I did look back into old STAAR test to see how often sequences have been tested. The only question I could find from the the past three years was this problem from the 2017 released test:

In general, arithmetic (and geometric) sequences are not a big part of the test. The 2019 test did not have any questions on the topic. This question below is from the 2018 test:

I suspect that they rotate questions from the TEKS and that next year there will be at least one question like #22 or #9 above.

I wanted to start some recycling of the first six weeks through practice sheets like I did last year but life happens and I did not start this. (Side note: I’ve been teaching for 33 years. I always make plans to do this or that, but I’ve learned that I cannot always get to everything. Please don’t beat yourself up if you do this too. A lot of things in education and the school environment cannot be controlled. Don’t worry if you have visions of grandeur but it doesn’t always work out.) One thing I do feel good about is that I do not let the students use a calculator every day. They have to do math in their head. They did a lot of solving for y and manipulating formulas so they did get a taste of some of the things from the first six weeks which was mostly solving equations. Another thing I feel ok about is I know that I’m about to do systems which will also be good for practicing solving equations. We will also hit inequalities again through systems, so recycling information is going to happen naturally!

While on the topic of systems, if you are behind in your curriculum, this is a good time to try to catch up. Systems are important, but you can save solving for systems for after the STAAR test. Teach them how to set them up and solve them on the calculator for now. I hate this, but at the same time you have to make sure you cover all the material. Save solving systems algebraically for later if you need to.

I promised myself that I would make sure and have students explain the math they were using more. I wanted to know if they really understood how to solve for y and graph equations, so I made a flipgrid question when we got to solving and graphing inequalities. The students really enjoyed it and it was an eye opener for me. Students have a hard time with the vocabulary and I could tell who was bluffing their way through explaining the process.

The second semester has started and now it’s crunch time. I have to be deliberate in everything we do. We are starting with graphing and writing linear systems and then on to exponent rules. Check back to see what happens next!

This comes in a regular version too!

How I got a 100% Passing Rate on the Algebra EOC – Part 1

7th periodFirst of all, let me say that I was sweating it! I seriously thought I’d have a 70% passing rate if I’m being honest. I saw so many weaknesses in my student’s math abilities. They did not come equipped with what they needed to say the least. It had been 3 years since I taught Algebra and I was excited until I finally figured out what a challenge this class would be! So here goes. I’m going to tell you exactly what I did. I’m doing this for y’all but I’m doing this for me as well. I’m starting fresh with a new group and I’m going to follow these steps and try to improve on them.

I would say it was a good three weeks before I got it in gear and realized what I was faced with. One of the first lessons I did was a review and a Pre-Algebra bingo game. After the review, we were ready to play. Well into the game, I kept wondering why no one had “bingoed” (is that even a word?). I kept thinking… any minute there will be a bingo. NO! It never happened and we ran out of time. This stayed in my head and I was baffled. Another clue that things weren’t right is that I had to give some preliminary tests for my district. For several of my students, it took three class periods and one of the kids never finished! I kept noticing that she was trying to get me to help her on just about every problem!

So what did I do?

Step 1: I looked at my student’s testing data from 3rd grade through 8th grade. 

Oh my goodness was it an eye-opener. The student that did not finish the district test had never passed a math STAAR test, EVER! Another student failed the 4th grade. Many of the students passed the 8th grade math STAAR but it was on the 3rd try! You may be saying, “What’s the big deal? This is my class every year.” I’ve been there too, at previous schools but I teach at an Early College High School now! I was not expecting this but really at an ECHS, there may be a little more motivation to succeed, but they are not much different from regular high school students.

*This year, I will do the data analysis earlier and I will know so much more! (I’m also not doing the district test that wasted so much time that did not ever get looked at again!)

So now what? I knew that they had learning gaps but I also knew I had to move on in the curriculum.

Step 2: No calculators for as long as I could stand it.

I’m not sure when we finally used calculators but I believe I brought them out after I made sure they could graph without a calculator. I know from the past, kids pick up on calculators fast so some of the things I wanted to show them could wait.

Why no calculators? The students needed practice on integer and rational operations. When we solved equations, it killed me to watch how long it took them to figure out the basic operations but I stuck with my plan. To scaffold before a lesson, I would do bell ringers that led up to the lesson…anything I knew they would struggle with due to the learning gaps. PLEASE, FOR THEIR FUTURE MATH CLASSES, DO NOT TEACH YOUR STUDENTS HOW TO USE N-SOLVE EARLY IN THE YEAR! You know what I’m talking about if you use the TI-Nspire!

Oh by the way, I had one student that would finish everything early because she actually knew what was going on. I started anticipating this and let her move ahead, help others or work on deepening her knowledge. *Looking back, I should have made her work on TSI material which is how I will improve on this type of student this year.

The first 6 weeks made me very nervous. I was trying to stay on pace with the curriculum, so I had to completely skip solving inequalities with keeping in mind, I would have to throw that in at some point! I did put it in right before graphing inequalities. I think I only spent a day on it, so I knew that it would need to be part of my EOC review before the test.

Before the 2nd 6 Weeks started, I studied the Algebra TEKS (objectives). What does the state of Texas expect from these algebra kids? If you have not looked at the TEKS over and over, I suggest you start.

Step 3: Study the Algebra TEKS and past Algebra EOC’s. How do they ask questions? What has been the trend over the past few years? Start adding these questions to your tests and quizzes. 

I decided that I would start incorporating questions from past EOC’s on my tests and quizzes. After every test and quiz, I would go back and look at the questions with the students and tell them that these were the questions that last year’s kids had to know. I did this consistently and the kids started becoming interested in this. They felt good when they got the questions correct. I also kept telling them to always aim to score a 70 or better on every test or quiz, even though this is higher than they have to make on the EOC.

In the second six weeks, I started recycling information from the first six weeks. I gave them three practice sheets that were only 1 page long. I always have visions of grandeur and of course wanted to give them a worksheet each week, but if you have taught Algebra I, you know that it’s like pulling teeth to get things turned in, so I tried not to fight it and just do as well as I could. I had one person that never turned in any of them, so their loss! Ok, yes that is what I’d like to think but I did offer tutoring after school and if students needed help, they could come in and I would help them. This student never showed even after parent phone calls.

Did I feel better after the second six weeks? No! I kept begging my principal to double block the students or at least do it the second semester, but he never did. (Yes, we are on a block schedule. I saw these students on Tuesday and Thursday for 1 hour and 25 minutes and then on Friday’s for 35 minutes.)

Here is how the students scored on the 2nd 6 Weeks Test:


Yep. Only one person passed. The one with the 27 is the girl that never turned in a practice sheet. Yes, I only had 15 students in Algebra I, but I was teaching Algebra II and Geometry as well with only one conference period every other day. I had a total of 150 students. My hands were full!

Here’s the deal. I’m a problem solver! I never give up and I will keep trying and fighting for my students and what is right. I did take off more days this year than ever before though because of stress and life. I’m retiring in two years and I have a lot of days built up that I need to use. Does this make me a slacker? No! How did I build up all those days? From being DEDICATED! But now I have a married child in nursing school that lives 2000 miles away that I want to go see as much as possible, so I’m doing it. I also have another college-aged kid that I want to spend as much time with as possible because he is about to move out. I’m going to be an empty nester, so family time is so important! I’m saying this because I don’t want teachers to thing that you need to kill yourself doing your job. You are one person and you can only do so much and that is good enough!

Enough of my tangent! I did not give up on these kids after their poor performance. Technically, I could look at the scores and say, “Hey look at how many scored better than a 40! … that’s about the target score of the EOC”…ugh. I had to do something though about poor test scores, so here’s the next part!

Step 4: Students had to come to two tutoring sessions to make up a test. The first session had to be to go over the missed problems even though I would do this a lot in class. The second session, they took a make-up test that they could only get a 70% as the highest possible grade.

gradebook 1This was my policy from the beginning of the year, but I got too careless with it. I can’t force them to show, but I strongly encouraged them after this second six weeks. Some of the kids were great about coming in and others not so much. I started offering lunch tutoring to give them another opportunity to get help while at school. I let them eat in my class because I had to eat too. I did not offer this every day for my sanity, but only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which was right after that class! Retesting is a pain, but I believe in it. How else will students learn from their mistakes? If they never look at a test and see what they missed, they will not grow and improve. It’s also good for me to see on an individual basis what their weak areas are and to give them one-on-one help. As you can see to the left, I document if they retested by putting a comment by the score.

My concentration during the 3rd six weeks besides retesting was making students talk about the math they were doing. I was doing a study on math discourse, so I was kind of forced to work on it. You would think after 32 years of teaching, that math discourse would be a big part of my teaching. I thought it was until I started this study. Desmos is a great tool for this as well as Flipgrid. In Desmos, there are lessons called Polygraphs. Students have to describe things to play the game and figure out the graph that the other student is thinking of. If you don’t have computer access for your students, you could totally create a similar game. One student picks a graph and the other person can only ask yes/no questions to figure out which graph was selected. You try to figure it out in as few questions as possible but students need to use math vocabulary! Both students have to understand the concept.

Flipgrid is another animal! It is an app or website where the teacher can ask a question and the student has to video their response. Wow, can I just say this showed me again how the students did not know the correct vocabulary or how to really explain what I asked. I used this several times, but the first time was when I asked them to explain how to graph a line that was in standard form. I felt like this deepened their understanding because I let them work alone to figure out what to say. They used a dry erase board to demonstrate as they were explaining. I loved this so much and I know it helped. Solving for y was a major ordeal, and I feel like most of them understand that as well as where the slope and y-intercept are in the equation and how to use them to graph.

I tried the rest of the year to use Desmos, Flipgrid, Quiz-Quiz-Trade, Collaboration Groups, Reflections and as much talk and explaining about the math that I could think of.

Step 5: Math Discourse is a Biggie, Folks! If you don’t do this, START NOW! I’m stupid for not using these things consistently in the past.

This takes us to the end of the first semester. I will continue this post in Part 2. Let all of this sink in for a while. Let the wheels turn. What can you change? 

Here’s a breakdown of what I suggest you do so far:

  1. Look at student data from their past math scores on the EOC and even their previous math classes.
  2. Don’t use calculators until you can’t stand it anymore or when it becomes really necessary!
  3. Study the Algebra TEKS and the Algebra EOC’s and start adding these questions to your tests and quizzes, then go over them consistently after the test/quiz.
  4. Allow the students to retest, but make them review the material first!
  5. Use Math Discourse as much as possible. Incorporate it daily or at least weekly. 

In this post, I have several links to some of my resources. Most are paid products, but I do have one freebie…the 3 Practice Sheets that I used in the 2nd 6 Weeks. Enjoy and let me know if you need any resources that I can provide or create.

Go to Part 2!