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!