The Algebra STAAR Dilemma

Last year, I was doing a great job of tracking my students. I was writing blogs about how it was going and I had the intention to collect data and write about all my tips and ideas about what worked and what did not work. COVID hit and everything changed. No school for a while and no state testing. It is now one year from that debacle.

It’s 2021 and we are headed into the end of March and my Algebra students will be taking the STAAR test at the beginning of May. I have not touched on multiplying binomials, factoring or quadratics. My students started the year with full remote learning, then gradually students had a choice of coming to school. Out of my 36 Algebra students, I’ve seen about half of them at school. I’ve continued to teach online because I’ve got some students sitting in my room while others are at home. There is one person on my roster that has only shown up a few times. There are several who have done as little as possible and even their parents can’t motivate them.

The most recent problem that I’ve encountered is the calculator. We all know how important the calculator is to this test. My students have only used Desmos and we haven’t used it very much. Normally, my students would take the paper test using the Nspire calculator. I cannot get that calculator to everyone. Apparently if you use the Desmos calculator on the test, you have to have two computers??? There will be a lockdown browser that would prevent using it on the same computer as the test (I bet a tech person could figure out how to have the EOC and Desmos open at the same time…but I’m not in charge.) SO, our district got the TI-84 calculator extension from Texas Instruments and my students have downloaded that calculator on their Chromebooks. Apparently, that is the calculator that is used on the online test or it’s at least similar. My students will all be taking the online test. My administrator in charge of testing is very nervous, but at least we have made a decision.

This past Friday, I asked my students this question as a check-in task for attendance: Do you have the TI-84 downloaded? Several students had no idea what I was talking about even though that was something we all did during class this past week, but you know how it is…kids don’t listen or they come in late. I don’t have a lot of control right now and it’s not a good feeling.

***Why am I telling you all of this? I’ve been a teacher for a long time and I know it is not worth stressing over all of this. My goal is to help students as much as I can. I can’t control what they are doing at home or really while they are sitting in my class for that matter. I looked over the other day during a test and one of my kids was asleep. Of course I woke her up, but what the heck? This is a test! You can’t stay awake for a test?

Please teachers…do what you can but we are not super heroes. We are here to teach and that is what we are doing. We cannot save everyone! Sounds harsh, but we have to take care of ourselves too or we cannot continue helping those that are there trying!

What is my plan? Forging ahead with all things quadratic and reviewing previous material. Sorry, Algebra II Teachers. Factoring is not going to get taught in detail. We will have to mostly work on simple factoring problems and then help students realize that foiling and factoring are opposites, so they can use the answer choices and work backward.

Here’s my plan in a little more detail:

March 22 – April 2 : Multiplying Binomials and Factoring. I’m also going to start going the the task cards in my Algebra EOC Task Card and Quiz Activities. (This activity is also in the bundle that I’m about to mention.)

April 5 – 9: Start quadratics using my objective 6, 7 and 8 resources from the Algebra I STAAR Bundle. They will also take quiz #1 from Task Card and Quiz Activity several times during this week.

April 12 – 16: Continue with quadratics and do quick reviews of objectives 2, 3 and 9 – I’ll use my STAAR Bundle, but I will pick and choose what I want to use from these objectives.

April 19 – 23: Continue with quadratics and do quick reviews of objectives 5, 10 and 11.

April 26 – 30: Review calculator keystrokes, the formula chart, objectives 4 & 12 (combined these two objectives have only been 3 – 5 questions in the past) and any other last minute details.

I’ve analyzed the STAAR test over the past 3-4 years and I’ve got a chart that you might find interesting. Please click to download a copy.

When all is said and done, I’ll reflect and see how it went.

Please don’t stress out Algebra Teachers! Do what you can. Have a plan and work through the plan. Things will be fine. The students will do as well as they can and we will probably be pleasantly surprised at how well most of them will do. Remember that YOU ARE AWESOME!

Real-Life Exponential Functions

Exponential functions are right around the corner for my math classes. I always look forward to this time of year. The best part about exponential functions is the real-life aspect. Students are more interested if they can make a connection. Draw your students in and they will enjoy this topic without realizing how much they are learning.

One of the first real-life examples that I can think of right now, is COVID-19. Remember when the saying was, “Flatten the curve?” What an interesting thing to talk about with students. A flatter curve means what? A steeper curve means what? What a great thing to talk about!

Here’s a great research letter I found on the CDC website. This has some wonderful references to “doubling time”. The research brings in some formulas and if you look at some of the appendices, it gets pretty technical, but it is fascinating.

The Coronavirus is a topic that I’m sure will get the attention of your students. Another topic that students may not be as familiar, but it is definitely worth mentioning is the stock market. Let your students read this article from Forbes. They may not think the stock market is very exciting, but after reading this article, it might spark some students to consider how they can one day invest in stocks.

A really fun exponential growth activities is the paper folding activity. I’m sure most math teachers have used this when teaching exponential functions. I love that Myth Busters tried to fold a giant piece of paper to see how many times they could fold it. Check out this video below:

We’ve been focused on exponential growth, but what about decay? Carbon dating is a topic that is also fascinating. This article can help students and teachers alike to understand carbon dating a little better: What is Carbon Dating? This might help students understand how scientist can estimate the age of an object. Below is a nice video that explains carbon 14 and half-life.

If you’ve read my blog before, you know how much I love exponential functions. I’m always on the lookout to learn more and find interesting things for my students to do. Below, you’ll find some of my resources that I sell on Teachers Pay Teachers. I’ve got all kinds of exponential function activities to keep your students busy and interested. Go take a look and I hope that you will want to follow my store and join my email list!

Slope and Rate of Change

I was going through a review of slope that I made a couple of years ago. I love this resource! It was created for the 8th grade STAAR, but I feel like all Algebra teachers would love this. Students are supposed to come into Algebra with a concept of slope already! Why do students have such a hard time with it? Slope is a fun and interesting concept and of course ties to so many real-life situations. Let me tell you what this review contains:

Now remember that it is a review of slope! The first page gives the students a picture of a line with four points on the line. The students are asked to find the slope of two different segments along the same line, two different ways. The picture also has two right triangles drawn that were created from using the endpoints of the segments. Students that already have a concept of slope should be able to think of several ways to find slope. I love this so much. On top of that, shouldn’t the slopes be the same and the two triangles created are similar. Hopefully students will have that Ah-ha moment!

The next two pages have the students interpret the meaning of slope by matching a situation to a graph. The students are thinking of slope as a rate of change and having a proportional relationship. I love the different graphs. Teachers could ask the students to find the slopes of all of the graphs first before trying to match them to the situation. Students are asked to explain why the graphs they did not choose are incorrect. Having students explain their reasoning is always important in math.

The next four pages are a set of 24 matching cards. 12 of the cards have either a graph or a table. The other 12 cards display a slope, y-intercept or another way of identifying that it matches one of the graph or table cards. This activity is engaging and students have to know what they are doing!

Finally, the last page in this resource is something that I have consistently placed in every 8th grade STAAR resource. I call it Smath’s Problem. It is an activity that reviews several of the topics in the resource. It is interesting and students enjoy working through the situation. It can be used as an assessment or a group activity.

I think you’ll enjoy this resource. All of the answer keys are included. Take a look if this sounds interesting!

Inequalities in Algebra

I’ve been fascinated by inequalities lately. I always find it interesting how students tend to get them backwards. I feel like they learn some bad habits and have some misconceptions about inequalities before they get to Algebra. It’s hard to get them out of those habits.

I’ve heard my students say that you always shade in the direction that the inequality is pointing. Because of this situation, I try to get them used to switching the inequality if the x is on the right side of it. This really is not an easy concept for them and I think it’s because they really do not understand what’s happening.

What is this sign? What does it really mean? Why do I switch it sometimes and not at other times? These questions are hard. I developed a lesson where the students do a discovery of what causes the inequality to switch directions. As they are solving problems in the Google Sheets activity a picture is evolving. The kids can’t wait to finish to see what the picture becomes.

The rest of the activity is setting up, solving and graphing inequalities. To see if students truly do understand, I ask them to either show work or explain their steps. This is really challenging for many students. It’s interesting to see if they truly know what they are doing.

I have several activities that go nicely with this one. Check out the resources below: