It’s the truth! Factoring is a major topic and somehow, we have to make sure students can do it. Factoring is needed for all math classes after Algebra and for all college entrance exams (SAT, PSAT and ACT) and placement exams (ACCUPLACER and TSI). Algebra teachers have enough on their plate without this pressure, but it’s our job to teach it and hopefully it will be reinforced in future math classes.

About ten years ago, one of my coworkers showed me a cool calculator method that I use with struggling students. Some students have a hard time with their multiplication facts which will make factoring a nightmare for them.

I hate most calculator tricks, but this one is actually a great tool. Let’s say a student needs to know all the factors of 135. Have them go to the graph of the calculator and type 135/x (135 divided by x). Next have the student look at the table. In the table, they will look for whole number values. For instance, across from an x of 1, is a y of 135. That of course means that 1 and 135 are factors of 135. The next set of whole number values are x = 3 and y = 45. When the list of numbers starts repeating, all of the factors have been found.

Look at the sample factoring problem below this paragraph. I have my students multiply the 9x^2 and the -15. The answer is -135x^2. To the right of the problem, they draw a large X . On the top, they write the -135x^2 and on the bottom of the X, they write the middle term: 22x. Next, they start making a list of all of the factors of 135. I tell them not to think about the negative at first…just make a list of factors. If they are not able to do that, then use the calculator to make the list. Once the list is made, then the students decide which factors will multiply to get -135 and subtract to get 22. The answer would be 27 and -5. Those two numbers are written on the left and right side of the X. Next, the original trinomial is turned into a polynomial with four terms. The second step below was 9x^2 + 27x – 5x – 15, before I started the grouping process. The problem is grouped and the factors are found. (Yes, I teach grouping. It helps with this type of problem and it helps with factoring out a GCF. Don’t skip grouping. If you’d like to see more about how I teach factoring go to this Factoring Blogpost.)

Here’s a quick video explaining the same problem:

All students can factor! Believe it, teach it and recycle it!

How is it going in your classroom? If it seems that your students are not paying attention and just not getting the concepts you are delivering, could it be that you are not engaging them? When school really gets going and you are super busy, it seems like we go into survival mode. The way we survive is lecturing because we really don’t have time to plan and be creative. I’m going to give you some ideas that turn a dull boring lesson into an engaging lesson without much prep.

Here are 5 Easy Ideas:

1) Get the dry erase boards out and dust them off! Kids love to draw on the boards, so give them equations to solve, equations to graph or shapes to draw. Maybe you had a worksheet planned. Don’t do it the traditional way, instead call out the problems and let them work them on the board then raise the board up to show you. You can make corrections and help kids that are struggling. You can have students show their partner and talk about which person may or may not be correct. Dry erase boards are a savior for me. I get them out anytime I feel like I have a boring lesson and it really spruces it up. 2) Find a related Desmos lesson. Desmos is easy to use and can be something quick to search and find quick lessons or activities for your students. If you are teaching exponential functions soon, I have a good activity from Desmos that I created. I would say to do this with Algebra 2 rather than Algebra 1. It’s called “The Towers“. I love the Tower of Hanoi and I use it in my Exponential Functions Stations. 3) Another quick way to gain interest in note taking is make the notes colorful or turn it into a graphic organizer. If you have 4 things the students need to know, then create a paper folding graphic where students write on the outside 4 flaps and they open to reveal answers, definitions or a diagram. Here’s two examples of using colored pencils or using a foldable:

4) Let the students partner up and go to a spot on the board or use poster paper. Ask them to write everything they know about a topic. I recently did this and the students did not realize how much they actually knew. I kept adding stuff and reminding them of a few things along the way. Before they knew it, they had a ton of concepts on the board. 5) Turn the lecture into a game. One way is to make it a Bingo Game. Create a list of things you know you will be saying that day and put it on the board. The students will be given a blank bingo card and can write the words randomly into the boxes. As they hear you say the phrase or word, they cross off that box. If they bingo, you will take off a couple of problems on the homework to shorten the assignment.

If you look up from a lecture and you have kids falling asleep or looking at their phones, you know you’ve got to do something to change the dynamics of the class. Try implementing one or two of these ideas in the next few weeks and let me know how it goes!

By the time students are in algebra, they should have experience with algebraic expressions. I never feel comfortable enough with this fact, so I always start the year with a refresher. Expressions are the building blocks of algebra, so it’s better to cover this topic and make sure students have a good foundation before heading into solving equations.

As I begin the year, I like to review operations with integers and rational numbers, order of operations, expressions and terminology. Terminology is key. Students must know what you are talking about when you use words such as like terms, coefficients, variables, distribute and constants. Also, never assume students know things like a fraction is really a division problem and all numbers have exponents of 1 when no other exponent is visible. Get all of this taken care of in the beginning and you will find out really quickly who has these foundational skills and who doesn’t. I will not get the calculator out until after all of this material has been covered.

Here’s the content that I like to make sure to cover during the expression lesson:

Setting up expressions from phrases like: five less than twice a number

Evaluating expressions by plugging in a number for a variable. It’s important to review order of operations at this point.

Simplifying expressions using combining like terms and distributive property.

Using applications with expressions.

If students are able to do the 4 items above, they will be in a good position for success when moving to solving equations. I will probably take a week to practice expressions, but I feel like this is time well spent.

My lesson plan will look something like this – (I’m on a block schedule, so I see my students 80 minutes two days and 50 minutes on Friday.)

Day 1:

Bell Ringer – Operations with Integers

Math Terminology

Expression Opener

Setting Up Expressions

Evaluating Expressions

Day 2:

Bell Ringer – Operations with Rational Numbers

Simplifying Expressions

Practice Writing, Evaluating and Simplifying with a Partner

Application with Expressions – Digital Practice

Day 3:

Quizizz Activity – (I have a Quizizz Activity that practices the skills used in the application activity.)

Quiz – Short quiz that will let me know how well the students understand the concept.

I have a resource that covers all of this material. The expressions lesson that I created has a PowerPoint that goes through the terminology and example problems. I like students taking notes and following along, so I have note pages that follow the PowerPoint.

The lesson comes with a practice page that contains 12 problems covering the three categories: writing expressions, evaluating expressions and simplifying expressions. The quiz has a section where students fill in terminology and the rest of the problems are multiple choice for quick grading.

The application part of this activity is a Google Slides where students show that they understand what an expression is versus equations or inequalities. Students then see some perimeter problems where the dimensions are expressions. Students solve the problems two ways. There is a video tutorial that walks students through simplifying some expressions with the distributive method.

Expressions are the foundation of Algebra. Students start learning expressions early in their math classes, but variables are an abstract concept and tend to be something difficult for them. The more we expose our students to understanding the purpose of a variable, the better they will grasp it. Give your classes lots of examples of how expressions might be used and keep checking for understanding. See if they can come up with their own examples. If they can create their own expressions and tie it to a real-life concept, then you know they have made the leap to understanding this idea.

If you’d like to look further into my Expression Lesson, I have linked it to the picture below. Thank you for going through this thought process with me and good luck with your students.

***Please read further, but I recently found out that students that took Algebra and passed in the 2019-2020 school year are exempt from ever taking the STAAR test. When I wrote this, I did not know that. Here it is on the TEA website:

In waiving the required performance on academic assessments under TEC, §28.025(c) and §39.025(a) for spring 2020, the following applies: If a student is on schedule to complete instruction in the entire curriculum in spring 2020 for a course that has a corresponding STAAR EOC assessment, the student is not required to pass that specific test to fulfill graduation requirements. If a student is on schedule to complete graduation requirements in spring 2020 but does not have the opportunity to retake a STAAR EOC assessment prior to graduation, the student is not required to pass that specific test to fulfill graduation requirements but will need to complete the IGC process. For students graduating in future years but taking one of the five courses with a corresponding STAAR EOC assessment this year, those students will not be responsible for meeting that EOC assessment graduation requirement if they earn course credit this year.

This changes my thinking, but I am going to incorporate as much of the Algebra that I’ve listed below through bell ringers in Geometry since they are going to be weak. This will help them in their future math classes! At least now, I don’t have to do it all in one semester. I can spread it out over the year.

Here is this original post:

About 4 years ago, I created an Algebra STAAR Review that covered the newly established Algebra TEKS. Each of the Algebra TEKS is covered on a page of its own. At the top of each page, I put the objective practiced on that page. My thinking was if a teacher wanted to individualize the work, or just cover a certain standard in class, then this would make it easy for them.

Most people love the review, but some people complained that it was too much material. It is too much to try to cover in 2 or 3 weeks before the test. It is a detailed review with a short quiz at the end of each section. Each objective would probably take two to three (or more in some cases) 50 minute class periods to get it done. My mistake was that I did not give the teachers that purchased this review a suggested plan of action. With the craziness of school last year, I feel like it’s time to help teachers with a plan of action for the STAAR test. I have many questions from my district and the state that cannot be answered until we get closer to the school year, but I still want to forge ahead with a plan and I’d like to share it with you.

I am constantly studying the Algebra STAAR Exams. Recently, I took the tests from the last 3 years and put together an analysis. I wanted to see any patterns or trends. TEA has said how many questions come from each category, but when you figure out the details yourself, it’s eye opening. I’m going to teach all of the TEKS, but this helps me know which ones that I really need to emphasize. I took each objective and broke it into each standard within the objective and made tables and graphs for each objective. Below is the one I made for all of the objectives. The columns represent the number of questions in that category for that year.

*You can get a copy of the whole analysis at the end of this blogpost.

Before I share my plan, I wanted to discuss more about how to use the resources. For instance, Objective 2 has nine standards. There is no way to do all nine standards plus the quiz at the end right before the test if you want to review other topics. A suggestion is to use parts of the review during the school year to spiral the information. Pull them out when you need to review for a test or use them as bell ringers. Teachers have no time and before they know it the test is right around the corner. The best time to plan is as early as possible. My review bundle can be used throughout the year AND at the end of the year, so get the review now, print it off, put it in a binder and start thinking about how you can use the material. Also, if you purchase this and see something that needs to be added, just give me a shout out and I’ll see what I can do. (That’s the best part about purchasing from Teachers Pay Teachers. We can revise and edit as needed!) One thing that I really love about creating resources and lesson planning is being able to help other teachers that do not have the time to do it themselves, so here’s my Algebra STAAR TESTING PLAN for 2020-2021. I’m using the dates set by Texas as of July 2020. If things change, then I’ll adjust. I will be teaching both Algebra 1 and Geometry next year. Both groups will be taking the Algebra STAAR at some point since the STAAR testing was cancelled last school year.

All of the plans below are based on my Algebra STAAR Bundle and the EOC Bell Ringers-(I’ve changed the title to “Algebra Bell Ringer Review” but it is the same as previous.) The one thing not incorporated into my plan as of now are the quizzes at the end of the objectives. These could be used as pretests, posttests, homework, tutorials etc. I’m sure times will arise that I’m not thinking of right now, where I can use them.

TEST PLAN – December Test

(Testing Window – December 8 – 18, 2020)

Who is the Test For? Students that did not pass the Algebra STAAR in previous years and geometry or other math students that did not pass the Algebra STAAR or never took it because of COVID-19.

**Note to Geometry Teachers – Let’s face it, Geometry will not be the same. You will need to focus on Algebra when you can. Some Geometry topics will not get as much attention this year!!! Some good news is that we do cover Algebra naturally in Geometry. While we are working on Parallel and Perpendicular lines, we can cover these Algebra Standards: 2B, 2E, 2F, 2G. When we are working with segments, segment addition, angles and angle addition, we can cover the solving equations standard: 5A.

Start the 2nd Week of Schooland do:

10 Weeks of Algebra EOC Bell Ringers. (Get a FREEBIE sample of the Bell Ringers at the end of this blogpost.)

Pick days before Thanksgivingto work specifically on these topics: (***Side Note – My Algebra EOC Review covers all the TEKS and at the top of each page the objective is written, so you can easily pull the TEKS you need!)

Linear Topics – Writing and Graphing Equations Slope and Key Features of Graphs (2C, 3A, 3B, 3C)

Writing, Graphing and Solving Linear Inequalities (2H, 3D, 5B)

Use these objectives as Bell Ringers OR add them to your homework/classwork starting the 2nd Semester. Each of these objectives is covered on a page in the bundle for that objective:

1st Week: 2B, 2D

2nd Week: 2E, 2F, 2G, 2H

3rd Week: 3A, 3H

4th Week: 4A, 4B, 4C

5th Week: 12A, 12B, 12E

6th Week: 9A, 9B, 9E,

7th Week: 10A, 10B, 10C

8th Week: 10D, 10E, 10F

9th Week: 6A, 6B, 6C

10th Week: 8A, 8B, 11B

11th Week: 12C, 12D

End of March: (March 22, 2021)

The 3 Quizzes and Task Cards – (This is part of the bundle!) This takes a while to complete. I usually start the Task Cards at the end of March. Last year, I used the Task Cards as flash cards and put them in rings for each student.

2 Weeks Before the Test:

First Week:

3B, 3C, 3D, 3E

2nd Week

5C, 9C, 9D, 11B

1/2 Day of Camp :

Use the worksheets and the task cards to do: 2A, 2C, 2I

Use the matching cards to practice: 3F, 3G, 3H

Use the task cards to do: 5A, 5B

Use the worksheets to do: 7A, 7B, 7C

For Students that did not pass in previous years or in December:

Invite to 1/2 Day Camp

Individualized Packets – Use their test results to create individualized packets.

I have a link to the plan and analysis below so you can have your own copy. To sum up what you will need to follow this plan: