Take A Picture, It Will Last Longer And Be More Effective For Your Math Lesson

Real-life examples in math are super important, but it takes time to think of examples and to prepare a lesson using your examples. A quick way to make a lesson interesting and tied to a real-life situation is to take a picture then pose a question. This gets students to analyze details of a situation.

In the next few weeks, I will be talking to my Algebra students about arithmetic sequences and direct variation. I have a great blog post titled, “Examples of Real-Life Arithmetic Sequences.” Check it out if you’d like. I love all the pictures in that post, but I thought I’d take a new picture that I could pose a question to see what the students would say. Below is the question and picture. Feel free to use it yourself if you like it. 

(Yep, that’s my dishwasher in the background😂)

I’d give students a little time to think and jot their thoughts down. Next, I’d ask for feedback. Finally, my plan is to let them create a table using height of cups vs. number of cups for each situation. We will create equations and graphs and talk about the similarities and differences. Students will pay more attention to the details and take part in this activity. All the students will need is some grid paper and the picture which I will post on the board and in Canvas for them.

As a side note, I took this picture with my iPhone, then I used a free app called Layout from Instagram to create the collage. I used another free app called Typorama to add the question. Very simple and easy once you’ve done it a couple of times. I save all my photos in Google Photos which is easy to get to via phone or computer. 

Get Your Math Students Engaged!

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!

Learning Loss in Math

Learning loss is evident this year. I’m sure you have noticed it too. How do you deal with it? We can either complain about it or we can do our best to address it.

When I coached basketball, we practiced fundamentals everyday. The kids could already dribble and shoot layups, but we still practiced these skills to keep them sharp. What would be wrong with doing this same thing in a math classroom? No, don’t bring a basketball into your classroom. All I’m saying is practice those math fundamentals. There will always be learning loss and students will struggle with certain concepts in math. We should plan for it every year! Here are a few ideas on how to deal with it. If you have some other ideas, please let me hear from you.

1) Plan for mini lessons on content that you have a feeling students will struggle with. 
2) Figure out which students are your star students and make them helpers. Let them tutor other students during class time. 
3) Use bell ringers for content students should have learned last year. (I have algebra bell ringers for Geometry students if you are interested.)
4) Add a problem or two to your worksheets with content from the previous year. 
5) Use dry erase boards to have students work problems, then show you quickly if they understand.
6) For fundamental work, do quick timed worksheets. Let’s say students do not know the order of operations. Give them 5 problems each day for a week. Have a set time and do not go beyond that.
7) Announce a tutoring session that covers a basic skill. You could say, “This Tuesday after school, I’m going to focus on one- and two-step equations.” 
8) Use those videos you made last year to reinforce the material this year. You may do an in-person lesson and then post a video so students can watch it if they need it. 
9) Give students flash cards to study. Let’s say some of the students are struggling with operations with integers. Give them some index cards and some problems with solutions. Put the problem on one side and the solution on the other. 
10) Sage and scribe is a great way to get students to work through some problems and see if they know what they are doing. My algebra students are struggling with combining like terms. I could have one person stand (this is the sage) beside the other person’s desk (the scribe) and talk the scribe through simplifying an expression. The scribe can only write and is not allowed to talk at first. This is great since both students are really having to concentrate on what they are doing. The two students switch roles after each problem. 

If I could add a #11, I think I would say to just make learning more fun. Get students excited about your class. Get them more involved. When I feel like I’m being boring, I pull out games. Students want to have fun. Here are a few games that I use in my classroom:

I hope you can take an idea or two and implement in the coming weeks. Let me know what worked and what did not work. This is going to be a tough year on math teachers. Don’t let anyone put too much pressure on you. You can only do so much. Try your best, but remember to take care of yourself. 

Algebraic Expressions

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.

Expression PowerPoint
Note Page Example

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.