Today is a teacher workday (the first election day since I turned 18 that I’m not voting on… I’m a little disappointed in myself). I’ve gotten the next unit planned out in my interactive notebook, but before I teach and post that I’m going to start posting all of our Algebra I units. I’ve taken most of these ideas from other websites (mostly Math=Love) and will try to keep track and give credit where credit is due in the future.

Unit 1 in our curriculum is basically a review of some of the more important things from the Foundations of Algebra (middle school math) courses they have taken over the past three years. We title ours Expressions and Operations, and it discusses topics from VDOE SOLs A.1, 4, and 5.

Our first day of instruction is the second day of school, and we spent the majority of the time discussing how to set up and use the interactive notebooks. Next year when I do this, however, I’m definitely going to use Sarah Hagan’s new table of contents idea combined with the concept-based grading scale that I already have in place to create the unit dividers. After that we also talked about a few different vocabulary terms. I asked students to define them before we wrote down any definitions and examples to see what they already knew.

We finished the first day by creating a foldable of some key terms for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division in preparation for the next day’s lesson.

During our next lesson, we practiced translating expressions. We did a few examples together as a class using this Gizmos activity, and then students worked either independently or in their small groups (tables of 3) on the practice problems in their notebook. When we went over the practice problems as a class, we wrote down all possibilities that students were willing to share and discussed which ones worked and which didn’t. Some students seemed confused when there was more than one answer but a lot of students liked arguing for or against certain translations.

The next day we began talking about evaluating expressions. I asked students “Who remembers what the order of operations is?” and about half of the hands went up. I responded with “Good, because for the next 5-10 minutes you don’t need it.” and was met with some puzzled looks. I wrote on the board an expression that involved all parts of the order of operations and told the students to pretend that there was no order of operations. If it didn’t exist, what answers could we get for this problem? Then they worked to come up with as many answers as they could. Some students only came up with one or two, others had six or seven. As a class we looked at about five options, and then discussed why it was important to use the order of operations. Those who had originally said they forgot what it was definitely seemed to remember and understand by the end of the activity.

So then I introduced the “new” order of operations. Many of them had been taught PEMDAS – but we like to call it GEMDAS. The “G” stands for grouping, and it allows us to include more than just parentheses into that first step. We did an example as a class, and then students worked on a practice worksheet for the remainder of the block.

We finished talking specifically about evaluating the next day, where we introduced substitution. We completed a couple of examples in the notebook before students worked on a partner activity. It was one of those partner activities where they each have different problems but if they do them correctly they get the same answers (I love these types of worksheets). After the students completed the partner activity, we started discussing properties.

If anyone has a good way to teach properties, PLEASE let me know. My students groaned about them last year and never really understood how or why to use them. They (so far) have been doing the same thing this year. They are a boring concept that I cannot figure out how to get across to my students!

We spent the next day working on some more evaluating problems, doing pull-out small group instruction for students who were still struggling with the order of operations, and took notes on a couple more properties.

The last day of explicitly teaching properties was also spent reviewing absolute value. This is, again, something that they had seen in middle school so we did a couple of examples together as a class and then did another worksheet. Next year at this point I’d like to play Zombie Graveyard (which I will post about as soon as I DO play it this year!) but we were still working on classroom management and student self-discipline and didn’t get around to it.

The last two days of our unit were spent practicing identifying and combining like terms and justifying simplifying expressions using properties. I’ve tried highlighting and circling and boxing and underlining for combining like terms but I still have some students that do not get it. They don’t comprehend the idea that “a” is not the same thing as “b”, because to them they are both unknowns so they should be the same. I’m hoping that this will change when we get to linear functions soon, but if anyone has a really good way of teaching combining like terms I will use it in a heartbeat!

At this point I was not doing concept-based grading with my Algebra 1 classes, so we took a quiz that included translating and evaluating expressions, and then we had a test that also included properties at the end of the unit.