So You’re Teaching Algebra Next Year?

The prospect can sound daunting. You may even feel the need for a refresher in algebra content. If so, you may find these sites helpful.

Patterns, Functions, and Algebra
This college-level math course explores the “big ideas” in algebraic thinking. Created for elementary and middle school teachers, the online workshop consists of 10 two-and-a-half hour sessions. You begin with a session on algebraic thinking and go on to sessions on such topics as proportional reasoning, solving equations, and nonlinear functions. Each workshop meeting includes video of teachers working together on problems, interactive Web activities, homework exercises, and discussion questions. The final session explores ways to apply the algebraic concepts you’ve learned to your own K-8 classrooms. Graduate-level semester credits are available through registration at Colorado State University, or the sessions can be completed for free by any interested group of teachers.

Algebra in Simplest Terms
If you want a basic algebra review, take a look at this video series. Intended for high school classrooms and adult learners, the course offers 26 half-hour video programs and coordinated books—online and free. Offered by Annenberg/CPB: Teacher Professional Development.

Navigating through Algebra for Grades 6-8.
Written for the middle school teacher, this book outlines the main concepts to be covered in these critical years and presents full activities as teaching samples.

Finally, a general resource of ideas for the classroom is Algebraic Thinking: A Basic Skill.Topics range from algebraic expressions to solving equations to understanding graphs. Here you can find online activities at a click.

I hope you will find these sites helpful and enjoy next year’s class!

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/18/2012.

Let’s Go to a Math Fair!

How could we organize a math fair? And what kinds of projects would our students present? I’m not thinking here of projects that would be judged, as in a science fair, but rather investigations and activities that would engage middle school students and be presented for the whole school as well as parents. One idea comes from a 7th grade class at Frisbie Middle School in Rialto, California.

Multicultural Math Fair
Ten activities for the fair, each based on a different cultural heritage, are well described in both Spanish and English. Included here are tips on how to set up a math fair as well as student handouts and free software for specific activities, such as the Tower of Hanoi. You will also find links to resources for related activities, such as studying symmetry and patterns in Navajo rugs. A unique teacher-created site!

If you are looking for more project ideas, here are some I think would make great fair presentations and involve students in learning sound math:

Pascal’s Triangle
Here are three ways to explore the famous triangle: by finding patterns and relations within the triangle, solving a pizza toppings problem in Antonio’s Pizza Palace, or working with an interactive web unit. The set of three investigations could work well as one fair project.

The Noon Day Project: Measuring the Circumference of the Earth
In the course of this online project, students learn about Eratosthenes and his experiment, do a similar experiment by collaborating with other schools, and analyze and reflect on the collected data to determine the accuracy of their measurements and what they learned. The project provides detailed instructions, activities, reference materials, online help, and a teacher area.

The Data Library
This web site contains an extensive list of ongoing data-sharing projects that would work well as fair projects. It also offers a great set of links to data on population, baseball stats, minimum wage, etc., excellent for students working on any statistics project.

Polyhedra in the Classroom
A set of activities developed for middle school students on aspects of polyhedra. The teacher-creator, Suzanne Alejandre, includes not only instructions for each activity but also assessment suggestions and her mathematical objectives for the unit.

Down the Drain
This Internet-based collaborative project allows students to share information about water usage with other students from around the country and the world. Based on data collected by their household members and their classmates, students determine the average amount of water used by one person in a day. They then compare this to the average amount of water used per person per day in other parts of the world. Students publish reports, photos, or other work for the fair presentation.


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 10/10/2011.

Testing! Beyond One-Step Math Problems

Middle school students often do well on straight calculations but feel lost when faced with more complex problems. And many tests these days require critical thinking and ask for an extended response. As in all test preparation, students need practice, especially on problems requiring more than one-step computation. Here are sites that offer test items you might use in class reviews, challenges, quizzes, etc.  Please let us know of other treasure troves of practice problems or how you prepare your students for testing.

Searching for Solutions
Within this WebQuest is a set of individual lessons on several problem-solving techniques, such as finding patterns, making a table, working backward, and solving a simpler problem. Each strategy is explained simply, with students in mind, then activities requiring that strategy are presented. An excellent guide from an e-learning specialist on ways to attack math problems!

Balanced Assessment
A set of more than 300 assessment tasks, indexed for grades K-12. Each incorporates a story problem format and includes hands-on activities. Rubrics provided.

Figure This! Math Challenges for FamiliesCreated for students in grades 6 to 8, the site offers math challenges that focus on everyday life, such as how fast your heart beats, what shape container holds the most popcorn, and how much of you shows in a small wall mirror.

Word Problems for Kids
A wide range of carefully selected problems! Organized by grade level from 5 through 12, each problem links to a helpful hint and to the answer; the more difficult problems offer complete solutions.

Problems with a Point
Here you can search for word problems by topic, lesson time, required mathematical background, and problem-solving strategy. Take the time to do the short guided tours of the site, and then look at favorite problems selected by teachers — a good set of problems at the middle school level.

Fermi Questions
Fermi questions emphasize estimation, numerical reasoning, communicating in mathematics, and questioning skills. Students often believe that word problems have one exact answer and that the answer is derived in a unique manner. Fermi questions encourage multiple approaches, emphasize process rather than the answer, and promote non-traditional problem solving strategies.

NAEP Questions
Over 2000 questions archived.  Online tools allow you to search the collection by content area, grade level, and difficulty. The site also shows what students at each achievement level are likely to know and how NAEP questions are scored.


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 11/08/2011.