We are now on Day 4 of the algebra unit and the experience just keeps getting better. While following Ruth Beatty's PPT to plan the day-to-day lessons, we have also created a word wall, and reinforced the relationship between symbolic or pictorial representations, graphical and linear, and now today, numeric or algebraic. The word wall includes these words, plus terms and phrases such as growing pattern, position number, pattern rule and trend line. Today we also talked about the vocabulary used in this math, "output equals position number times input."
Today was extra fun because we used the first two CLIPS videos on a Smartboard so the students could participate in some of the activities - yes, I could turn the mouse over to them to show the class! The really liked the robot noises, too.
Some of the most rewarding moments have come on Days 3 and 4, after class, in discussion with the educational assistant who is with me during math. She is extremely happy to observe how the mixed group that we have this year is thriving using this approach. We have one grade 6 student, and a large bunch of 7s and 8s, including one group of four to six students that is often working with the EA on a modified program. All of these students were able to work independently on the activities by Day 3. This is very exciting.
On Day 3, the whole class reviewed Day 2 and then repeated the activity, which involved a) extending a pattern that they chose at random from slips of paper, using tiles, b) building or sketching a bar graph version of their pattern, c) putting the dot at the top of the bars, and d) drawing the line to connect them. It is very rare for this whole group to arrive at a point of understanding at the same time.
The EA also expressed her personal interest in the approach we have taken and said how much she herself had learned. She then told another Grade 8 teacher about the success in my class, with the students she supports, and was enthusiastic about that other teacher perhaps introducing Beatty's approach, because the students were struggling with the concepts in a similar unit, and feeling frustrated. She gave the teacher a copy of the materials and I forwarded the links to the PPT and CLIPS.
I believe that even if the first two or three days might be considered a bit of "review" of topics that are covered in earlier grades, if we want the students to gain a higher understanding of algebra it is very useful at this age to use social groupings to explore the basic concepts of patterns, and then progress to learning about functions. To me, they may well have done simple patterns, bar graphs and line graphs previously but they certainly had never learned anything that combined these representations into a single purpose. So, for me it was a great investment of time and not really "dumbing down" the content at all.
On Day 1, all they did was extend the simple pattern in the PPT, and talk about different ways of expressing it. Then they built and sketched their own growing patterns, exchanged them and presented what they observed.
Day 2 asked a lot, as described above, adding two further activities, the bar graph and the line. They struggled with this, so the EA and I decided to consolidate the ideas on Day 3. It was great; the students were very successful!
Then today, when we looked at the CLIPS video they were avid. They could easily grasp what was being presented and then learn a bit of new vocabulary. Most of the class was able to correctly answer the Robot Rule questions. I know with this group, if they had not understood (or were bored), behaviour would have been an issue. I think the CLIPS material was exactly right for them, at their level, and made for a great day.