Trying to Show Off — Observation in Algebra 1

A few weeks ago, I was observed by the Assistant Superintendent of my district, as it’s my third year and it’s time to decide whether or not I receive professional status (like tenure).

I ended up having her come in on a rather terrible day. It was first period after midterms, so my students hadn’t been in class in a week. We also had a student who was brand new to the school. It would have been a good day for a slower lesson, but I wanted to wow, of course.

We met a few days before the lesson and I explained what I planned to do. I made up this lesson plan sheet to show to her. It’s loosely based on what they taught me to do in graduate school. I remember seeing these and wondering “but what the heck are you actually DOING in class?” and “do teachers actually do this?” My personal answer to the second question is no, based on the fact that these really don’t explain too much about what actually gets done. Even the assistant superintendent didn’t ask about the CCSS topics that I was addressing.

The day was okay. The kids were kind of crazy and we barely began the main course activity that I was most excited about. But I can say that even if that didn’t go exceptionally well while I was being observed, it did seem to go nicely and teach some things to my kids the next day (and for some, the day after that) when they finished it up.

We started with a Do Now that went okay. Then I tried a handout that asked them to convert a point-slope form equation into slope-intercept form. My goal was that before seeing a bunch of different types of linear equations, the students would see that they were all mathematically equivalent. But it turns out that they had no idea what I was asking them to do and that they already believed that linear equations could be pushed around into different forms. So I dropped this part with the next class. I only wish I had been able to drop it for the class that was being observed, seeing as it was a huge waste of time and the kids became rather flustered until I did it FOR them on the board, which is lame.

Then we got to the good stuff.

But we only had about 20 minutes left. This activity needs a full class period.

I gave each group of 2 or 3 students a bunch of little cut out equation and graph cards.  Here are the pages to cut up. Each group also got a packet. The first two pages consist only of a big table where students would glue/tape/staple each equation with its matching graph and write in an explanation of how they made their choices.

Here’s the packet:

Very few students made any mistakes. The explanations weren’t particularly interesting. Most students used the same techniques the whole way through. Some found points that worked in the equation and then figured out which graphs worked the best. Some took more advantage of y-intercepts. Interestingly, even though the kids were talking about slopes when I sat and asked them about what they were doing, they didn’t mention slope that much in their explanations.

The rest of the packet was intended to help students generalize what they had seen. I found myself explaining what they were supposed to be doing in person with most students. Granted, I mostly just read what the instructions said, approximately word for word. There must be some way of reformatting what I write so that kids will read it — this has happened a fair amount in my classes lately. I guess I should just stop giving in by reading it, and instead say “hey read the directions.”

Anyway, it seemed to go okay. They were good at explaining what the variables in both point-slope and slope-intercept form represent, without me prompting them, and that was the goal of the activity.

One other thing that I added to the end of the worksheet is something that seemed to go well and I plan to do more in the future, which was to ask which two of our mathematician’s habits they used the most in the activity and how it helped them.

All in all, this went well, though the amount of transfer to looking at a new equation and seeing short-cuts for how to graph it varies among my students.

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