Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Algebra Pieces, Differentiation, and Fixing a Mistake

I know that six plus one is seven.

Really, I do.

And I am sure that re-posting information from an earlier post is expressly forbidden in the Blog Rules of The Universe.

However,  I am also thinking there is a caveat somewhere that says: If your picture--in a post about algebra--suggests that six plus one is eight, you have an exemption...
And you are allowed, actually encouraged, to post a fix-up!
I have been fretting about my algebra post for a while.  Most of my posts don't get a lot of views, and I used to just move on to creating the next installment, hoping that someone would find something they liked or could use.

And then Pinterest hit the scene!

Of all the things I have posted on my blog, only a few have achieved multiple pinnage: my TBA freebie, my desktop organizer, and the "Connections" anchor charts.

And an algebra activity.
An algebra activity where 6 + 1= 8!!!

Apparently I took the picture after a child arranged the "like terms"... and then I never looked at the answer.
A very nice "Anonymous" commenter wrote: "Shouldn't the constant be 7 (not 8) in your photo example?"
In other words, "Hey, BlogGirl! 6 + 1 is not now and never will be 8!"

So I am re-sharing bits and pieces of the old post... with added details and some differentiation in case you have students with varying needs in your math class or group.

Details on playing or reviewing are detailed below! And you will notice that  6 + 1 is now (happily) 7! How long do you think it will it take for me to contact all those friends who pinned the picture with the incorrect answer...


Algebra Deja Vu, Take 2

If you're like me, money is short and time is limited.  Still, you want to provide opportunities for math instruction (and interaction) that are beyond paper-and-pencil.

If you are REALLY like me, you just want another excuse to cut up colored cardstock on your 1993 vintage paper cutter! (Aren't you glad you're NOT like me?)

Here's a quick game that helps kids practice combining like terms.
I always like to do a few games like this early in the school year.  Afterwards, the sixth graders often ask, "When can we do algebra again? Algebra is fun!"  Isn't that music to a teacher's ears!

Here are the cards you will need for this activity. Click on the picture to take you to the document.

Sometimes I have the kids roll an 8-sided dice to determine how many cards they will use (Rolling a 1 or 1 2 is an automatic Roll Again)

So a card selection might look like this:

Need to differentiate?
Start with only the cards that have positive terms and integers (then the problem will only involve addition)

Need to differentiate further?
Limit the choices to one variable and the unit cards


If you have children who have some academic/mathematic struggles, there are still ways of adapting the materials so that these students are playing right alongside their peers.  For example, the students can use cards with only whole numbers (no variables). Manipulatives can also be added to support students working with whole number cards--or even a calculator.


To adjust the activity to include a peer with more significant needs, a set of cards with dots or squares can be prepared. so that a student with special needs can still play along--with adapted materials.

Even these cards can have varying levels of difficulty--shapes in a row are easier to count than shapes not in a row.

I posted the page on in editable format (I think), so you can make the cards easier or more difficult to suit the needs of your kiddos.

You can have students work in a center or work on their own as part of practice and review with a circulating adult. In this case, students need their own materials.

If you have one of those "Can-I-Help-You?" Pals with scissors and a smile, you can get out of cutting too!  (I, of course, have offered to cut the pieces for other classes! Crazy, I know!)

I am more inclined to have students work cooperatively in partnerships.
Just run off enough pages on cardstock to have a set for each two or three kids.  (I've never tried it with four... but if they can collaborate and cooperate, good on you!). You may want to run off more than one page of cards to increase choices.

The outcome of the activity looks like this. The students has drawn cards, written an expression with the like terms together, and then combined like terms in an expression.

Interactive play is summarized below:

I'll speak of twosomes because some of my kids are still at the "learning to survive in a partnership" stage.  We've done the conceptual part of the learning and a funny intro with cotton balls (Ahhh... material for another post!), so this is just a warm-up/practice.  I usually have kids work on whiteboards, but paper folded into eight squares would work fine too.

Each player chooses two cards initially.  They work together to combine like terms, discussing putting the variables in alpha order with units at the end of the expression.  I usually have to remind them that this is not an equation; we're not solving, just practicing combining the terms.  They talk about it and write the expression on the white boards. This is, obviously a precursor to solving equations, we're just not there yet.

After they have chatted about several combinations, I ask each partner to choose three cards--making a total of six.  If you're brave and they're ready, you can have them play "Write. Share. Compare"

After looking at the cards, each partner writes the expression.  They count "1-2-3- Share" and then compare.  If there is a discrepancy, they talk it through.  I love to hear:  "Oooooh. I get it now!"

I hope that someone can adapt this activity for her/his class. And I hope you'll let me know if it works for you.

Mostly I hope that your students will have fun!


  1. Isn't it SO funny how one little mistake can cause SO much trouble? Of COURSE you know that 6 plus 1 isn't 8 . . . it's like when friends (you know who!) find typos in your very special posts and then find the courage to write you a note and ask you nicely if you meant to say because or became . . . and you get kind of a weird feeling, but in the end, we're only human, right? And sometimes our brains pat us on the back and tell us it looks great because they knew what we were thinking, right??

    Thanks for such a fun, engaging activity. It almost makes me want to teach math . . . almost . . .


  2. Love this activity and all the differentiation you put into it:) Too funny about the 6 + 1....see, you're a hoot even when you aren't trying to be:) I goof stuff up all the time:) No worries! Miss ya!

    4th Grade Frolics

  3. Thank-you so much for your ecard - I've had that song in my head ALL day ... might've even put a little spring in my step today (must find some completely inappropriate boogie shoes). And I've got you covered with the pin. ;)

    Runde's Room

  4. Oh Kim! I so know what you mean about making mistakes! I wrote to you in my blog post (Teaching My Friends) about it. You are so not alone in making mistakes! ;-)

  5. I love this Kim. I can't wait to try it out with my class (after CST....because we are in crunch time now ;) ) And 8 or 7, it doesn't matter. This was a great activity.

    Teaching in Room 6

  6. Oh my goodness. This had me rolling...did you see my choose vs. chose post? ARGH, if only we can magically erase our mistakes. Oh well...we're only human. Right?

    Your're my bloggy angel.

    Fun in Room 4B

  7. PS-I'd like to say for the record that I "purposefully" said YOUR not...some people might not get it.

    Fun in Room 4B


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