Friday, 27 April 2012

Algebra - 8ways, literacy, and unmasking our demons

I had some exciting ideas about things to do in our first look at algebra with my lovely year 7s. In the process of asking people for input, I got a bunch of better ideas from them (although my original ones will probably still appear).

For the first lesson, I took the inspiration from 8ways and we had a 'yarn up', pretty much as described here. The lesson got off to a good start down the comfortable-chat road with a discussion of the results from last term's feedback survey, the holiday homework, my new hair colour etc. I put up the new topic title: "Patterns, Algebra and Equations" and immediately there were groans and protests. With our scrap paper in front of us, I started asking questions. "What do you know about algebra?" "Have you done any before?" "When did you first learn about it?"

They knew some good stuff. It involves letters. It is where letters represent numbers. Usually you have to find out how the letters relate to the numbers. Most of them hadn't done any before, they said. Some had.

They had some fears, which came out when talking about their first meetings with algebra. "I first heard about it when my stepsister was saying how hard it was." "I looked over my sister's shoulder and couldn't understand anything on the page."

"So you hate algebra because other people told you they hate it?" They laughed and admitted it.

Someone said something about shapes representing numbers as well, instead of letters. Suddenly others realised they had done that too, and they didn't realise that was algebra, and that wasn't so hard. I said that I thought letters were easier to write when the algebra got more complicated. "It gets harder?!" Groans again. I explained that is wasn't hard as long as you learn one step at a time and that soon they would be able to do stuff that looks completely confusing now.

Then I used some ideas that were generously shared on the Maang group, exploring literacy and linking pronumerals to other "pros" they might know (pros and cons, pro-labour or pro-liberal, and pronouns) and discussing why pronumerals are used. We talked about the different types of symbols that can be used in place of numbers. I was taught how to pronounce xi, and admitted that at uni I referred to it as "squoogle". Other Greek letters were discussed in some depth. "It's definitely psi, it looks like the ninja weapon." "Oh yeah, like Raphael uses." "Who's Raphael?" Kids.

It took the right group of kids, but this was one of the most positive, enjoyable lessons I've had. It was a good way to start the topic, a good way to spend a Friday afternoon lesson, and a good way to get all the feelings and fears out in the open.

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