Monday, April 30, 2012

Differentiated Instruction while Studying Rational Equations

Rational equations cause some students great difficulty because they bring together multiple, difficult topics: fractions, quadratic equations, and rates. Students who’ve previously mastered these topics can succeed rapidly while those who’ve struggled before have difficulty mastering the basics.  This lesson uses presentations and simulations from NROC’s Algebra 1--An Open Course’s Unit 11, Lesson 2: Rational Expressions and Equations (also available on to allow students to review material or move on to new material within one class assignment.

Learning Objective(s)

•    Understand how to solve rational equations.
•    Learn to apply rational equation solving techniques to real world problems.

Assessment Type

This differentiated assignment can be completed in any context (remote or classroom) where students have access to the internet. The assignment varies based on assessed student mastery, but all students will turn in a set of notes and practice problems.

Assignment Details

Before this class session, identify which students need additional review of rational equation solving techniques and which students are ready to go on. You can do this with an in-class quiz, based on completion of problems in a class warm up, or even after grading a chapter test on the material.

Students who are having trouble simplifying and solving expressions are not ready to tackle the word problems in the applications section. It would be almost impossible for them to identify whether they are making solving errors, simplification errors, or setup errors. They need to master the basics first or they will only be frustrated by applications.

 Have them view, take notes on, and work practice problems based on Solving Rational Equations.  You can use the practice problems associated with this topic. Have your students complete at least five of those after having viewed the video. Otherwise, assign related problems from the textbook.

Meanwhile students who have achieved mastery would be bored by further review. Have them move on to the NROC lesson, Applying Rational Equations, viewing and taking notes on it before working through the problems presented in, “Conserving Water,” the section’s applications-based tutorial simulation.

For homework, all students should complete anything not done in class. In addition, assign all students completion of five additional practice problems from the section or sections of their choice. For full credit, they must record the lesson’s name (and page number if using a textbook), problem number, and enough information from the problem for someone to answer the question asked without referring to the textbook or computer. They can do this on a separate page with its own title of, “Rational Expressions Homework--Problems of Choice,” or they can separate this from their class work with a horizontal line and the new title as a subheading.

Instructor Notes

•    Students who complete the remedial assignment should be given the opportunity to complete the applications assignment as extra credit. Likewise, students who’ve gone on to applications should be allowed to complete the other assignment for an equal amount of extra credit. This way, no one feels like they were denied an opportunity to earn credit for learning.
•    You can also allow those who are really struggling with rational expression basics to earn credit for revisiting the previous lessons’ material in a similar manner (taking notes and completing practice problems).
•    Do not allow self selection of which in-class assignment to do, as many students will group themselves by friends rather than ability.
•    If you have students who find they cannot complete the assigned practice problems redirect them into taking notes on the worked example problems from the same section (like Solving Rational Equations) or a related previous section’s video (like Simplifying Rational Expressions) instead. Ultimately, these students will earn the day’s credit for turning in a set of notes from the video and a set of worked practice or copied example problems. Re-assign the original practice problems to them as homework instead of allowing them the self-selected problems.
•    Anything not completed during class time can be finished as homework. Email the required links to your students or make them available on the class website.


As there are three clear parts to the work assigned here, I would grade this on 15 point scale with 5 points per section.

5pts—Completion of the notes from the correct section and overall reasonable neatness of layout.
5pts — For the review group: Correct completion of at least 5 practice problems (or notes on example problems) from the assigned section. 
          For the applications group: Clear recording and correct completion of all problems from the tutorial sim.
5pts—Correct completion of 5 practice problems of the student’s choice, labeled as requested with work shown.

Note: For all problems (including those from the tutorial sim) work must be shown, answers written out, and enough information recorded to make it clear what was asked in the question.

Comments Invited

How do you like to differentiate instruction and assignments in your classroom? What problems have you run into and what successes have you had?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Algebra Factoring Simulations and Games—Now On!

Algebra tutor simulations and puzzles (including two on factoring!) from NROC’s Algebra 1--An Open Course are now available to everyone on! A student can be assigned to complete a tutorial or reach a certain score on a game and send you a screenshot that shows completion.

The puzzle and sim linked to here deal with factoring trinomials. If you’d like to browse more interactive algebra resources, go to the “Algebra and Geometry” section of and scroll down past the “Test Prep” in the leftmost frame until you see “Simulations.” Click on “Algebra 1—An Open Course (2011),” and a list will appear.  Click on the “Tutor Sim” or “Puzzle” you wish to view.

Learning Objective(s)

•    Understand how to factor trinomials.
•    Know how to take and submit a screenshot to a teacher.

Assessment Type

This assignment is designed for completion by the students at home. Completing the tutor simulation takes 10 minutes or less; the time spent on the factoring game can be about the same. The resources linked to here deal with factoring trinomials and are best used as part of a review (perhaps in conjunction with or just before assigning a more formal practice test) a bit before a test on the material.

Assignment Details

Students will access the tutorial and games at home via the internet and use them to review factoring trinomials. To show completion, they will send in a screenshot.

For students to reach these online tools, they will need access to an internet enables computer with working speakers. They’ll want to have the browser window maximized and also “maximize” their view of the tutorial or simulation by clicking on the “+ Maximize” button circled in red below. 
On a side note, if you wish to link to a puzzle, simulation, or any presentation on click on the little symbol that looks like a link to get the correct URL. It is third to the right after the maximize button circled above, next to the "+". Copy/pasting directly from your browser will not work.

The Tutor Simulation--Factoring: Perfecting the Long Kick in Soccer
The simulation linked to above uses an example where the student factors a quadratic equation with a lead coefficient other than 1. Assign the student to work until they reach the end of the tutorial simulation and receive feedback on their performance. They'll need to take a screenshot of the feedback to show completion. An end-of-sim screenshot example is here.

The puzzle linked to here has students select correct factors for quadratics from multiple possibilities. The format encourages guessing. If you want students to fully solve each problem instead, you may want to require that they turn in a written copy of their work as well as a high score screenshot.

Take a moment to play this game and decide what level or levels you wish your students to play. Assign the student to play until they reach a certain score (100, for example) on a certain level. Once they reach that score, they should use screen capture, and email (or drop box) an image showing the problems still on their screen and their score. You’ll want to see the problems on the screen, not just the score, to ensure they are working at the assigned level. An example screenshot is below with the score circled in red.

Instructor Notes

•    You will need to check that students know how to take a screenshot on their computers. Demonstrating this for them can help, but there are also a lot of online tutorials that they can Google. Here are two I found:    How to take a screenshot on a PC.    How to take a screenshot an a Mac.

•    They'll want to paste their screenshots into an image editor, such as Microsoft Paint, so they can crop them and save them in the correct format. They should take care when cropping their images to exclude any inappropriate or private information in the background of the screenshots they submit.

•    Be sure students understand which file formats are acceptable and how you wish files to be named “LastNameFirstNameFactoringGame.jpg,” for example.

•    If you have a class email list, it may be easiest to send students an email with links to the simulation or game and an explanation of how you wish them to submit their work (email or drop box and what file format) as well as links to the screenshot tutorials.


Most students will either complete or not complete this assignment. Very few will submit an item that receives partial credit. If you receive a note like, “I earned 100%!” without screenshot proof, it is up to you as to whether you wish to credit it or not. In general, I recommend you assign total credit as you would for a normal homework assignment that takes about 10-15min to complete.

I hope your students have fun, and let me know what they think!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

CAHSEE and Others -- High School Exit Exam Math Preparation

Many states require exit exams in math for high school students. The plan here focuses on preparation for the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE), but it can help students prepare for any summative high school math exam. California state materials and NROC resources, including resources from Algebra 1—An Open Course and from the Khan Academy Collection on, are used.

Learning Objective(s)
•    Review and practice math standards for a high school exit exam.

Assessment Type
This is for any high school math class or study group preparing for a general knowledge math exit exam. Before beginning the review, the instructor should look at the topics covered by the exam and plan accordingly.

Assignment Details

You have many preparation options for a cumulative math exam. The key things are: Begin early. Identify gaps. Fill gaps. Practice. Retest and recap. Many links identify information by topic, so if you’re working with a similar math exit exam from another state, these should still be helpful to you!

1.    Begin Early. Plan on one week of work per review topic. Shorten this if needed or if you’re only doing test preparation and not also working on other class material. Be sure to pepper later weeks with warm up questions from previously reviewed topics.

2.    Identify Gaps.  Have your students take a diagnostic test. They can do this at home or in class, but I do recommend grading in class so students are not tempted to cheat. Paper can be saved if you have access to a computer lab where each student can work separately. For the CAHSEE, the practice test linked here is a good one. Results can be checked with the key posted in the Appendix or use the CAHSEE Practice Test Key and Histogram I made that divides problems by topic. Even if preparing for another state’s test, look at the topics covered by the CAHSEE practice test. Based on topics covered, you might be able to use this practice test and histogram as a diagnostic tool.

3.    Fill Gaps. If your student has missed only a few problems, it might be best for him/her to only review what went wrong on those problems. For the CAHSEE, the link here leads to videos that explain the solution to each practice test problem.

For in-depth Review by Topic follow the link here. Topics covered are as follow: 

Number Sense- Fractions, percents, roots, decimals, proportions, scientific notation
Probability and Statistics- Basic probability, data analysis (graphs, mean, median, mode)
Algebra and Functions- Solve a linear equation, generalize patterns, make a symbolic expression from a written one, know slope, evaluate an expression, identify functions
Measurement and Geometry- Convert between units of measure, scale, translate objects, perimeter, area, volume, Pythagorean Theorem.
Math Reasoning- Recognize and generalize patterns, organize information, use logic in conjectures.
Algebra 1- Simplify polynomials and expressions, absolute value, roots, match graphs to linear equations, find slopes, intercepts, parallel lines, solve linear inequalities, rate, work and mixture problems, systems of equations.

4.    Practice.  Practice should occur both in class and at home. If you have access, you can pull problems from many practice problems in NROC’s Algebra 1--An Open Course. These are also listed by topic. Otherwise, pull questions from textbooks or the 2008 CAHSEE Released Test Questions. (Note: These are listed by topic and answer keys appear after each topic. They repeat the example and practice questions provided after the worked example questions linked to above).

5.    Review and Retest. Create or find a new practice test for your students. If you’re doing the CAHSEE, you can select the problems you want from those linked above to make a new test. Don’t worry about repeating old questions as long as you mix up the order. Use questions you don’t select for review games. In fact, you may wish to do a brief review game at the end of each week to keep topics fresh.

Instructor Notes
•    Look over the practice test results. Recruit high-scoring students as in-class tutors and/or helpers. Excuse them from review homework as a reward.
•    Tell your students to circle or mark any problem that they were unsure of, or on which they guessed the answer. Even if they guessed right, they should review that problem.
•    Out of time? Have students take the CAHSEE practice test and self grade with the histogram. At home, they should view the recorded CAHSEE practice test solutions taking notes for credit. 

The first practice test should be participation credit, not percent correct, since you’re using it as a diagnostic rather than a cumulative tool. For in-class and weekly work, one can assign completion of practice problems and/or notes on recordings for homework.

The second practice test can be graded on percent correct and count as much as a regular end-of-chapter test in order to encourage students to take it seriously. Alternately, a score of more than a certain amount might be traded for an extension on a homework assignment or replace one low score on a previous test. A final option is to have a high score on this test count as an extra credit coupon (say, 5%) toward their final exam.