If this is your first year teaching Algebra 1, or even your first year in a math classroom, this post is for you. I remember the stress of being responsible for students’ future success in high school. If they didn’t pass Algebra 1, then students would have to double up math classes in future grades or take summer school. The stakes were much higher than when I taught middle school!
In addition, most of my students were repeating Algebra 1. The feeder middle school required all students to take Algebra 1 in 8th grade. Any students that did not pass their final exam in 8th grade had to retake Algebra 1, which gave me classes full of students that thought they knew everything since they had learned it the year before. Here are 3 things that I wish I would have started my year knowing.
3 tips for teaching algebra 1
1. Classroom Management Matters
You might be thinking … obviously! And I think that I thought that too, but I also thought, “These students are high schoolers, they should be able to (insert obvious statement here).”
I felt so frustrated a few months into the school year because my 9th graders were acting like 6th graders. After winter break, I spent 2 days reteaching classroom expectations with the mindset that they were 11 instead of 15, and behavior did improve!
Also, don’t forget that building relationships is foundational! Take an interest in them as people, not just students. I talk more about building relationships within my classroom here.
2. Explain the WHY before teaching the HOW
This is a good practice for all types of teaching, but teaching the WHY before teaching the HOW benefitted my students taking Algebra 1 for the second time.
For example: before introducing how to solve systems of equations, I gave students the problem —
A + B = 5.
I would ask my students, “What is the value of A and B?” Students agreed that there could be a combination of various numbers (4 and 1 or 3 and 2 or 5 and 0 or etc) that would make the equation true. Then I would add another equation —
A – B = 3.
Students would then see that only A=4 and B=1 would satisfy both equations. I would do this before introducing substitution or elimination. (Thank you Education World for that idea.)
Lastly, ever wonder why the inequality symbol flips when you multiply or divide by a negative number? I had never questioned it or even thought about it in my entire math career. One of my students always asked WHY as a tactic to stall, which drove me crazy, but then I realized that he was forcing me to be a better teacher! I learned that preparing my lessons with the WHY in mind was better for everyone, including me!
3. Get Familiar with your calculator
Calculators are a powerful tool that I underutilized in my Algebra 1 and 2 classes. My school used the TI -Nspire, which was different than what I had grown up using, so I felt uncomfortable teaching my students what value they possessed. There was so much potential conceptual understanding lost just because I didn’t step out of my comfort zone to learn something new.
In order to keep you from falling victim to your comfort zone, I compiled some resources that can help teachers familiarize themselves with their school’s calculators.
- This Texas Instrument website has specific Algebra 1 activities and lessons to support use of the TI-84.
- This Texas Instrument website has specific Algebra 1 lessons to support the use of TI-Nspire CX.
- And there are so many Youtube videos that walk you through how to do everything on your calculator. Just type the name of your calculator + the skill you want to learn.
A tip from an Algebra 1 teacher from our Facebook group –
“Google is your friend. Start a chart with the [calculator] basics. Add to it as you figure out new things you can do. If you have Google classroom, you can create a living document and post it there, so the students can access it and add to it too.”
Algebra 1 teachers, what would you add to this list? What is important to remember when teaching algebra?