Sunday, September 10, 2017

Solving Around the World

I've done this activity two years now. Both with my mainstream algebra class and my sheltered algebra class. Other algebra teachers at my school have also tried it. I've had administrators drop in to observe the activity. And the same couple observations always come up:

  • Student LOVE this activity. There is a real feeling of engagement in the room when students are doing this activity.
  • It feels like controlled chaos (not a bad thing). 
UPDATE: Here are links to templates of the activity. The only need to create your own links to the good forms! Solving Around the World WORD FILE .  Solving Around the World PDF FILE

My Inspriation

Last year the algebra team wanted to make a review activity for our solving unit. The solving unit mostly covers equations with variables on one side and equations with variables on both sides.

I told the team I would create something...and then I got stuck. My mind was stuck on a few things:
  • I didn't want to make a worksheet. I wanted something engaging and interesting. 
  • Solving isn't good for group work. Skills levels are too varied and it is too easy for a student with strong procedural fluency to "show" the group how to do it--that's not a review.
  • I wanted an activity that had feedback, but it is exhausting for a teacher to check in or verify or confirm every kid for every problem. Even if students check their solution, I still wanted to have a teacher/student check in component, but it needed to be reasonable.
I remember seeing an activity (I think for chemistry) on Twitter that used Google Forms to verify the student's solution. That seemed intriguing to me. What if I made a solving activity where students entered their response on a Google Form? 

My big ah-ha came as I was thinking about my sheltered algebra class. I have students from all over the world. What if each equation was a country that represented a country one of my students was from and students had to travel "around the world" to solve? After they entered the solution in the Google Form and it was verified, they could come to me and I could stamp their passport!! 

The Activity

I decided to do this as a partner task. I assign the partners. I created a page for each country. I printed the countries out and I hang them up around the classroom and outside the classroom as well (I teach in California so weather is almost never an issue). There are 16 countries (yes, I know...a student already pointed out that Antarctica is not a country...I was tired and Antarctica sounded cool!). Countries with asterisks have variables on both sides. 

I tell students to choose the country they want to work on, take a picture of the country, then go back and work on it with their partner--and I need to see work from both students. Once they finish solving it, they go to the link on the page and enter their solution. 

The Google Form the student sees looks like this.

If the solution they enter is incorrect, they get this message. 

If the solution they enter is correct, they can click next and get this page. 

Why I Think This Works

I wanted something engaging and this activity feels engaging. I think that is true for a few reasons:
  • Students have choice: they can choose which country to go to. And they can choose where in the room they want to sit--seems small, but it is a break from the norm.
  • Students can use their cell phones. I occasionally let them use cellphones in class for a task. When done right, cellphones are a good "hook" for engagement. I think that's the case here.
  • They get instant feedback. Students know right away if their solution is correct or not. They don't have to wait for me. 
  • I thought the "international" component would only pique the interest of my sheltered algebra students, but even my mainstream students say things like "let's go to Mexico!" They really do like the "around the world" component! :)
The instant feedback also reinforces a growth mindset message. Getting the wrong solution isn't punitive, it is just part of the process. They don't lose points, and I don't even know they got it wrong. They are only told to "Try Again". 

I'm sure there are a lot of ways to improve this activity. One problem I have is that the validation is really, really sensitive. So X=4 is wrong. So is x = 4. and 4=x. The form will only take x=4. But once students get the hang of that it isn't a huge problem.

It also took a long time to put the activity together. However, once it is made, you can use it indefinitely and share with others in your department. 

If you try, let me know how it goes! And if you improve it, please let me know so I can steal your good ideas! 


  1. Are you willing to share this document?

    1. I openly share most things I create. My hesitation with sharing this activity is that it uses Google Forms. So if I share a link with you, it will be to the same form I use in my classes. And the form would have all my students responses (and the responses for the students of other algebra teachers at my school) as well as any student responses you add. Not a big deal, except you would need to look through 70+ responses to find yours!

  2. Love this idea!! Thank you for sharing!


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