In Algebra 1b, we use games and codes to make the practice of solving problems incredibly fun.   

Algebra 1 began with Mira in block 2; after a break for geometry in block 3, we're returning to algebra to hone our skills and tackle more complex problems.

While designing the curricula for the second part of Algebra 1, I looked at a broad range of textbooks and online math education resources. I found that there are many topics that are included in every Algebra I class, such as solving and simplifying equations in one variable, graphing lines, and exponents. Beyond these core topics, though, what constitutes “Algebra 1” is up to interpretation. Some courses include systems of linear equations, and some go right to quadratics after lines. Some introduce function notation, and others leave that to Algebra 2 or Precalculus. Mira started our Algebra 1 class off with a strong foundation in the the basics in block 2, but the path from that foundation forks in many interesting directions this block.

Algebra 1 is really about building a toolbox to tackle difficult problems with confidence and speed. Whether we get there by studying problems about multiple unknowns or by examining quadratics is less important than whether students can translate complex problems into algebraic equations to solve, and solve those equations skillfully. With that in mind, I try to balance teaching students efficient methods for solving problems with encouraging them to generate and pursue their own ideas for approaching problems—even if their ideas are not the most direct way to get to the answer.

Even so, Algebra 1 depends on practice! Understanding a concept is half the battle; getting to the point where it is easy, automatic, and free of mistakes takes a lot of repetition. The only way to get there is to do dozens of problems. But, there’s no reason that can’t be fun! We practice by solving problems to unlock secret codes: students tear through problems which give answers that range from 1 to 26, each encoding a letter that will later reveal a message. Or, we practice by reading fairy tales with silly characters who run into a lot more algebra than the average dragon in search of a princess. On other days, we solve Japanese puzzles like sudoku or shikaku puzzles with variables instead of numbers.

Students are doing a fantastic job mastering the skills they started learning in block 2, and as a class we are having a lot of fun along the way.

--Sachi Hashimoto