Substitute Teaching: Pre Algebra (LJRH 2)

I gotta let you know that I had a great day and a horrible one at the same time. I love math, so teaching two-step equations was a lot of fun. The problem is that there was no lesson plan left by the teacher other than this from the assignment posting: “Someone that is comfortable with Pre-Algebra is preferred – (Solving 2-step equations).”


That was it? Really?

I got to the class expecting a drawn out lesson-plan. Nothing. No mention of a book even. I pounced on the first kid through the door and did an index search through his book to find what and where they were studying (there is no way a seventh grader can even remember his own name at seven thirty in the morning much less subject matter).

With this kid’s book in hand, I got going and wrote my own lesson plan.

At one point, I was a physics major at BYU. I had gotten quite far into the program before I dropped out to help my ex’s family. If one is a physics student, then one is also a math student. I took pre-algebra when I was nine and was in Trig by the time I was these students’ ages. I know what goes into any math class after spending so much time in math class.

I started class with a five minute drill to see if they knew the material. We then went into a step by step procedural about how two-step equations work. Math is very easy to explain, the trick is to see if all those nodding heads actually got it. The problem here is that kids try hard to forget what any teacher says. They try doubly hard with subs.

I did a KWL exercise to get their memory-drives to engage. This exercise is popular in the humanities, but not so much in math or science. Too bad, it is a great way to ensure kids remember what they are taught. The way KWLs work is to take a piece of paper and divide it into columns with K, W & L at the top of each column. The kids know how these work. K stands for “what I already know”. W stands for “what I want to learn”. L stands for “what I learned”. K & W are filled out before the lesson and L is filled out after the lesson. Another way to see this is: K = recognition, W = goal planning and L = review of terms and ideas. If I said “recognition”, “goals”, and “review” out loud even once, their brains would shut off and nappy time would ensue.

Once they filled out the first two columns, we did six problems from the book. I had them work individually. Individual work in any math class when a sub is present means group work and collaboration, which is what I wanted anyway. They just thought they were getting away with something instead of learning. Tell middle-school age kids to work quietly and they will talk even more. Subversive little twerps (I told them to keep it down occasionally as encouragement).

Once twenty minutes passed, we did the problems on the board as a group. I emphasized the terms the students knew from other lessons: “distributive property”, “order of operations”, “inverse operations” etc.. Once I was sure they got it, we did the L column. Ninety-five percent of the answers were fantastic and thoughtful (someone even wrote they learned how to get wrinkles out of a silk blouse).

After the last column was filled out, I had them pass in the KWLs to give to their teacher and then I assigned fifteen problems from the book and let them work on them in groups until the end of class.

It was fun. The kids smiled and laughed most of the class. I love math.

I just wish the teacher had left a plan, so what I did would mesh with what he was doing.

Today was horrible because I got no support from the teacher; great because I got to be creative and do my own thing.

5 thoughts on “Substitute Teaching: Pre Algebra (LJRH 2)

  1. I enjoyed being reminded of and reading your thoughts on the KWL exercise. I ran into it years ago as a student, but haven’t tried it yet as a sub. I like the idea, not just as a way to get the kids engaged in the beginning, but hopefully gain a solid understanding of what they have been taught/already know. Especially with math classes, often (whether there is a lesson plan or not) I struggle to figure out exactly where to start teaching the math; this sounds like a good way to get a handle on where to start.

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