Category Archives: Classroom observations

Lesson observation: Algebra

Teacher: [name withheld]
School: [name withheld]
Class: Foundations of Algebra (8th grade), 5th period (immediately before lunch)
Goal: Review combining like terms, distributive property.

Duration Teacher Actions Student Actions
5 min. Post warm-up on white board: three-column table with pairs of consecutive numbers in first column, blank column labeled “sum” and blank column labeled “product.” Also, distribute individual “white boards”: 8.5”x11” card stock in transparent page protectors along with one Expo marker per student and one tissue per student. Students have worked with these materials before and copy table and begin completing it. Some discussion of meaning of “sum” and “product.”
5 min. Randomly check results of table. Review rules of the day: eyes front, take turns speaking, listen. Students display results and complete tables. Some ornamentation of tables.
5 min. Begin main lesson. Draw table on board with column heads: Expressions; Terms with 1st variable, Terms with 2nd variable, Terms with no variable; Rewrite expressions (grouping like terms); Rewrite expression (simplify). Write first expression in first column: 4x + 26 + 3 + 7x + 1 Students erase boards and copy table and first expression.
5 min. Guide students through breaking apart first expression into like terms, circling like terms in original expression. Prompt students to explain why terms are alike. Students list terms in proper columns, grouping and then simplifying into final form.
5 min. Repeat process with second expression: 3x – 2y – 3 + y – x Students complete next row in table.
5 min. Review distribution, continuing on white boards: 5(3+x) –> 15 + 5x. Remind students not to try to add 15 and 5x. Prompt students for justification. Use second example — 5(x+2) + 2(y-3) – to assess students’ ability to recognize that x and y terms cannot be combined. Students are proficient in distributive property, and some even explain why not to try to add 15 and 5x.
5 min. Review collecting variables terms from both sides of an equation, using the example 3x – 7 = 2x + 1 Students work on white boards, explaining to each other how to choose the side that will be the destination for the variable terms.

This lesson was not designed to cover a single new topic but to review several related topics once immediately before a unit test. I’m impressed with the extremely low-tech medium. Seemingly in direct conflict with the Technology principle of the NCTM, which focuses on digital technology to the exclusion of old-fashioned technology, the whiteboards work during power outages (which we had at our school just this week) and are inexpensive. Modeled on the individual chalkboards of Tom Sawyer’s time, they provide immediate assessment and equity within the classroom, easily addressing two of the six NCTM principles.

The lesson addressed several California Standards for the Teaching Profession, especially engaging and supporting all students in learning and assessing student learning. [Teacher] helped students manage their own time by giving them no opportunity to rest or become bored. They needed to constantly keep themselves and their classmates on task or risk being left behind.