Systems of Equations – Sample Lessons and Resources

For this months lesson feature, I am going to focus on Systems of Equations. I chose this topic because I just did a workshop with Algebra 1 teachers in NJ, and this is where they were in their pacing guide, so I am making an assumption that many algebra teachers might also be focusing on this content as well this time of year. I am using a problem from Fostering Algebraic Thinking with Casio Technology in order to provide a real-world problem-solving experience (and I have the resource), but I have altered the problem so that I can utilize the all-in-one capabilities of Classpad.net (tables, graphs, equations, geometry, text).

The Problem

In 2010, there were approximately 950,000 doctors in the United States, and approximately 350,000 of them were primary care doctors. It was estimated that more than 45,000 new primary care doctors will be needed by 2020, but the number of medical school students entering family practice decreased by more than 25 percent from 2002 to 2007. With laws reforming health care, many more people will be insured in the United States. 

For many reasons, including a growing and aging population, the demand for doctors will likely increase in future years. The number of doctors available is also expected to increase. But, due to the high cost of insurance and the fear of malpractice lawsuits, many have predicted that the increase in the number of practicing doctors will not keep up with the increase in demand for doctors.

The table to the right provides data from a study conducted in the state of Michigan. These data approximate the number of doctors that were or will actually be licensed and practicing in Michigan, called the supply, and the number of doctors that were or will be needed by the people of Michigan, called demand.

The question is, will there be enough doctors to provide all the services? The shortage of doctors is a problem that challenges the entire country, not just Michigan.

The Lesson

A shared paper has been created in ClassPad.net called Systems of Equations Help! Not Enough Doctors, which you can access by clicking on the title. The idea behind this problem is to provide a real-world context where students can use tables, graphs, and equations (along with calculations) to create a system of equations. They can solve these using methods such as substitution, elimination, and graphing. Students will also be practicing how to model with mathematics, applying what they know about relationships and being able to create a system of equations that fits the context of the situation in order to find a reasonable solution.

In the activity, there is obviously some focus first on getting students to really understand the problem and what the numbers represent, and then the idea is to have them look for patterns and relationships as they look for a solution. First in the table, then by looking at a scatter plot of the data, where they again try to determine a solution based on a visual. Continuing to look for trends, they use prior knowledge to recognize linear relationships, create equations that model the data, and then graph those equations to find a more precise solution. Then, as a check, they solve their system of equations algebraically. It’s all about multiple representations and helping students see the connections between all the representations, and depending on whether you want a specific, precise answer or just a generalized answer, you might choose a different representation.

ClassPad.net – Lesson In Action

The video below shows the activity and does a brief walk through of some of the components and what it would be like doing the activity from a student perspective. I am a big believer in the think-pair-share approach, so I would suggest having students do the Notice and Wonder individually first, then pair up, then share so that you can make sure that any misunderstandings about the context, and clarification about the numbers is figured out before students start solving. Then I would suggest small groups for working on the problem itself.

Other System of Equation Activities and/or video links

 

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Quadratic Functions – Sample Lessons and Resources

I am starting a monthly feature where I will be focusing on some specific math content areas and providing some resources, in the form of how-to videos (both calculator and Classpad.net) and some ready-to-use math lessons (either PDF or links, depending on the tool used). I know math teachers are always searching for resources that will help them provide more open-ended math activities, where students are collecting and using data, using multiple representations to analyze and solve problems, and where students have to make decisions and support their decisions with mathematics. And integrate technology as well! So, at least once a month I am going to be picking a math content to focus on and provide some technology options as well, sometimes both calculator and online, and sometimes one or the other, depending on content.

This week I would like to focus on quadratic functions and helping students use a real-world context to work with quadratics. I am going to utilize Classpad.net, which is FREE web-based dynamic math software where I can do statistics, graphing, and calculations in one place (geometry as well, but for this activity, our focus does not include geometry). I am using this technology for a few reasons:

  1. It’s free, so all of you should be able to access the created activity, including your students, as long as you have a mobile device with internet access.
  2. I am able to create a complete activity (i.e. directions, tables, graphs, and place for students to show work) in one place and then share it easily via URL.
  3. Everyone who opens the activity can create their own copy of it (as long as you have a FREE account on Classpad.net) by duplicating into their account. Then you can modify, answer the questions, etc. and create it’s new URL to share with others (or for students to share with you). To learn more about duplicating activities, click here.

The Problem

You are fencing in a rectangular area of your yard to create a garden. You have 36 ft. of fencing, of which you plan to use all. You can cut the fencing into whatever lengths are needed, as long as you use all 36 feet. 

What dimensions should you use for your garden?

The Lesson

I have created a shared paper on Classpad.net called Quadratic Functions – Area of a Garden which you can access by clicking on the title. The idea behind this problem is that there are actually multiple solutions since the question is rather vague. I did NOT ask what is the largest garden, so students can work on collecting and analyzing the data and come to different conclusions depending on what they think is important. Some might choose largest area for the garden, some might choose largest perimeter, some might only want a rectangle some only a square, etc. By leaving the question a little more open, you are giving students a chance to explain their reasoning and come to multiple solutions based on this reasoning.

In looking at the activity (click the link above), you will note as part of the lesson, students use multiple representations. They first use their prior knowledge about dimensions of a rectangle, perimeter, area, and an understanding of feet and inches to record different dimensions for the garden. In the directions, students are asked to create at least 10 different rectangular gardens that use all 36 feet of fencing, where some of the width and length dimensions are fractional/decimal numbers and where width is sometimes larger than length. They record their dimensions in a table to start with, and then use those table values to calculate area (and perimeter if they choose to do the Extra Challenge), and use those table values to create statistical plots (scatter plots), and from the scatter plots and tables, create functions and graph those functions to fit their data. At different points along the way (after the table and scatter plots, and then after plotting their functions), students are asked to answer the question about what the dimensions they would choose for their garden and back up their reasoning using the information at that time. The idea here is to help them see that each representation provides insight into the dimensions, and some representations help you be a bit more precise or see the relationships between the quantities a little better. And also, depending on your goal for the garden, your reason for choosing certain dimensions may differ from others. There is also an extra challenge at the end (this is a way to support students who finish early, don’t need as much teacher guidance, and/or want to explore more), where students explore how the problem might differ if there was a fixed perimeter.

ClassPad.net – Lesson In Action

This is a video that shows using the activity and parts of doing the activity to get a feel for how this looks with students. I would recommend students working in pairs or small groups (3-4). All students can be recording on their mobile devices, or if you have one per group, choose a recorder.

Other Quadratic Activities and or video links. 

Here are a few more links that are focused on quadratic functions and also utilize ClassPad.net

 

Multiple Representations on the Casio Graphing Calculators

One of the key things we try to help students with when studying functions is the idea of multiple representations – i.e. graphical, symbolic (equation) and table.  Ideally, we want students to be able to discern what the function represents or looks at no matter what representation they are given, and to be able to find patterns and important components about that functions from all representations.  Students should never learn about functions just through graphing, or just through symbolic manipulations or just through looking at data points in a table – they should be able to go back and forth and determine which representation is the most useful for the situation.

Unfortunately, too often, the emphasis is on one representation at a time, or at most 2. Let’s look at the graph and find the minimum, maximum, or intersection. Or, let’s find the roots of a quadratic by factoring, or symbolic manipulation. Or, here’s a table of points, where are the x-intercepts or the y-intercepts? Ideally, we want students to be able to look at all of these representations simultaneously so that they see the relationships between the representations and come to understand what the points represent in the table, in the equation, or in the graph.

Technology is one way to show all these representations at the same time, and then quickly manipulate and explore. There are obviously many technology tools out there, but as I have stated in previous posts, the most accessible technology tool for most students and teachers is the graphing calculator, not only because of it’s affordability, but because it is a tool most students have readily available.  It would be nice if all students had computers or tablets for daily classroom use, but that is still NOT the reality.

I have put together a quick video showing Casio’s three graphing calculators – the fx-9750GII, the fx-9860GII, and the CG10/20 or Casio Prizm, and how they can display the equation, graph and table representations of a function on one screen. No matter which model you have, you can achieve the same functionality, allowing students to work with multiple representations and explore relationships quickly and efficiently.

Check it out: