Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sample 5e Lesson Plan: a Card Game for Combining Like Terms

A few weeks ago I discussed learning the 5e instructional model at a workshop this summer, but neglected to include the sample 5e lesson plan I had created using the model.

I started with an unfinished idea I had last year for teaching simplifying equations using a card game where the cards would be algebraic terms. My sister and I used to play rummy, spit and every other card game during summers at home when we were young. (We also used to play board games like Monopoly, but it inevitably ended badly). Reflecting on these memories as this summer started, I came up with "Like Terms".

Like Terms

Like Terms is played like rummy, but with a special deck of cards made up of sets of like terms: a, 2a... through 10a and so on for b, c, a2, b2, c2 and the integers 1-10.

The game follows the normal rules of rummy:
  • Each player is dealt 7 cards.
  • The remaining cards are placed face down--this is the draw pile.
  • The top card is flipped over to a new pile--this is the discard pile.
  • Each player draws a card, looks for a 3 or 4 card set of like terms, and places that face up on the table in front of them if they have it (7a, 3a and a or 6c2, 2c2, 4c2, and 10c2 would be two playable hands).
  • Whether they have something to play or not, they must then discard one card to end their turn.
  • Play continues until someone discards their last card and has no cards left.
  • The winner adds everything they placed on the table together. Everyone else subtracts what's in their hand from what they had placed on the table.
At this point in the real game of rummy, players would tally their score based on a point system. You could assign points to each variable in this game, I suppose, but I think that defeats the purpose. I would rather have the "scores" look like 15a2 + 16b2 + 9b + 6c + 7 for the winner and -5b2 - a - 6c - 11 for the loser and jump directly to giving students problems where they have to simplify expressions.

If you only explained the rules of Like Terms and told your students they would use only the game rules to solve math problems afterwards, it would make a sometimes boring and easily forgettable operation fun and easy to remember.

How to make a deck of cards for Like Terms the easy way:
  • Use white 3x5 index cards and at least 4 different colors of highlighters or flip chart markers (so the terms won't bleed through). Each term gets a different color (a and a2 are blue, b and b2 are red, etc), OR...
  • Use colored index cards for the sets and one marker that won't bleed through, OR...
  • Cut up scratch paper and use trusty blue, black and red pens, OR...
  • If you want to really get fancy, you can get card stock and print out cards on the computer.
Whichever method you choose, remember that you'll need multiple decks since a typical game should be 4 players (max 6).

How to use this in your classroom

I designed this with my 9th grade Algebra I students in mind, because they usually come to me unable to simplify expressions. This little problem, like so many little problems, gets compounded as we move into more complicated equations and make things infinitely more difficult than it needs to be. This is appropriate for the first few weeks of school when you're working on review, basic skills and procedures.

Some teachers may find this more appropriate for middle school, and I'd be interested to see how this would fare in a Pre-Algebra classroom. If you try it please share your results!

Here is the full sample lesson plan based on the 5e model to help you plan a complete lesson around this activity.

UPDATE 9/3/07: Since I will be using this lesson in class this week, I am adding 2 documents I will be handing out to my students as a one page back and front handout:
  1. Like Terms rules and scoring - Simplified for student consumption.
  2. Like Terms score sheet - This is a simple graphic organizer that they can hand in or you can refer to while monitoring the games so you can identify problems (and/or give them a grade for participation). I had to reformat this document for Google Docs, because it didn't like the tables I used for the score sheets or the columns I used to fit 2 on the same page. You might have to cut and paste to save paper. Or, email me at teachforeverATgmailDOTcom and I can send you the original document in OpenOffice, Word or PDF format.
Please leave comments or email me with feedback.

UPDATE #2 7/22/11: Check out Combining Like Terms Game Revisited for an alternate version of this game. I've expanded upon this lesson idea and many more in my book Ten Cheap Lessons: Second Edition.