10.03.2009

GSP meets Algebra 1

I was pleasantly surprised when my ITRT (read: tech person) at school emailed and said she found out we had a lab license for Geometer's Sketchpad (GSP). Last summer I took an online course from KeyPress to learn how to use GSP and more specifically, how it can be used in Algebra classes. I was very excited to learn more about this software and to be given examples of how it can apply to the concepts we teach in Algebra classes.

Earlier in the year, I used GSP to demonstrate adding and subtracting integers. I was using it as a demonstration tool at first, projected on my SMARTBoard. One problem I found using it that way, was that the sketch itself was too small for the students to see, and I ended up having one student sit at my computer and do the manipulating. I tried to make it work, and to let students take turns doing the manipulating, but it just didn't work the way I wanted it to. It was good, however, introducing the basic concept of what I was trying to develop: adding and subtracting integers on the number line. We then took that concept/idea and went back to paper and pencil methods.

This time, I took the students to the lab. We are solving equations, starting with the basics and moving forward to multi-step. I started the unit asking them to find the missing number in some simple equations, to see what methods they intuitively used. Next, we talked about working backwards, doing the opposite of what is currently being done to the variable, in order to get the variable alone. Finally, I wanted them to be able to explore the balance method of solving equations. I found a sketch with a balance, using positive and negatives. Gave the students a guided worksheet to explore what happens when you do different things to the balance. Was looking for the students to discover some properties about balancing equations (i.e. adding/subtracting the same number from both sides keeps the equation balanced, a positive and negative "cancel" each other, whatever you do to one side you must do to the other).

The students (as could be expected) struggled with the software. It was the first time they used it and the sketch had too many other things they could explore. They were curious and excited to play with it. I was able to ask some higher level questions, and the students responded well because they could support their ideas with the sketch. Their reading level caused them to struggle, even with the simple worksheet I created. I spent a lot of time going from student to student explaining what to do next.

Hopefully I'll be able to use this program again with this class, because I think they will be more comfortable with it and it'll probably be more successful the more they use it. Just thought I'd share my experience. Any suggestions are welcome.

**Note: I can't figure out how to upload the GSP files, so if you want a copy, leave a comment or email me**

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