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Whether children realize it or not (ok, they don’t realize it), they start solving equations in FIRST grade. As soon a students begin discussing fact families, they begin getting their brain ready to understand and solve equations.
Children as young as 6 can answer the question, “If 5 + 3 = 8, then 8 minus what equal five?” THAT is an equation.
Here are five tips to helping students begin solving true equations. (Be sure to scroll to the bottom for a freebie!)
First – As with basically all math concepts, I recommend introducing solving equations with a real world situation without even mentioning the word “equation.” For students who are hesitant with math, the word “equation” can instantly make them think about Algebra and higher level math that could frighten them. Here are a few questions you could use to start getting your students solving equations:
- “You have $5 in a piggy bank. You add more money after walking the neighbor’s dog. You now have $11 in your piggy bank. How much money did you earn from walking the neighbor’s dog?”
- Kevin had $10 on a gift card and spent some money. He now has $7 on the gift card. How much did he spend?
- Jasmine bought bags of chips for $2 each. If she spent $8, how many bags of chips did she buy?
Second – Remind them of their younger days. Remind them of fact families. Let your students know that they’ve been solving equations for just about as long as they’ve been in school. And – most of the time they encounter equations in real life, they won’t be written out like they see in math class. They’ll be presented just like the situations in the tip above. Solving an equation, since it involves inverse operations, really is as as simple as remembering how to flip flop fact families.
Third – Use manipulatives! Here is a link to virtual algebra tiles for your students to use online. You could even ask a science teacher to borrow a balancing type scale if they have one. I think middle school teachers sometimes feel as though manipulatives are more reserved for elementary school kids, but that is definitely not the case – especially for struggling learners. I am a big believer in the idea that seeing is believing – so allow your students to SEE what is happening so they can truly understand it!
Fourth – Drive home the idea of what is being done to one side of the equation, must also be done to the other side of the equation. This teaching bucket scale would be PERFECT for letting students see what happens when something is added or removed from one side and not also added or removed to the other. Algebra tiles would work amazingly well with this scale! This tip also brings tip #3 back into play. Let them SEE it. If you don’t have access to manipulatives, have them either make their own (cutting up pieces of paper) or get in the habit of drawing a line down the equal sign to show the clear division of sides. They cannot write something one one side (after writing the actual equation, of course) without writing it on the other!
Fifth – Show.The.Work. My daughter is currently in 7th grade and will ask me for help with her work. It drives her absolutely nuts that I make her show every single subtraction sign when solving equations. She is currently being educated virtually due to COVID so her teacher cannot see every little thing. But, lucky for my daughter (ha) I can! I expect the same from her as I did from my students. When getting rid of a number by subtraction, WRITE THE SUBTRACTION SIGN! Many students just write the number without the sign. It is SO easy to forget what operation they are doing this way. If the write it, they’ll remember it. I think all teachers should be gifted a t-shirt that says “show your work” to wear during teaching equations.