Technology for Algebra?

Algebra does not change. It is math that deals with finding an unknown quantity, usually designated by a letter. In later studies, algebra can be used to find the roots of various polynomial equations (this is what the fundamental theorem of algebra is all about). Algebra has remained the same for hundreds of years, but the way we teach it has been changing and evolving.

Today, we have technology at our fingertips at all times. There are calculators, laptops, tablets, and all kinds of crazy applications that will help us explore algebra ideas in more depth. One application that has drawn my attention of late is PhET Simulations. It is supported by the University of Colorado Boulder, and features a series of math and science simulations, based on education research. This means PhET has a great selection of algebra specific simulations covering topics like functions, basics of solving, and graphing linear equations. These simulations are available for anyone to use.

PhET offers lesson plans and documents that can be used with their simulations if you register on their site, or you can choose to use them with your own lessons and activities. A search of a particular algebra topic within the site will result in some interesting options for your perusal. The simulations have a variety of levels that include differing levels of complexity. It allows you to choose the level where you want to begin, and you can toggle of various options within the interface. I love the visual representations that PhET uses, but the interface can be a little confusing. Depending on the activity, you may need to spend some time demonstrating for students how everything works before releasing them to explore on their own. It is best to consider what parts of the simulation you want to students using, and scaffold their exploration so that they can get the most out of the experience.

Options for a PhET simulation

PhET is one of the technologies tools that I like to use in my classroom. There are several available to me as an algebra teacher, but I do not like to use too many. I would rather specialize and use a few technologies very well, than have too many. Of course we have graphing calculators in my classroom, and I will also use sites like desmos and kahoot, but its all about learning algebra, not stuffing in as many computer programs as possible. It takes time to teach students to use technology tools properly, so sometimes going low tech is a good solution. I do like to let students use whiteboards for full group practice, but nothing that replaces good old pencil and paper for many things, particularly practicing math skills for mastery.

Just because algebra does not change, does not mean we should not explore and create new ways of teaching and learning it. There are many different technology options available now, so you can find something that helps you teach algebra the way you think it should be. What are your favorite algebra technologies?