This should be easy for math teachers, and maybe you could give me a helping hand. I want to introduce algebra, the very basics about learning that letters are called variables representing unknown quantities and I want to make it as hands-on and fun as I can with group work. What are some websites and activities you would suggest? Thank you very much.

What grade are you working with? How much exposure do they have to foundational algebraic ideas, like working with unknowns (fixed quantity) or variables (quantity can change)? Have they used shapes to represent unknowns? Have they used balance pans? One mathematical metaphor I like is the closed bag of marbles. Because the bag is closed and opaque, you do not know how many marbles it contains. This represents your variable. If we know that BAG + 3 marbles = 7 marbles, we can figure out that there are 4 marbles in the closed bag. Let's pretend the bag is a constant. If we have BAG + 6 marbles, we then have 10 marbles. If 2 bags + 3 marbles = 13 marbles, each bag must have 5 marbles in it. Remind kids that bags must be even. Because the bag is closed, and you cannot see through it, it can also change quantities. (It's late, and I am not explaining this well. Feel free to ask lots of questions.) I have only done this drawing pictures of the bag of marbles, but you could do it with a real, concrete bag of marbles, too. This can transition into letter variables, as well. Let b represent the bag. b + 3 = 9, so b = 6. Kids are more likely to understand that the letter variable represents something in real life (like b for bag, or c for cookies, or l for lions in the zoo -- whatever) rather than just an abstract quantity.

I've been known to use silly pictures instead of letters to underscore the point that the letter is just a place holder. Some examples are smiley faces, pizza slices, hot dogs, cats, fish, or just about anything that I can draw in place of the letter. This also works well when teaching the concept of like terms.

Algebra tiles can be used as well. I use algebra tiles all the time. Brad Fulton (a teacher in California) has some awesome material to teach variables and replacing variables with numbers. If you you scroll all the way down to the bottom, he has lessons for really young students using a pet store. Go to tttpress.com Go to "download conference materials" then look for "menu math: a seven course meal" It is a big file-about 36 pages. But they are awesome.

mm, I hope you know that just about everything you post about math gets used in my classroom within the next 3 days, max... Keep it up!

I once taught a room of sixth graders the basic idea behind solving for a variable with a balance scale I borrowed from a first-grade teacher, an empty film canister, and a bag of Skittles candies. The Skittles guaranteed me the undivided attention of the class.

You and your awesome ideas make me look really good, you know! Some day I will be experienced enough that I will pass on these little tips and tricks...

KC....just remember my whole philosophy, and make it work for you: I can't always make it fun, I'll rarely make it exciting, but I CAN always make it relevant. The overwhelming majority of my tips and tricks come from that last sentence. What's relevant? To you or me, that could be one thing, and to our students, something else entirely. When they see the relevance, they buy into it, and then its easy to teach them .

A great philosophy, and one I've always tried to use, even before this whole jr. high thing. But it is the hardest part for me sometimes...convincing 8th graders that slope is relevant to them is not a piece of cake, despite all the activities that we did...

In your part of the world, kcjo, I might mention roofs. Or sidewalks: what about an exercise in which the kids play with the relationship between slope and friction/likelihood to slip?

Funny you should mention that TG! Since I just got my brand-spankin' new camera from Donors Choose, I had kids take turns going around the building and taking pictures of slopes. Then we printed them, overlayed a graph, and found the slope. Our hallways have a sloped section, so we talked about how to find the slope of something that we could overlay a graph on.

Exponents hands-on Can anyone suggest a hands on activity (like using tiles or playing cards etc.,) to teach exponents to pre algebra students? thanks.

Block walls and cubes work well for powers of 2 and 3. Take some basic blocks (you know, those wooden ones we played with as toddlers) and build a square wall and then a cube. Do this with different side lengths. Once they have the basics with those powers, bring them back to basic multiplication. Remind them about how multiplication is just repeated addition. Tell them that exponents are just another repeated operation, but this time it's repeated multiplication. Get them to compute a few higher powers with that concept in mind.