Algebra tiles are math manipulatives that give kids the chance to see an algebra problem rather than just attempt to solve it in an abstract manner. Algebra tiles come in three different sizes. The smallest tile, a square, is known as the unit tile and represents the number one. The next size up is a rectangle, which represents the variable X, and the largest tile, also a square, represents X squared.
Use the smallest unit of algebra tiles to show students how to correctly add positive and negative numbers. Use the colored side of the algebra tile to stand for a positive integer, and the blank back side of the tile to represent negative integers. Give students a simple addition problem such as 3 + (-5) = ? This can be represented using three colored tiles and five blank tiles. Explain to students that a positive tile plus a negative tile will always equal zero. The zeros can be taken out of the equation without affecting the answer. The first step to solving this problem is to remove the zeros. The answer, -2, or two negative algebra tiles, will be left after removing the zeros. To create a game using this concept, have children works in groups of two to solve as many integer addition problems as possible within a set amount of time, such as five minutes. Award a small prize to the team with the most correct answers.
The Rectangle Game
This is a good introductory game for students who are just learning to use the algebra tiles. It reinforces simple geometry concepts, too. Give each student a set of algebra tiles and ask them to create the biggest rectangle they can. The rules of the game are that all of the tiles must lie flat, and that the entire area of the rectangle must be filled in with tiles. The students will get used to manipulating the tiles and understanding how the units work together. Typically, the largest rectangle made by a student will also be the one with the least amount of leftover tiles when they are finished creating.
Split your class into teams of two. Each student will write ten algebra equations that can be solved using the tiles. When all students have written their equations, they will switch papers with their team mate and solve the problems on the page. Be sure to check the pages to make sure the equations are appropriate for your student's learning level. Give the team that finishes first a small prize. Also give prizes for the hardest equation to solve, as well as the most creative use of the tiles.
Game Show Race
Split your class into two equal teams. One member of each team will compete against one another each time. Give each student a set of algebra tiles to work with and prepare an algebra problem on the table in front of them. The student that can solve the problem correctly using the tiles will earn a point for their team. You can award more points depending on the difficulty of the question, if you please. Repeat this until each member of the teams has had a chance to solve at least one problem. Give the team who earned the most points a special prize, such as no math homework for one night.
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