Saturday, June 16, 2012

Algebraic Thinking in Third Grade: Exploring Equality

My ideas on teaching math have evolved through the years. One point that I am convinced of is that it is never too early to start thinking in terms of algebra. Algebra in the early years helps to set the groundwork for later learning. Having a high school son who just finished Algebra 2 has convinced me of that. If students are to solve for unknown variables later on, they need lots of experiences with situations involving the idea of equality now.
One misconception some third graders have from the start is  that the equal sign means : "the answer is".  Early on I do a quick mini lesson on the symbol itself.  We soon discover that we can replace the symbol with the words  "is the same as" or "has the same value as" .  I like to jumpstart this lesson by reading this cute book:

From there we start exploring the idea of equality with this equation balance scale.  Students LOVE using it and  makes the learning concrete. It is a MUST HAVE tool in my classroom.
Here are some other balance scale games that I have found online. I love lots of the crickweb games. You can find all kinds of engaging math games on this site.
Here is an app for the IPAD using a number balance.
Have you checked out the illuminations site? FANTASTIC resource from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

I understand the importance of multiple exposures to math concepts so I will introduce a few games that deal with equality.
They will get placed in our math station boxes for use throughout the year.
Here is a game that gives students practice identifying if addition equations are equal, greater than or less than each other. It has students identify statements as true or false.  The key to the success of this game is making students accountable for proving their thinking instead of just calling out true or false. They must tell why it is true or false.  Students are tested in similar ways on the standardized tests they face at the end of the year so it is great practice for this as well.

You can grab yourself a copy of this game here:


  1. In my recent math studies, I've learned how important it is to talk about this misconception with first graders too. Hopefully if we can figure this out in first, it'll be a piece of cake for your 3rd graders.
    ❀ Tammy
    Forever in First

  2. I agree. Another great benefit of teaching algebra terms, is that the kids get excited about the idea that they are learning "algebra" like the big kids.

    I have used algebra in my classroom for a while now, and I find it good for all of my students, but esp. as an extension for my higher students.

    Lifelong Learning

  3. This lesson came just in time for my classroom! We are going to be doing a lesson on adding and subtracting, then the properties, and finally we will discuss algebra and patterns using m3 & NOW this!