Equations and “Flow Charts”

A group of seventh grade teachers and I were trying to figure out how to move from concrete representations of solving equations (some used chips/cups and some used tape diagrams) to the more symbolic procedural (traditional) representation. While students were able to model the “moves” with the concrete, some still struggled to move from that to solving on paper.

I had recalled a method a dear colleague, Bruce Grip, had shown me years ago using a flow chart. We decided to try it out ourselves.

Starting with expressions, we discussed what the “moves” are when simplifying. Order of operations made a showing, and we moved through the flow chart. We decided this was a valuable use of time, as it built understanding of the structure of numeric expressions and fluency with integers (Which, let’s be honest; they need LOTS of practice with!). IMG_1854   IMG_1856


From there, we decided to bust out a single step equation. We started the same way we did with expressions, using x as our starting value. “What moves am I making to x in this equation?” We then built our flow chart. HOWEVER, rather than simplifying (as in the expressions), we know the value we want to get. So the flow chart looks like this:


To solve for the value of x, we need to work backIMG_1859wards through our flow chart. If I had added 2 to a value to get -5, then I need to subtract that 2 to figure out what I started with. We could then parallel the flow chart with the more traditional algorithm for the students.

Below are several of our examples, limited to the structures seventh grade explores for CCSS.

We also explored some “messier” problems, as shown here.IMG_1863 It illustrates the fluency with the distributive property piece of “When do I need to distribute and when is it efficient to divide out the factor first?”. We liked that the students could show both ways and determine which route to take.



Our big commitments to this flow chart method:

  1. Start with the concrete/visual. This is not a substitute for chips/cups nor the tape diagram. This is the next step for students who need it.
  2. Next year, use the flow chart when exploring simplifying expressions so we can build on that understanding for solving equations.
  3. Use friendly numbers (NUMBER CHOICES MATTER!!!) first to build understanding.
  4. Bring in some messier problems to seal the deal and discuss different moves they can make based on the given numbers in the equation.
Equations and “Flow Charts”

Developing Perseverance

giving upI don’t get it. Can you help me? My teacher didn’t explain it. I forgot. This is stupid.

We have all been there. We have all heard each of these when our child is working on math homework. The question is, how do we get him/her to stop being helpless? Here are a few ideas to start with.

Listen to their frustrations. Then move on. Look. Being frustrated is okay. We don’t want to say it isn’t. But being helpless is not okay. This is a life lesson. Not everything is easy, but we don’t get to give up.

Don’t do the math for them. That only lets your child know you will let them off the hook every time.

Help them find resources and look at them together. Some questions to help you out:

  • Where are your notes from today? Let’s review them and see if there is anything there we can use.
  • What are you learning? Let’s look up some videos (mathtv.com is a great site for video lessons, but if you just go to utube or teachertube you will find others) and see if we can relearn it together.
  • Let’s look at your book and see if there are any examples that might help us.
  • Call/Facetime/text a friend and see if they can assist you. (Research shows that study groups truly help all students in mathematics!!!
  • Email the teacher and see if s/he has tutorials to help. (Many teachers put up videos, the solutions, etc on-line. Find out if yours does!)

Above all, let them know that it is okay to not know everything, but NOT OKAY to give up. This is a biggie. Most math worth doing  takes time. Students assume that if they don’t get the answer right away, they must have done it wrong (or don’t know what they are doing and are not good in math). So not true! Help your child use resources available to be successful, but they need to do the work and put in the effort.


Developing Perseverance