Any chance I get to make a connection to another area, I do it. I read an article a while ago by Hung Hsi Wu where he treated a variable as a pronoun. It made sense to me. It makes sense to my students, so we go with it.
We are about to dig into equations and expressions, but I really can't stand how textbooks approach this. You get to see maybe one or two simple expressions that may be tied to a context, but then a million exercises with expressions so complicated, there's no way a kid can tie it to anything that matters.
So here's where pattern problems come in. Fawn has done a tremendous service for us. I'm also really digging Dudamath lately because I can be more intentional with the patterns I put in front of my students. Seriously, if you haven't played around with this site, go there now. It's pretty amazing.
We've done a few pattern problems and we are getting the hang of doing the generalization, but writing an expression has been more difficult. So, here's where Wu helped.
Our morning announcements just mentioned our volleyball team won yesterday, so that provided a nice context.
Maria played volleyball.
Shanay played volleyball.
Teresa played volleyball.
Jan played volleyball.
Jill played volleyball.
I wrote these sentences on the board and asked if they could write one sentence that captured the essence of all the others.
"Maria, Shanay, Teresa, Jan and Jill played volleyball."
"Maria and her friends played volleyball."
which eventually became
"She played volleyball."
Right next to the sentences, I wrote the following expressions:
3 + 1
3 + 2
3 + 3
3 + 4
3 + 5
and it didn't take long for us to settle on some version of 3 + n.
The groups then went to work on today's pattern problem. The use of some sort of variable when trying to describe a rule made it's way into their work. Many of the groups are still in progress, but movement was made today. Let's see how it goes tomorrow.