Sunday, November 3, 2013

Linear Functions

We jumped into linear functions this week.  Here are some of the things we did (and by some I mean pretty much my entire week of lessons).

What does it mean to be linear?
I really wanted to emphasize the various representations of linearity, so that students could see how they all work together.  So I started with this foldable to define linear.  I gave them the algebraic and graphic definitions, but we used those to come up with what it means to be linear in a table.
I did this by giving them each a graph of a linear function, with four points marked on it.  (Here are the graphs I used.)  Then I had them in groups of two create a table on the board for their graph.  I was hoping this would help students with the concept that a line is made up of points as we have been struggling with that idea.  Once we were done with that we made lots and lots of observations about the tables.  This took a LONG time.  I let them notice anything, so it took a while to get away from "they all have a 0/1/-2" type of statements into noticing the various patterns that were there.

But eventually we came up with "x and y both change by constant amounts".  I was very happy because in every class students recognized that they could choose any of the tables on the board as an example.  And students were willing to try to think of non-examples.  So each student got to make that part their own.  I know that is the purpose of things like this, but we don't get there often enough.  It was nice to get that far with this.

Here is the inside.  (And here is a link to the foldable.)
I created a card sort as a way to help them practice telling if something is linear.  I really wanted to get at the fact that linear is a word that describes a group of functions.  So something must be a function before it can be linear.  So we sorted between "Not a Function", "Function-Linear", and "Function-Nonlinear".  It was a lot harder for them than I thought it would be, but eventually we began to get the hang of it.  They still struggle with messing up whether VLT is for function or linear...but one step at a time.
As you can see, instead of gluing the cards in, we recorded the answers in our notebooks.  I hope that students will try to sort the cards on their own as a way to review.


  • My card sort is not perfect.  Two of my tables are non-functions for the same reason, that was a typo...I want to fix that.
  • Also didn't really mean to have the equation x=2 in there because we didn't discuss what makes an equation a function...but it did lead to a decent conversation.  I think I would prefer to replace the card with a linear function that is not in slope-intercept form.
  • One class got into a really good discussion about whether or not y=(1/3)x was linear or not.  Even when b=0 was thrown out as an idea, one student was still adamant that it needed to be written down for it to be in slope-intercept form.  I kept the conversation going for a while and then moved on without giving up who was correct.  While I was talking a student looked to the student sitting next to him and asked, "so is it linear or not?".  Aren't I mean?  The next day I eventually showed them the graph and they all agreed that it was linear.  I also explained that mathematicians tend toward laziness and prefer not to write something if it is unnecessary.
  • I went hard-core with colors in my notes, but students didn't in theirs.  That is something I need to work on being more intentional about.
Finding slope and y-intercept
To begin our discussion of slope and y-intercept, I had students write "what I know..." and "what I want to know..." on the board.  Here is one example:

We used this to jump start our graphic organizer for notes.  Starting with what they already knew, but still getting it into the notes was a win-win.  They got to feel smart for knowing it and I got them all to put it into their notes anyway, especially since not all students knew it.  Here is what we came up with.

I don't think they've seen the slope formula, and I really wanted to share that with them for the Numeric part, but they thought smarter than me and were ready with ideas by the time we got their.  They remembered finding the change in y and x when deciding if the table was linear or not, and figured that would work!  It is really quite brilliant, and I feel lame because I didn't think of it first, but by the time I made it to the end of the day I had abandoned the slope formula.  I want to work back to it for tables that don't have a constant change in x, but still might be linear...we'll see if I can manage that :)

Then we practiced finding slope and y-intercept with a boring worksheet.  But it was quick and worked as a check to see where students were at.  I used my name cards to call students for answers at the end of class.

  • I really wish I could have just had them create their own graphic organizer for this, but I'm not sure I could have been clear enough for them to understand the expectations
  • Once again I went hard-core with color and they did not (but look how cute it is!)
  • The worksheet was boring, but didn't take too much time.  I think that's OK, because I just needed enough for them to get back into things.  I would have done things slightly differently if this was the first time they had been introduced to slope-intercept form.


  1. I like the sorting activity... and way to go on giving students time to discuss their observations about the tables. I agree, it takes forever, but it is so worth it! Keep it up.

    BTW, the foldables are a new thing to me. Do you do this type of activity for all your notes?

    1. Thanks for your feedback and encouragement!

      I started reading a lot about interactive notebooks over the summer and decided to try them out this year. I am not a pro, but have been trying to add in some foldables and graphic organizers into our notes. I don't get them in all the time, but I try to have one for every-other lesson. Tomorrow's notes will be right on the notebook paper :)

  2. I wish I'd had a teacher like you when I was in Algebra...