I am a firm believer that students need to practice math concepts again and again for them to become proficient. Some students may need more practice than others, but everyone benefits from the review. Worksheets are good when there is not a lot of time, but they can be quite boring! However, give a student a pair of scissors and some glue and now they are engaged. That is what I like about Jacquie’s Expanding and Simplifying Card Sort. There are six problems for students to simplify using the distributive property and combining like terms. The problems are similar enough that you must do the work to figure out the answers. I wanted the pieces to be bigger so I retyped the problems in Keynote and put a border around each expression. (Don’t worry, I first purchased Jacquie’s set and I am not looking to sell my version.)

I thought this would be a great activity on a day that I wouldn’t be at school. I gave instructions for the substitute teacher to read to the students, along with all of the materials. Unfortunately, students seemed to glue pieces in random order. By just looking at the papers and not knowing what went on while I was away, I’m not sure if the students did not fully understand the directions or they just didn’t want to do the work. I do not fault the substitute teacher or the students. Rather it got me to thinking, what could I do better to keep all students accountable for actually doing the problems and for me to see the students thinking?

So, I re-ordered the cards on the handout so that the problems were in the first two rows, the middle steps were in the next two rows, and the final expressions were in the last two rows.

Instead of giving students all of the pieces at the start, they would only be given the initial problems to cut out and glue on their paper. Then they would have to work out the distributing and show me their work before getting the next set of cards. Students would be able to check their answers when they cut and glued these cards underneath their work. Finally, they would combine like terms and show me their final expressions before getting the last of the cards.

In the end, students still get to use the scissors and the glue. However, I can quickly glance at each student’s work to see who understands the concepts and if not, where they are making mistakes.