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Turn your old notes into an Experience First, Formalize Later (EFFL) lesson

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

This year, in addition to teaching AP stats, we're teaching Algebra 2. I've been teaching Algebra 2 for the past five years using sort of a hybrid model. I would try to add in as many exploratory activities as possible but if I couldn't come up with anything, I could always do some traditional notes with direct instruction. You know, keeping it old school. But this year our district is adopting a new curriculum so we've challenged ourselves to teach all of our Algebra 2 lessons this year using our Experience First, Formalize Later format.

A challenge with Algebra 2 is that sometimes notes and direct instruction are the most efficient way to give students information. Don't get me wrong, we love incredible engaging contexts with a huge discovery, like our Zombie lesson. But it's also important to develop solid algebraic skills. We've had to rethink what the experience part of the lesson looks like.

The best way I have found to turn my old notes into an EFFL lesson, is by taking each bit of information and figuring out how to ask students a question so that they will be able to tell me the information. Let me give you an example.

These are my old notes for introducing students to the graph of a quadratic for the first time.

Here are the two learning targets:

(1) To understand the vertex of a parabola as the point at which f(x) is a minimum.

(2) To understand that a parabola is symmetric around an axis of symmetry.

As I was designing my new EFFL lesson, I worked backwards from the intended learning targets. I identified the parts that I had used direct instruction before and thought about how I could get students to discover these ideas on their own.

First, I needed students to identify the vertex. So I thought about what informal question I can ask students to get them to identify the point where the vertex was located. Then I could define it later. To do this, I asked students to identify where the lowest point of the graph was located. During our debrief later, I defined this point as the vertex and had students label it in the margin of their notes.

Next I wanted students to notice the symmetry in the quadratic graph, and more specifically to notice that (x, y) and (-x, y) are both on the graph. To get at this, I asked students to find the value of x for which f(x)=16. Students noticed that there was more than one x-value that had a y-value of 16. This was true for all other values of y we looked at except for when y = 0. Notice how we formalized these ideas in the margins during the debrief.

Creating the Experience part of an Algebra 2 lesson may not always be as easy for us as it is in statistics, but that doesn't mean it can't be done! We've had to rethink what the experience part looks like. Start with the learning targets, and design scaffolded questions to lead students to the learning.

Activity: Graphing Quadratics

Activity : DOCX / PDF

Answer Key: PDF

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