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T-Gem and Algebraic Equations Deanna Stefanyshyn Fenkelstein et al.

(2005) found that students using an inquiry-based laboratory through stimulations learned more content than those students who used the real equipment. This was due to a higher mastery of content and they were able to maintain it longer. This may be because the constraints that can be provided through computers rather than open ended possibilities with real equipment. They do suggest that the proper pedagogy needs to be established in order for a greater chance of success.

Furthermore, while Srinivasan et al. (2006) clarify that often it is cheaper to create a simulated environment, novice learners dont always perceive it as the real thing. They are unable to provide a reason for why there is a significant gap between the novice and expert learners, however, I wonder if the lack of confidence in their ability and use of simulations may play a role in them questioning the authenticity of the activity.

A topic that is challenging for grade 7 Math students is Algebra. Many students struggle with the addition of letters in math equations. Furthermore, they are introduced to the idea that both sides of the equal signs need to balance, rather than always reading from left to right and solving the equation. Using a T-GEM model for learning, I create a lesson that addresses these misconceptions using the Illuminations Applet at

Step Background information




Teacher Strategies 1) Using a scale (SmartBoard) to demonstrate that in order to keep the scale equal whatever you do to one side you must do to the other. This can be accomplished through using 1 kg blocks. 2)Have students try to generate expressions for various scales. 3) Have students describe what needs to be done to each side when a block is added or removed 4) What if there is an unknown weight for a block. How could we solve it 5) Have students define in own words what a variable is 6) Introduce Illuminations Algebra Tiles 7) Have students create models and solve equations 8) Is there definition of a variable correct? 9) Have students draw their own scales using variables and other students to solve them. 10) Have them redefine what a variable is 11) Have students create rules for ensuring the amounts remain the same on each side of the equation (subtracting cancels out addition etc.)

Student Process - Students understand that changing one side will affect the other side

- Students begin to create relationships in order to keep the scales the same

- students understand that reverse operations will cancel numbers out

One reason I really like this simulation is that in a class of 30 I cant get around to ensure that all students are creating their representations properly with their blocks. If they can have instant feedback they may be able to have more success in their learning. However, I wasnt able to find anywhere that gave me clues as to what I might be missing in my model and sometimes became frustrated with finding the missing tile. I therefore wonder if students would be more stuck on how to use the program and require greater support than using the old-fashioned tile method?

Finkelstein, N.D., Perkins, K.K., Adams, W., Kohl, P., & Podolefsky, N. (2005). When learning about the real world is better done virtually: A study of substituting computer simulations for laboratory equipment. Physics Education Research,1(1), 1-8.

Srinivasan, S., Perez, L. C., Palmer,R., Brooks,D., Wilson,K., & Fowler. D. (2006). Reality versus simulation. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 15 (2), 137-141.