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Teaching Absolute Value in Algebra 2

Every year in Algebra 2 we start with domain and range, then move on to absolute value graphs. Since my students have major math anxiety, I keep things super relaxed in my classes. I see the most important part of my job as getting my students to like math enough - even after years of struggle - to want to go on to take more.

We start our absolute value unit with a "See Think Wonder". I shine this photo (part of our Algebra 2 word wall) of an absolute value graph on the smart board and ask my students to complete their simple 3-column see think wonder half sheet:

See - What do you see? This one is the hardest because we all bring opinions to the things we look at.

Think - What do you think? I usually get an "I think this looks hard" or two. That's OK!

Wonder - What are you wondering?

This poster stays up year round in my classroom. I feel that having visuals up all year taps into my students' ability to learn on their own. And when they're zoning out, they are looking at something mathy in the room, building some familiarity and maybe even some background knowledge before we even get to that topic. The See Think Wonder strategy is a lot like Visual Thinking Strategies, which are used in Art classes (and are really, really cool).

To help my students remember how to graph absolute value, I give them all this half sheet to reference. Giving notebook references had completely changed the focus of my teaching. I don't at all value memorization, especially for my students who have various memory weaknesses. I value them learning the process and feeling successful graphing and writing equations on their own.

My students also struggle with retention, which is why warm ups are so important. I use this template almost exclusively now in my Algebra 2 classes because it is super versatile and gives my students the repeated practice they need.

How I use this quick quick check template: Sometimes I give an equation and other times I give a graph. It's then up to them to fill in the rest. You can see that we needed more practice!

I originally gave this 12-question matching activity on the Friday of the week we started absolute value. There was a lot of trial, error, ask, try again, error.... So I scrapped it, gave them more class practice, then tried again with the matching activity the next week. It went a lot better the second time!

Their warm ups got a lot better too. Once everyone was able to complete an absolute value quick check at 70% or better (I give 3 points for the graph and 1 point for everything else), we moved on to quadratics. I am lucky that I am not bound to a certain pace and am able to move at my students' pace. For the most part I wait until everyone "gets it". But if someone is slacking off, I have no problem moving on. I have to say that spending the extra time on absolute value before moving to parabolas helped a whole lot with finding the vertex, the zeros, the y-intercept, finding more points and writing the equations.

Besides standard classwork practice, we did another activity to practice finding the important parts of absolute value graphs. In this activity, students traded graphs, sharing the job of writing all of the important parts on each graph. I hears so much great talk! You can read more about this activity in the post Analyzing Absolute Value Graphs.

The absolute value matching activity and absolute value graphing cheat sheet can be found free here.

This Algebra 2 quick check template can be found free here.