# The Beauty of the Jigsaw

Using a jigsaw is nothing new, but sometimes we hit upon the right format at the right moment.  I’ve had trouble drumming up interest in algebra word problems in the past (to be honest, I sometimes have trouble maintaining my own interest), but this jigsaw worked really beautifully.  My Algebra class includes a number of English language learners, and it seemed important to spend some time discreetly on dissecting, analyzing and solving word problems.

We divided into four teams: mixture, work, systems of equations, and distance-rate-time problems.  Within each of these were three levels of difficulty.  Each team was responsible for learning their problems well enough to solve at least level one and level two problems, and for teaching at least level one problem-solving to another team.  For me, the work problems and the systems problems are the most straightforward.  The D-R-T’s are a little more complex and the mixtures seem to cause the most problems — something about moving between ratios and percent just confuses the heck out of them.  I was able to be strategic about who was assigned to each group.

We use a block schedule, so I typically have 60 or 90-minute classes.  We used the first 60-minute block, along with the first 15 minutes of the next block to become experts.  Students then moved back and forth between their “teacher” and “student” roles until they were able to solve level one problems independently from all four areas.  On the quiz, they were expected to solve level one’s from all four areas, and level two’s from at least three areas.  They could exceed the standard by solving level threes.

I did have some related activators, which helped to make connections and drum up initial interest.  For systems, I used some of Don Steward’s Cryptarithms, followed by this Ghost Whisperer Crystal Ball.  I was turned-on to this by Yummy Math, which has a nice lesson HERE.  The cryptarithms were surprisingly engaging and allowed us to practice place value in a way that felt like puzzles.  The Crystal Ball is just a blast.  Kids simply couldn’t believe it and were convinced that the machine must be listening to them, or that I was somehow involved in a conspiracy.  I highly recommend this as an activator or a stand-alone.  It demands a nice little piece of algebraic reasoning.  Dan Meyer’s Playing Catch Up is a 3-Act that goes well with these as well.

You can find these problems in any Algebra text.  I used some free ones from Kutasoftware, along with some I modified/wrote-up myself.  Here is the quiz I put together, along with some CCSS correlations in case they might be useful.

Word Problems Quiz