Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Dance Steps to Solving an Equation - The Story

This lesson is by far my most well known lesson at my school.  I'll post how the actual lesson goes soon, but I wanted to share the story of its creation because it was integral in forming the teacher that I am today.  Feel free to skip to the bottom for video and lyrics.

A few years ago, I was looking for something to help the kids understand that even if an equation seems really long and difficult, there are solid steps that can be done to get through it.  I'd taught multistep equations, distributing, combining, how to deal with variables on both sides and printed out colored sheets explaining each step.  There were, however, a few students that got totally lost when we tried to put it all together.  I was racking my brain on the ride to work thinking of some way I could get the steps to stick, and hopefully make it a little more interesting for them after we'd been working on solving for so long.

"The steps to solving an equation... The steps to solving an equation... The... DANCE STEPS to solving an equation!!!!"

As with all of my ideas, I knew I had to act on it right away or risk never doing it.  I got through the school day and started to work.  By 10 that night I was finished and ready to do the lesson the next day.

Morning came and I nervously told the head of the upper school before assembly that he should probably check out my algebra 1 class.  After the words left my mouth, I started to panic.   I started seriously thinking that I was about to do something wrong. After all, I was going way off the normal formula that was every math class I had ever known.  Shouldn't I be lecturing? Is this a big waste of class time? Luckily, it was too late to do anything about it. I didn't have a back up plan, and I had already told my boss something interesting was going to happen.

I cleared the desks and chairs to the sides of the room.  Class started, and I ensured my students it would be the most fun math class they ever had.  Full of nerves, I started into my carefully planned dance lesson. The kids were all smiles.  They loved it, and before I knew it there was a crowd forming at the door.  Twenty minutes later the kids had mastered the dance, and knew the words by heart.  We brought the desks back in, and started on a difficult equations solving worksheet.  Students were stuck much less, and when they did ask questions they had a much stronger base to work with.  "Well, what's the first thing you should look for? And then what and then what?"

Later that day, the head of our school came up to me and said he had already heard about my lesson, that he wished he would've known about it and that he most definitely wanted to be in attendance next year. (and he was)  By the end of the week, my 10th and 11th graders were demanding that they get to do the dance ("Hey, we solve equations in algebra 2 too!"), and our 8th grade algebra teacher was asking me to guest teach it to her group.

I really grew as a teacher that day.  I didn't fear taking risks in teaching anymore. When I've had legitimate reasons to do something a little crazy or different to shake things up and get kids learning I stopped questioning it so much. I learned that my school fosters a creative learning environment for not only the students but the teachers, and because of that I am able to thrive.

Okay, enough typing.  Below you'll find the lyrics and video.  The video of me doing it alone doesn't really do the lesson justice. The kids add electricity like you wouldn't believe. More to come soon with audio files and the flow of the lesson.

The Dance Steps to Solving an Equation
First you simplify
put your hands up in the sky

so you distribute
then you do a little scoot

Still need to simplify
Put your hands up in the sky

So you combine like terms
and do the squirm

Add and subtract, x terms alone on one side
So take a step back and do a big slide

Multiply and divide, the answer you will learn
when you jump to the left and do a full turn

Now check check check ch-check check check


  1. I love how your "jump to the left" is the "teacher left." =P

    Very cool. I have a kid in my Alg 2 class this year who beatboxes all the time. I think they'd love it.

  2. Great idea. Thanks for sharing. I have sent the video to all of the math teachers in my Middle School.

    I want to tap into my students love of music too.

  3. I like the lyrics but unable to view the video...our school blocks any you tube vidoes! Any chance you can post the video / email the video?

  4. Good stuff here. The best thing about your story is not settling for just going through the same old methods and complaining that your students didn't "get it". You've done something to present the same material in a memorable way. Just what most students need.

    That's teaching!

  5. Mr Dan Campbell- I'm working on getting some webspace so I can upload the video and audio. Should be up very soon.

  6. Mr. Sweeney,
    I loved your video and lyrics. I did something similar with order of operations and the cha-cha slide. For linear equations this year I had students write instructions on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. After doing that I read their instructions and they made them in front of the class. It was interesting to see how people's changed when someone in front of them left out an important step.

  7. YOU are my hero!!! 25 years of teaching math--I can out push-up them (even at 47 years), but I couldn't out rap a gopher! Yip! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Amy Zimmer
    Windsor High School
    Windsor, California
    (we were in Ghana last year:

  8. This is amazing. I love things like this that totally get the kids engaged. We have already covered equations this year, but I'm totally going to try to use this to remediate those kiddos who still aren't getting it.

  9. Just spent the last hour rehersing this and i will be performing for my class tomorrow...You rock.

  10. Loved it. I wrote a song for the beloved Standard Form for my Algebra class. It really challenged me to put my pride aside and to get onto my students level. To this day, they still talk about it.