Algebra Equation Models

By: Mary Kienstra on: April 26, 2015  in: algebra, differentiation   3 Comments

Algebra can be very abstract for young students, but teaching with Algebra equation models makes it easy to learn.  Students love learning Algebra this way and feel very smart when they can solve difficult problems using concrete models in math class.


Students build Algebra equations on a balance to show the numbers as well as the unknowns.

Students in my classes have learned to solve algebra equations using “Hands On Equations” by Borenson and Associates for several years.  This method teaches kids to move pieces that represent unknowns.  By adding or subtracting pieces from both sides, kids learn the basics of algebra.  It makes those long Algebra equations seem real.  All of a sudden, students can see how Algebra works in a very concrete way with these fabulous models.  This system is self-pacing too as students move through the equations at their own rate.  I teach the new concepts as they are ready and I trust them to check their own work before progressing to the next lesson.


Students work on SolveMe in an iPad during class.

This year I found SolveMe, an online game that teaches students to solve Algebra equations.  SolveMe presents Algebra problems in the form of mobiles for students to find the unknowns.  Like “Hands On Equations,” it presents sequences of problems that start simple and progress to extremely complex.  After the students master the style of these problems, they move at their own pace through the problems.  One of the best things about SolveMe is that the program provides immediate feedback.  If the student’s answer is not correct, it shows that the mobile is not balanced and the student tries again.  Since it is more difficult for me to monitor this work, I asked my students to take a screen shot (on the iPad) of their last problem and save that for me to check.

Both of these strategies use concrete models to solve Algebra equations.  They both differentiate learning very well as kids can move through the lessons at their own pace.  Students love these strategies and engage in the problem solving involved in solving these equations.  My students understand Algebra in a new way after using these concrete models.

What resources do you use to help your students understand difficult concepts?  Please share!


Students work at own pace on “Hands On Equations”



The first puzzle in SolveMe teaches students how these mobiles work.


A more complex mobile challenges students.




  3 comments   Comment

  1. 8 years ago  


    Love this! My 6th graders are amidst their algebra unit. I created task cards similar to this activity, but the interaction and feedback is so much better than that.

  2. 8 years ago  

    Mary Kienstra

    These are some of the best resources I’ve found. So happy to hear your students are using them.

  3. 8 years ago  

    Robin Nehila

    Ohhh I am going to have to look at Solve Me! I am super excited to introduce my 5th graders to Hands On Equations in two weeks. I won a class set at a conference three years ago, used it with my 7th graders but thought they were a little too advanced for it. First time teaching 5th so I’m hoping they can benefit from it since they don’t have very much experience solving equations yet.

Leave a comment