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Sixteen Minutes Of Instruction In A Few Algebra 1 Topics
on August 19, 2010
The DVD "Solving For X: Algebra 1, Volume 1", starring actor Bill Nye, gives 16 minutes of instruction in a few topics from elementary algebra. There are two lessons in solving linear equations, a lesson in manipulating the units of measure in the equation: distance = (rate)(time), and a lesson on shape of the graph of a "linear function". (This lesson is mis-titled "Linear Equations".)
The pace of the lessons is too fast for them to be useful as introductions to the mathematical topics. However, they might be useful to a child who was reviewing the topics or was willing to play the videos over and over again.
I rate this DVD as three stars out of five to indicate that it is an average review of a few topics in algebra. As a review, the lessons on solving linear equations are excellent, the lesson on manipulating units of measure is average and the lesson on "linear functions" is below average.
I'm not penalizing the DVD for keeping up the long standing tradition of non-fiction publishing that a DVD ought to have a misleading title. However, it's certainly silly to refer to 16 minutes of instruction as "Volume 1"!
(I give the approximate duration of each episode, not counting the musical introduction and conclusion.)
Variables ( 3 min)
This is a skit parodying the situation in old black-and-white movies where a female client visits the office of a private detective. Bill Nye plays an "Algebra Investigator". The client wears a costume that makes her appear to be the letter "Y". She describes meeting a stranger "X" and their conversation establishes the equation 7 = 2x + 1, which Bill solves on a chalk board. He shows the steps of the solution, emphasizing that "what we do to one side of the equation, we do to the other side".
Balancing Equations ( 3 min)
Bill is in a cupcake shop that has prepared an order of cupcakes for his niece and an order for his nephew. The two orders have the same number of cupcakes. The shop ran out of the identical gift boxes that are use to package cupcakes, so there are a few unpackaged cupcakes. Bill establishes the equation 3x + 1 = 2x + 3 and solves it for the number of cupcakes per box. (I don't know why this skit is called "Balancing Equations". That sounds like a topic from chemistry.)
Dimensional Analysis (5 min)
Bill uses a large speed limit sign that holds a set of peel-away posters. He explains how the units of measure involving distance, rate (i.e. speed) and time are balanced in calculations based on the equation: distance = (rate)(time). He asserts that you don't need to remember the equation or do manipulations of it to solve problems. You merely remember to balance the units on both sides of the calculation.
Linear Equations (5 min)
At a bowling alley, lanes have fitted with laser sensors that are attached to a computer. They produce a graph of the distance the ball has traveled down the lane vs the time. The graphs for three people are shown, Bill, a big unskilled guy and a skilled girl. These graphs illustrate "linear functions". (There is nothing in this skit about "linear equations".)
The setting of the lesson has features that will probably confuse a child who actually thinks about the material. One conceptual trap is to confused the line defining the path of a bowling ball with the a line on the graph of distance vs time. The lines on the graph pass through the origin, so there is an unstated convention that time begins at 0 when the ball is at 0 distance. The distance measured by the sensors is only one component of the location of the ball. If the bowlers rolled the balls straight down the alley, this conceptual complication would not arise, but part of the humor in the skit is for Bill to roll some gutter balls.