So last year, I started teaching Algebra 2 again after years of not teaching it. I worked with a colleague on the curriculum, and one thing we really wanted to make sure kids were continually exposed to were various representations of functions and relations. Of course this includes **equations, graphs, tables, and words. **

But in addition to these representations, I was inspired to include a **fifth representation**. It has a few drawbacks, but I can’t even express to you how many positive aspects it has going for it. It is the “**machine**.” I remember seeing images of these machines in middle school textbooks, and they really emphasize the idea of an input, output, and rule. Here’s one I randomly found online:

In this blogpost, I’m going to share how I introduced this representation, and how I subsumed the others in it. In future blogposts, I’ll share all the ways I’ve exploited this representation. It’s pretty magical, I have to say. So stay with me…

At the very start of the course, I introduced this machine representation also. Just not as fancy and cartooney.

I thought a lot about whether I wanted the machine to allow multiple inputs or allow multiple outputs. In my first iteration of drafting these materials, I did that, but then I backtracked. Things started to get pretty complex with an expanded definition for a machine, and I wanted to start the course simply. And, of course, I really wanted to emphasize the idea of a function and a non-function. So I started with the definition above. And started with things like this…

Notice these are “non-mathy” examples of machines. They eased kids into the idea, without throwing them into the deep end.

What was nice is that we got to understand and interrogate the idea of domain and range from this… where I described the domain as the “the bucket of all possible items that can be put into the machine *and* give you an output” and the range as “the bucket of all possible items that comes out of the machine.”

So for the sandwich one, we know the range is {yes, no}. And the domain might be {all foods} or {every physical thing in the universe}. We talked about the ambiguity and how for these non-math ones, there might be multiple sets of domains that make sense. But then for the math-y ones, we saw there was only one possible domain and range.

In fact, to really drive home the idea of inputs, outputs, domain, and range, I created an activity. I paired up the kids and one kid was the *machine*, and one kid was the *guesser*.

The *machine* got a card like this, with the rule:

The guesser got a card with the domain and range:

And the guesser would give words to the machine, and get a result. And their goal: figure out the rule. Then I would switch the machine and guesser, and give a new set of cards. It was crazy fun! I did it a long time ago, but I distinctly remember kids wanting to play longer than the time I had allotted. (If you want the cards I made, here’s a PDF I created Domain and Range Game.)

Next I showed how the “rule” in the machine could take a number of different forms — **tables, words, equations, and graphs** — and *this* is how I introduced the various representations. Kids were given these and asked to fill in the missing information…

… and then they were asked to find the domain and range for these same rules…

To drive home the various representations, I gave kids questions like these, where kids were given one representation and were asked to come up with the equivalent other representations.

So this was the gentle introduction my kids had to machines. I’ll explain where we went from there in future posts… and I promise you it’s going to be good… I’m really proud of it!