I'm a private tutor working with a 7th grader who is struggling with solving equations. Given a simple equation, he is able to solve it using a formulaic procedure, but it is very obvious that he has no idea what the solution really means. Hence, if he gets a problem that's slightly different from ones he's solved before, he's completely lost.
Working with him yesterday, I realized that he doesn't understand what a variable is, or what he's doing when he's solving an equation -- he's just following the steps his teacher told him for that specific problem.
I'm trying to think of a way to visually demonstrate what's happening when he's solving an equation -- something visual that he can see. Kind of an algebraic equivalent to putting four coins on the table and adding one more to show 4 + 1 = 5.
Any ideas? Thanks! -Ian