Things I learned in summer school today:
0) Homemade Algebra Tiles are a lot cheaper than the $70 sets from Amazon, and work fine. (But if you have the funds, a more substantial set might be nice.)
1) Algebra Tiles are pretty cool, and have a lot of potential, especially for making kids really consider what the meaning of integer addition, subtraction, and mutliplication are. I definitely saw some lightbulbs go off when we worked through "4*3 means four sets of 3".
2) Trying to introduce Algebra Tiles from scratch and accelerate up to multiplying and factoring polynomials in 60 minutes is a recipe for disaster. (I should have known better.)
If I were to teach this class next year, I would introduce the Algebra tiles the first week, and embed them as we reviewed integer arithmetic, solved simple equations for x, and worked our way up to polynomials. I think they'd be a useful addition to the boardwork / notes / practice / fun outside problems mix I've developed this summer.
Live and learn.
Useful algebra tiles resources on the web: