Divisibility tricks

Based on personal experience, about half of our senior math majors never saw the basic divisibility rules (like adding the digits to check if a number is a multiple of 3 or 9) when they were children. I guess it’s also possible that some of them just forgot the rules, but I find that hard to believe since they’re so simple and math majors are likely to remember these kinds of tricks from grade school. Some of my math majors actually got visibly upset when I taught these rules in my Math 4050 class; they had been part of gifted and talented programs as children and would have really enjoyed learning these tricks when they were younger.

Of course, it’s not my students’ fault that they weren’t taught these tricks, and a major purpose of Math 4050 is addressing deficiencies in my students’ backgrounds so that they will be better prepared to become secondary math teachers in the future.

My guess that the divisibility rules aren’t widely taught any more because of the rise of calculators. When pre-algebra students are taught to factor large integers, it’s no longer necessary for them to pre-check if 3 is a factor to avoid unnecessary long division since the calculator makes it easy to do the division directly. Still, I think that grade-school students are missing out if they never learn these simple mathematical tricks… if for no other reason than to use these tricks to make factoring less dull and more engaging.

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12 Comments

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