Engaging students: Synthetic Division

In my capstone class for future secondary math teachers, I ask my students to come up with ideas for engaging their students with different topics in the secondary mathematics curriculum. In other words, the point of the assignment was not to devise a full-blown lesson plan on this topic. Instead, I asked my students to think about three different ways of getting their students interested in the topic in the first place.

I plan to share some of the best of these ideas on this blog (after asking my students’ permission, of course).

This student submission comes from my former student Chelsea Hancock. Her topic, from Precalculus: synthetic division.

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The method of synthetic division is an alternative version of long division concerning polynomials. Synthetic division uses the basic mathematical skills of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and negative signs. They must also understand the definitions of polynomial, coefficient, and remainder. A polynomial is an expression with multiple terms, poly meaning “many” and nomial meaning “term.” A coefficient is a number used to multiply a variable. The remainder is the amount left over after division. Synthetic division involves multiplying, then adding or subtracting the coefficients of two polynomials. On some occasions, there will be a remainder after dividing the polynomials.


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Mathematicians are lazy. That is a fact of life. One mathematician understood this, so in 1809 he created a cleaner, faster, and much simpler method for division. His name was Paolo Ruffini. In order to more efficiently divide polynomials, Ruffini invented the Ruffini’s Rule, known more commonly as synthetic division in today’s society. In 1783, he entered the University of Modena and he studied mathematics, medicine, philosophy and literature. Then, in 1798 he began teaching mathematics at the University of Modena. He was required to swear an oath of allegiance to the republic, but due to religious purposes, refused to do so. This resulted in the loss of his professorship and was prevented from teaching.


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There are several videos on the Internet involving synthetic division, but there are two in particular that I personally think are excellent demonstrations of both the method itself and why it works. I have labeled these clips Video 1 and Video 2. Video 1 is a demonstration of the method in action, using a specific example involving numbers, walking the viewers through the process through the whole video. Video 2 explains why using synthetic division instead of using long division is the more efficient and less complicated method for dividing polynomials. The clip uses the same example used in Video 1, but this time the polynomials are divided using long division, walking the viewers through the process the entire time. As the narrator moves through the process, he makes connections between the synthetic division method and the long division method and draws conclusions between the two. By the end of the video, it is evident which is the cleanest method to use when concerning the division of polynomials. These videos not only give great tutorials on both methods of division, but allows the viewers to see the benefits and uses of synthetic division when it is possible to use it.


Video 1:

Video 2:




















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