Engaging students: Multiplying polynomials

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 again comes from my former student Daniel Herfeldt. His topic, from Algebra: multiplying polynomials.

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How could you as a teacher create an activity or project that involves your topic?

Activities for multiplying polynomials are endless. An activity that I would do with my students is a game called polynomial dice. To do this, you would first is to get several blank dice and write random polynomials on each side of the dice. Then in class, divide the students into groups of no more than three. Each group will get a pair of dice. Have the students roll the dice and they should have two different polynomials. Once they have rolled, have them multiply the polynomials together. This is best done with groups so that the students can share their work with their partners to see if they both got the same answer. If they did not get the same answer, they can go back through each other’s steps to see where they went wrong. If you want to make the game a bit harder, you can add more dice to make them multiply three polynomials, or maybe even more. This is a great game because it can be used for multiplying polynomials, as well as dividing, adding and subtracting. It could be a great review game before a major test to have students remember how to do each individual property. For example, have the students roll the dice, then with the two polynomials they get, they first add the polynomials, followed by the difference, then the product, and finally the quotient.


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How can this topic be used in your students’ future courses in mathematics or science?

Multiplying polynomials is used all over mathematics. It is first introduced in Algebra I and Algebra II. Multiplying polynomials can be very difficult for students and make them not want to do the work. This is due to there being so much work for one problem. Since there is so much work, there is a lot of room for mistakes. This topic is used is Algebra I, Algebra II, Algebra III, Pre-Calculus, Calculus and just about every higher math course. If a student is looking to go into an architecture or engineering field, they will have to apply their knowledge of polynomials. Due to this, the topic is one of the most important topics that students need to understand. Knowing how to multiply polynomials also makes it easier to divide polynomials. If a student is struggling with dividing polynomials, you can go back to showing them how to multiply them. Once a student sees the pattern of multiplying polynomials, they are more likely to get the hang of dividing them.


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How can technology (YouTube, Khan Academy [khanacademy.org], Vi Hart, Geometers Sketchpad, graphing calculators, etc.) be used to effectively engage students with this topic?

I believe this video would be a great engage for the students when you, as a teacher, are teaching the students how to multiply polynomials for the first time. This video helps students remember what exactly is a polynomial. Although there is only three types of polynomials in the video (monomial, binomial, and trinomial), it uses the three main types that students will be using in a high school level. Another great thing in the video is that it shows how to tell the degree of the polynomial. Although it seems easy to just say the power of x is the same as the degree, students still might forget how to do it. For example, a student might think that a digit by itself and with no variable has a degree of one, but is really a degree of zero. The final point that is key to this video is that it shows students how to line up the terms. Some students might put 6+x^2+3x, and although that is still correct, it will be better written as x^2+3x+6.

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