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 Amber Northcott. Her topic, from Precalculus: synthetic division.

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


Synthetic division takes a little to get used to, especially after learning long division with polynomials. One thing is for sure and that is once the students get how to do synthetic division they sometimes prefer it over long division because it is a faster and easier way to divide polynomials. However, the first step is to learn it and there are many different ways to learn it. One way is to create an activity the students can do that will help them learn it.

An activity or project idea is to have the students write their own steps on how to solve synthetic division. Make sure to let the students know that they must put it in their own words. Then put students in groups of three to four and have them share their steps with each other. Let them give each other feedback on their steps and the feedback must be turned in. Once the teacher looks at the feedback, the teacher can give it back to the students and give their feedback to the student as well. Then have the student take the feedback into consideration and change their steps if needed. This activity will allow the student to see how they view synthetic division and what steps they take to solve it. By sharing their steps, they can get an idea of how everyone solves synthetic division and learn from each other.

Other activities or projects also include having the students write down the steps to solving synthetic division. This time though they can use their imagination and get creative. The activity or project can be to make up a poem or acrostic or a story to help them remember how to solve synthetic division. Then have them present their poem or acrostic or story in front of the class, so other students can learn those ideas as well to help them remember how to do synthetic division.


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


Synthetic division is first seen Algebra II. Students tend to learn it right after learning how to do long division with polynomials. After taking Algebra II students don’t see synthetic division for a while until pre-calculus and calculus. This is because when you hit Pre-Calculus and Calculus you see algebra topics within them a lot more than you would a Geometry and Trigonometry class. This doesn’t mean you can’t see them in Geometry or Trigonometry. This is because like all math subjects and topics they intertwine with each other, so you are bound to see synthetic division in quite a few places in mathematics.


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How was this topic adopted by the mathematical community?


Synthetic division is also called Ruffini’s Rule, but we don’t see this title very often in textbooks. The reason why it was called Ruffini’s Rule is because of the Italian mathematician Paolo Ruffini, who brought synthetic division to life around 1809. Paolo Ruffini, like all mathematicians, wanted to find a simpler way to do a mathematic topic. This can also be because mathematicians are known to be a bit lazy.

The mathematic topic he wanted to find a simpler way to do was dividing polynomials, so by creating this system we all know as synthetic division he found a cleaner, simpler, and faster way to divide polynomials. Of course, it has certain conditions to follow in order to be able to do synthetic division, but it’s the option is there.





Click to access 06-05-02-synth-div.pdf





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