Engaging students: Factoring 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 Brittnee Lein. Her topic, from Algebra: factoring polynomials.

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1. How can technology be used to effectively engage students with this topic?

There are many great websites that can help to provide students a conceptual framework for factoring polynomials in lieu of simple lecture. This website lets students explore polynomial equations with online algebra tiles.


Algebra tiles are effective in teaching factoring because they provide a visual representation of abstract concepts and allow students to understand that the symbol “=” in an equation really means equivalence (i.e. what you do to one side of the equation, you must do to the other side). I also think algebra tiles are very beneficial in teaching students about zero pairs. There are other websites –such as wolfram alpha– that are especially great supplements to go alongside topics such as factoring polynomials because students can see the graphical meaning of the roots of a quadratic equation. When combined, these websites can aid students in gaining a both conceptual and procedural understanding of the topic.


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

There is an activity called “Factor Draft” where students set up a ‘playing field’ of cards. In this field, there are factor cards such as (x+2), (x-12), etc. sum (5x), (12x), etc., and product cards (1), (42), and so on. The goal of the game is to draw a winning hand of two factor cards and a corresponding sum and product card. Each card is color coded to their type. Each turn a player draws one card from the field of face up cards. The player must pay mind to not only his/her own cards but also those of their opponent’s –as the first person to get two factor cards and their corresponding sum and product card wins. This activity is beneficial in furthering student understanding between the relationships between each term in a quadratic polynomial. For example (x+4)(x-3) = x^2 + 1x - 12 and the corresponding factor cards would be (x+4) and (x-3) the sum card would be (1x) and the product card would be (-12). This activity allows students to intuitively get a sense of the process of factoring and gives them practice multiplying out polynomials.



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2. How can this topic be used in your students’ future courses in mathematics or science?
• Factoring polynomials is used in many important future science and mathematics concepts. When a quadratic equation cannot be factored simply, teachers must introduce the quadratic formula. This slides into the introduction of complex roots of an equation and complex numbers. When factoring polynomials of higher degree than 2, synthetic division (another topic in high school mathematics) is useful in finding the roots of the equation. If a student is able to understand the meaning of the roots of an equation, that will aid in solving many interesting physics and mathematics problems. Factoring is used quite often to find the domain of a rational equation such as f(x) = (x+2)/ (x^2+ 4x+3). A student must also have a strong basis in factoring polynomials to learn concepts such as completing the square.


• National Library of Virtual Manipulatives, nlvm.usu.edu/en/nav/vlibrary.html.

• Cleveland, James. “The Factor Draft.” The Roots of the Equation, 23 May 2014, rootsoftheequation.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/the-factor-draft/.

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