Engaging students: Factoring quadratic 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 comes from my former student Chris Brown. His topic, from Algebra: factoring quadratic polynomials.

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What interesting word problems using this topic can your students do now?


The ability to factor quadratic polynomials is at the essence of many two-dimensional kinematic word problems that students will encounter in the future physics courses. One specific word problem that students can now solve, is, “In a tied game between the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets, Steph Curry has the ball for his team. If Steph Curry is 20ft away from the basketball hoop and throws the basketball up in the air at a velocity of 3 m/s, will he be able to make the shot if 3 seconds is left on the clock and win the game for his team? Consider this to be an isolated system.” This special type of problem gives them initial distance, final distance, initial velocity, and acceleration. He student then needs to solve for time, which turns this into a quadratic scenario that requires factoring. I feel like this problem situation is super relevant to the high school age group as it seems to be popular amongst that age group, and with this problem they can extend it to any real-world scenario that searches for time when given distance and velocity.

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How does this topic extend what your students should have learned in previous courses?


When factoring quadratic equations, one of the universal methods of factoring is called factoring by grouping. Let’s identify a quadratic equation to be ax2 + bx + c = 0. When factoring by grouping, the students must first multiply ‘a’ and ‘c,’ and then find factors of the product which sum to ‘b’. Let’s call these specific factors ‘n’ and ‘m’. Thus far, this brings in students abilities to create factor trees from 3rd grade mathematics. The next step requires students to replace ‘b’ with the factors ‘n’ and ‘m,’ such that we now have ax2 + nx + mx + c = 0. Now the students have to group the ‘ax2’ term and ‘c’ with either the ‘nx’ and ‘mx’ terms in such a way that when the greatest common divisor is pulled away, what’s left is identical for each group. The ability to identify the greatest common divisor between two terms stems from what they learned in 5th grade mathematics. Then, the last step would be to factor out the common term. This entire process, which was not completed here, has used two very fundamental skills from elementary mathematics.

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


I believe Symbolab is an amazing website, that the students can use to aid them in the understanding of the process of factoring quadratic polynomials. I chose this website, because it focuses on the process of factoring and uses common language to explain their steps which the students should be aware of. Lastly, I love this website because it gives students the option to hide the steps and just see the answer. With this, the students can type in random quadratics and work towards the solution, and if they get stuck, they can see all the steps. All in all, it is an amazing way to practice the skill of factoring quadratic equations for as long as they please!

Here is the link to Symbolab: https://www.symbolab.com/solver/factor-calculator/factor%20x%5E%7B2%7D-4x%2B3%3D0




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