Engaging students: Multiplying binomials

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 Cire Jauregui. Her topic, from Algebra: multiplying binomials.

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

Khan Academy has a whole series of videos, practice problems, and models to help students learn about multiplying binomials. The first in this series is a video visualizing the problem (x+2)(x+3) as a rectangle and explains that multiplying the binomials would give the area taken up by the rectangle. This would help students connect multiplying binomials to multiplying numbers to find area. This can also help students who learn better with visual examples by giving them a way to show a picture demonstrating the problem they are multiplying. Khan Academy then moves from using a visual representation to a strictly alpha-numerical representation so students can smoothly transition from having the pictures drawn out to just working out the problem. The first video in the series of pages at Khan Academy can be found at this link: https://tinyurl.com/KhanAcademyBinomials

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

Multiplying binomials extends on two-digit times two-digit multiplication that students learn and practice in elementary and middle school courses. This video from the platform TikTok by a high school teacher Christine (@thesuburbanfarmhouse) shows the connection between vertical multiplication of two numbers and the multiplication of binomials together: https://tinyurl.com/TikTokFOIL By showing students that it works the same way as other forms of multiplication that they have already seen and hopefully mastered, it sets the students up to view the multiplication of binomials and other polynomials in a way that is familiar and more comfortable. This particular video is part of a miniature series that Christine recently did explaining why slang terms such as FOIL (standing for “first, outside, inside, last” as a way to remember how to multiply binomials) which many classrooms have used (including my own high school teachers), which are helpful when initially explaining multiplication of binomials, ultimately can be confusing to students when they move on to multiplying other polynomials. I personally will be staying away from using terms like FOIL because as students move on to trinomials and other larger polynomials, there are more terms to distribute than just the four mentioned in FOIL.

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

As I mentioned in the last question, learning to multiply binomials can lead students to success in multiplying polynomials. This skill can also help students factor polynomials in that it can help them check their answers when they are finished. It can also help them recognize familiar-looking polynomials as having possible binomials as factors. If a student were to see 12x2-29x-8 and couldn’t remember how to go about factoring it in other ways, a student could use a guess-and-check method to factor. They might try various combinations of (Ax+B)(Cx-D) until they find a satisfactory of A, B, C, and D that when the binomial is multiplied, creates the polynomial they were trying to factor. Without solid skills in multiplying binomials, a student would likely be frustrated in trying to find what A, B, C, and D as their multiplication could be wrong and seemingly no combination of numbers works.

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