Engaging students: Finding prime factorizations

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 Bri Del Pozzo. Her topic, from Pre-Algebra: finding prime factorizations.

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

An activity that I would create for my students involving Prime Factorization is based on an example that I saw on Pinterest. I would prepare an activity where students would be given a picture of a tree and assigned a two-digit number. I would then have students decorate their tree and at the base of the tree, they would write their assigned number. Then, as the roots expand down, students would be able to write the factors of their number as a factor tree until they are left with only prime factors (based on the image from https://www.hmhco.com/blog/teaching-prime-factorization-of-36). In the example from Pinterest, the teacher focused on finding the greatest common divisors between two numbers and used the factors trees as guidance. For my activity, I would assign some students the same number and emphasize that some numbers (such as 24, 36, 72, etc.) can be factored in multiple ways, so the roots of the trees could look different depending on how the student decides to factor their number.

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

There are a few ways that Prime Factorization can be used in my students’ future math courses. Prime Factorization is incredibly useful when learning how to simplify fractions. By practicing Prime Factorization, students become more familiar with the factors of large numbers, which becomes helpful when simplifying fractions. In the instance that a fraction is not in its simplest form, students will have an easier time recognizing such and will feel more confident in simplifying the fraction. Additionally, Prime Factorization prepares students for finding Greatest Common Divisors. Knowing how to find Greatest Common Divisors can be useful when solving real-world problems as well as in simplifying fractions. At a higher level of math, Prime Factorization allows students to practice the skills needed to prepare themselves for factoring things more complicated than numbers. For example, the idea of factoring can be applied to factoring a common factor out of an expression, factoring quadratic equations, and factoring polynomials with complex numbers.

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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? Note: It’s not enough to say “such-and-such is a great website”; you need to explain in some detail why it’s a great website.

Khanacademy.org would be a fantastic website to engage students in this topic because of the inclusion of multiple representations. This website allows students to work through multiple practice problems where they can find the Prime Factorization of a number. When the student gets the question correct, they can move on to the next question, or they have the option to view a brief explanation on how to arrive at the correct answer. If students get a problem incorrect, they can retry the problem or get help on the question. The “get help” feature also provides students with a brief explanation, with options in video form and picture/written form, of how to solve the problem. Another important feature of this website is the ability for students to write out their thoughts as they work through the problem. Khan Academy allows students the option to use an online “whiteboard” feature that appears directly below the problem. This “whiteboard” feature allows students to write out their work and also offers a walkthrough of how to draw a factor tree.


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