Should We Be Teaching Polynomial Factoring In Elementary Algebra?

November 17, 2011 at 12:00 pm 4 comments

I was at a conference last week, and factoring polynomials was under fire from several instructors. Is this still a valuable skill? Is it important to cover factoring? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

(I’m putting together a blog with my thoughts on the issue.)

-George

I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. If there’s a particular topic you’d like me to address, or if you have a question or a comment, please let me know. You can reach me through the contact page on my website – http://georgewoodbury.com.

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Entry filed under: Math. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

2011 AMATYC Wrap Up In Defense of Factoring

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. R. Wright  |  November 17, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    Polynomials in general are covered in far too much depth in elementary algebra, and factoring them is probably the first topic I’d cut if I were King of Math.

    Reply
  • 2. Kathleen Almy  |  November 17, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    George, you likely know my thoughts on the subject but I’ll share anyway. I think there is value to factoring on some level, but what we do in beginning algebra is overkill. When skills are a means to a greater end that students will see and can appreciate, that can go a long way into making sense of the skill and improving fluency with it. And when they’re taught in a vacuum, learning and retention don’t usually follow. I’ve taught factoring for 15 years and regardless of the level, the same outcome always happens: teach it for a couple of weeks, practice myriads of problems, they take (and most pass) the test, and the day after the test it’s like a lobotomy happens. I see it worse with that topic more so than any other. It’s literally like their memories are wiped clean. We use it again in rational expressions and they don’t recall it nor see the value. It’s just moving letters around to them so the skills don’t stick. I’d rather do less of it and really use it for something other than problem recognition. Show them when it can make sense and can be quite useful, like the GCF when rewriting business or science formulas. If our goal is brain calisthenics, there are so many more beneficial ways to get there. To me, factoring is right up there with square roots by hand. Sure, we can do it. But why?

    Reply
  • 3. footmassage  |  November 20, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    Factoring is overemphasized as a separate unit or a large part of the unit on polynomials (as suggested by Kathleen above), but it is important “skill” of manipulation that is part of a mathematician’s toolkit. It should be in the air throughout whether your solving, writing lines in point-slope form, rewriting fractions, simplifying rational functions, manipulating transcendental functions, etc. It is an essential basic tool that should be developed over a course(s) for fluency. Would we see factoring numerical quantities is unimportant?

    Reply
  • 4. In Defense of Factoring « George Woodbury’s Blogarithm  |  November 21, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    […] One comment that really hit me was one made by “footmassage”: “It (factoring) should be in the air throughout whether your solving, writing lines in point-slope form, rewriting fractions, simplifying rational functions, manipulating transcendental functions, etc.  It is an essential basic tool that should be developed over a course(s) for fluency.” (Check it out here.) […]

    Reply

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