Discovery Lesson: Factoring Trinomials

Whenever possible I like to have students discover or figure out the lesson on their own (with some guidance from me, of course), rather than simply teaching them an algorithm.  One such topic is factoring trinomials.

I start my lesson on factoring trinomials with a = 1 by giving students 4 binomial multiplication problems and having them solve them, showing all of their work.

discover factoring pic1

I then tell them that factoring is the opposite of multiplying, so basically they are given the “answer” to a multiplication problem and they need to figure out the “problem”.  I have them look back at the previous 4 trinomial “answers” they got and to try to come up with a rule for factoring by figuring out where the b and c came from.

With a little time the students are always able to come up with the idea that the b is the sum of the 2nd terms in the binomials and c is their product.  So, when I give them a trinomial to factor they know that they will have (x +/- #)(x +/-#) and need to find 2 numbers whose product is c and sum is b to fill in the #s.

I like teaching factoring this way because the students understand that I didn’t just make up some rule.  They came up with the rule themselves by analyzing problems that they already knew how to solve.

I also teach factoring trinomials where a ≠ 1 this way.

discover factoring pic2

With these problems I have students come up with a rule to go from the trinomial answer to the “work” column.  They are usually pretty quick to notice that the first and last terms stay the same and that the middle term gets split into 2 terms.  When I ask how to know how to split up those middle terms they are able to come up with the idea that it needs to be split into 2 numbers whose sum is the original number but I usually have to push them to get them to see that the those 2 numbers also must have a product of ac.  I teach factoring by grouping earlier in the unit, so once students get to this point in the problem, they are able to just apply the factoring by grouping method to finish the problems.  (I know that there are other methods to factor trinomials where a ≠ 1, like guess & check and the “airplane” or “slip and slide” method but I personally find that factoring by grouping makes the most sense for students since they are using 2 things they already know: multiplication of binomials and the distributive property, in reverse.  I think this lends itself perfectly to helping students understand that factoring and multiplication are simply inverses).

Factoring is such an important part of algebra and is used in many different ways (solving quadratic equations, simplifying rational expressions, solving radical equations, etc.) that it is really important that students master it.  At least in my opinion, having students take some ownership of the process helps build their understanding and mastery.

[For students who understand the process of factoring but struggle to come up with the 2 numbers with the given sum and product I show them how to use a factor tree to help them find the numbers.  You can read about that here.]

Thanks for reading,

Christina

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A Little Sum-thing about Triangles

I started my unit on Geometry with my 6th graders before Christmas break.  We got as far as the basic vocabulary and different types of angles.  I decided to begin with polygons after break, so my first post-Christmas lesson was on triangles.

We started off by discussing the different ways to classify triangles – by their sides and by their angles.  The students made a chart in their notebook listing the different types of triangles and we did some example problems.

[Before the lesson, I had made up little slips of paper with different triangle types on them.]  After going over the basics, I had each student pick one of the slips at random.

triangle types

 

They had to draw whatever kind of triangle they picked on construction paper and then cut it out.  This served two purposes – it showed me if they understood the first part of the lesson, and it provided me with a wide variety of triangles.  I had each student number the angles in their triangle (1, 2, and 3).  I then asked the students to rip off each of the angles of their triangle.  Finally, I asked the students to line up their three angles so that they were adjacent to each other, and asked them what they noticed when they arranged their angles in that way.  A few students noted that they formed a straight line.

triangles wholetriangles cut

 

 

 

 

 

angle sum

When I asked the students how many degrees the three angles must be in all if they are forming a straight line, the light bulbs went off!  Since everyone had started with a different triangle, the students were able to conclude that the angle sum of ANY triangle is 180 degrees.

All in all the lesson went very well.  We finished by going through an example of finding the missing angle in a triangle.  The students’ notes for the day ended up looking like this:

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At the beginning of the class when we were first going over types of triangles, one of the students had asked why an acute triangle has 3 acute angles, but a right triangle only has 1 right angle and an obtuse triangle only has 1 obtuse angle.  I posed the question back to the class and their original answer was that the triangle wouldn’t close if it had 2 right angles or 2 obtuse angles.  At the end of class, however, one of the boys in my class said “Oh, that’s why there can only be 1 right or obtuse angle…there’s only 180 degrees in all so if you already have 90 degrees, if you had another 90 degree angle you wouldn’t be able to fit another angle!”

Don’t you just love it when students can reason out the answers to their own questions?!

 

Thanks for reading,

Christina

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