Math = Love: A Tiny Change

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Tiny Change

Have you ever just made a tiny change to how you teach something and been shocked by the difference it made?

A couple of weeks ago, I was tutoring one of my Algebra 2 students after school.  We were multiplying polynomials, and he was getting the multiplication correct.  But, he was messing up when it came to combining the like terms.  After trying the same problem multiple times, I decided to write it out on the dry erase board as he told me each step.

Usually, I have students put squares or circles around like terms or squiggles or lines underneath them.  This usually does the trick.  This time, however, I decided that I would line up all of the x cubed terms, x squared terms, etc.  This way, when I went to combine like terms, I just had to add the coefficients instead of worrying about where all the like terms were.  The student seemed to like this method.  And, I was kinda impressed with myself for my last minute creativity.  I had already been at school for almost twelve hours at this point, so I was a little brain dead.

I didn't erase the board before going home, so this problem was still up when my Algebra 2 class came in the next morning.  A few of my students noticed it and mentioned how they really like this method of organizing your work.

I took a picture, but the problem had been up for multiple days by that time.  So, the answer has been partially erased.  Sorry about that!  Maybe everybody else has been teaching this way all this time...  Or, maybe this will be new to you as well.  If this post helps or inspires one person, it was worth it.

Method of Organizing Work when Multiplying Polynomials


  1. I really like this! Such a simple change that can make a big difference. Thanks for sharing :)

  2. This is great Sarah! I use a matrix model to teach multiplying polynomials, but nothing works for all students, so this is another great way.

    If you want to see the matrix model, this you tube video shows it:

  3. I have used this method to show my students how to combine like terms after they multiply binomials and trinomials. I've even used it when just multiplying binomials. It really, really helps them to see the like terms. I'm so glad it works for you!

    1. Agreed. Now, that we're doing polynomial long division, I remind them at the columns can only contain like terms!

    2. thank you.. it helped me a lot