The F-word in Math Class

I surprised many of my students when I used the F-word in class today.  They started snickering and smiling unlike I have ever seen of them.  And, no, I did not use ‘that’ F-word!   But the one that beleaguers students of math of all generations: factor, as in “greatest common factor,” or “factor this expression.”

Its use was not pre-planned, rehearsed, or even conceived of in advance.  It leapt from my mind as I gazed upon my algebra 1 students, staring blankly back at me, after I asked a question about what to do next in our math problem of the moment.  Since we were working with rational expressions, I was looking for someone to say “factor,” or anything, for that matter, to break the maddening silence.  In this moment, with thirty thousand-yard stares in my direction, my mind, at least the comedic part of it, brought forth “the F-Word.”

I must admit, before I said it, I liked it.  Plays on words are one of my favorite pastimes, as frequent readers of my blog, all three of them, may know.  Blog posts such as “Pedagogical Pickle,” The Tyranny of Technology,” “A Failed Extra Credit Offer,” and “Edufads from Educrats” are but a sampling of my plied phrases.  And with the outbreak of students’ smiles and snickers, I knew they liked my use of the F-word, too.  I even told them to let their parents know that their teacher said it was OK for them to use the “F-word” in math class, which brought more smiles and laughs.  I hope the school administrators find it as amusing if they hear about it though!

On a serious note, I ask myself, did my simple mnemonic, as out there as it might be, help students to recall the need to factor when simplifying rational numbers or expressions?  Or was it simply a respite from the mathematics monotony many feel?

I am about to find out, as soon as I complete my review of their notes and classwork for my formative assessment of today’s instruction and student learning.  My first impression is they need more time, which I am already contemplating as I prepare to plan for tomorrow’s lesson.  I also get to say the “F-word” again in math class tomorrow.  Boy, is that cool or what?

About Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Independent consultant and junior college adjunct instructor. Former secondary math teacher who taught math intervention, algebra 1, geometry, accelerated algebra 2, precalculus, honors precalculus, AP Calculus AB, and AP Statistics. Prior to teaching, I spent 25 years in high tech in engineering, marketing, sales and business development roles in the satellite communications, GPS, semiconductor, and wireless industries. I am awed by the potential in our nation's youth and I hope to instill in them the passion to improve our world at local, state, national, and global levels.
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1 Response to The F-word in Math Class

  1. eo says:

    I’ve wondered more than once if one can teach factoring by looking at factors in social situations. I.e. somehow make it relevant to their lives. E.g. look at a social situation and take (divide) it out a factor to see what is left. Of course, I don’t have any concrete examples, but it feels like it should work.


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