The week after, the calculus teacher said she'd been talking to an Algebra 2 teacher about long division and they'd figured out that you can both use partial quotients and you can start by dividing the constant rather than the variable. She gave this example:
So instead of starting with "x^3 divided by x" she started with "8 divided by 2." The claim being it's easier for kids to divide by two than to divide by x. The importance of building that fluency aside, it bothered me that we were going backward from the standard algorithm. At first it was just a niggling thought in the back of my mind, but after a while I realized the issue - this works great for polynomials that divide evenly, but what about remainders?
I posed the question to the other teachers and we tried some examples:
Left: Try the new method like you would with whole numbers - "5 divided by 2 is 2 (plus a remainder). That -1 never goes away and you get a remainder of 11x^2 - 1. But the remainder can't have a higher degree than the divisor. I protested so we continued dividing. We get there eventually.
Right: Try the new method but allow fractions - "5 divided by 2 is 5/2" The numbers get messy and we quit before finding our way to a remainder that has degree zero.
A few thoughts:
1) I would never have thought to start dividing with the smallest term! How cool that it works!
2) When I teach long division in PreCalc we graph first to find real roots and then divide to determine the imaginary roots - there's never a remainder. So does it matter that it's longer in that case?
3) A new teacher in my department said, "This is good but kids my quit if it doesn't work." I was a bad mentor and didn't stop to think. I immediately responded, "But that's what's so great about partial quotients! You don't have to back up if you didn't take out enough, you can just throw in another number/variable." Then I did think, and I realized he meant that kids would quit when they started introducing terms back in that they'd already eliminated (on the left the x term is zeroed out, then it comes back like a monster that can't be vanquished!). I apologized and asked if that's what he meant. Sometimes I'm so quick to defend the 'new methods' that I don't listen carefully to valid criticism.