Factoring quadratic expressions and designing an online course

May 6, 2021

Ten more minutes for the class to end. Our eyes were reflexively looking at our watches to count the minutes left. Most of my classmates were uncomfortable and restlessly shifting postures. Nothing was herculean when you are in the ninth standard than factorizing a quadratic expression. All we could repeatedly hear was “the coefficient of x is the sum of the two roots and the constant term is their product”. Experienced as he was, our maths teacher Mr V Srinivasan, VS as he was fondly called, sensed our disconnect.

He explained the steps one more time and said that he would give us homework to practice. Looming large before us was the vast stretch of the blackboard that seemed never-ending like space itself. He began writing the expressions for us to solve as homework. Problem 1 on the top left corner of the board. Problem 2. Problem 3. He went on until he reached the bottom right corner, when there is no more space left. It seemed the blackboard had suddenly turned into a cornucopia, and it kept spewing problems endlessly. I heaved. So did the class. He could hear our collective despair. Dispelling the mood in the class, he smiled at us knowingly. “Practice these problems. Try to finish them by this weekend,” he said.

That evening, I stared at my notebook. Neatly written on them were the problems I had diligently copied. Diffidently, I began solving the problems. As expected, I struggled with the first few. Or even more. But I religiously wrote down the factors of the x coefficient and circled down the pair whose product was the constant term. It was absorbing, but it was the only way to solve the problem without making mistake.

I continued solving. A couple more. And then some more. And then the most remarkable thing happened. The problems that terrified me began to get easier. I was getting quick. I stopped making mistakes. I didn’t have to write down all the factors and suddenly the answers seemed to dance in front of me.

It was the year 1991. Incidentally, it was also the year Ericsson published an edited book with Jacqui Smith Toward a General Theory of Expertise, incorporating deliberate practice. I look back at that evening with a sense of epiphany. On that evening, not only did I master solving the quadratic expressions, but I also learned a valuable lesson: Practice makes perfection.

Thirty years later, Editors essentials’ courses are now founded firmly on this tenet.

Following the principle of deliberate practice, our courses are made up of small units of learning, with a plenty of practice on the concept explained in each unit. With over several hundred practice questions exhausting all vital topics, the course vouches for your mastery at the end of it. Practice brings about the difference between good and great. Mindful repetition of small tasks will make one an editor extraordinaire, making editing your second nature. I will talk about this in my next article.

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