Monday, April 13, 2015

[S1_AFMLCM_20150412] Conquering Algebraic Fractions


     This is an equation involving algebraic fractions, usually for secondary 1 (approximately grade 7) pupils in Singapore.  Many students (and teachers?) like to use the “cross-multiplying” method, as shown in Solution 1.  A usually more efficient method is to multiply every term by the Lowest Common Multiple (LCM) of all the denominators appearing in the equation, as shown in Solution 2.

     Note that division by zero is not allowed.  Furthermore, in algebra, it is dangerous to cancel or divide by an unknown quantity, because there is a possibility that you are dividing by zero.  So any division or cancellation by an unknown quantity must be justified beforehand.  Mathematics is not a game of blind senseless manipulations.  If you look at the second solution, which is short and sweet (only 4 steps), multiplying through by the LCM of denominators not only avoids this awkwardness, but it clears all the fractions in one fell swoop.  The solution takes only  4  steps, and it is in fact the recommended method.  All students, whether “good” or “poor” in maths, should use the second method.  Teachers who refuse to use/teach the LCM method (out of habit, or because their own teachers taught them otherwise, or because this makes them or their pupils “uncomfortable”) are really doing the weaker students a huge disservice.  You are widening the achievement gap.  The better students are better, precisely because they use better methods.  The longer one’s working is, the higher the chances of making mistakes and the more time is wasted.  If the “weaker” pupils have to jump through lots of hoops to achieve a certain standard before they are allowed to learn this “advanced” method (actually it’s just the normal method), they will have to unlearn their old method and may get confused as they learn this method.  A triple whammy!  All learners need to practice anyway, so one might as well practice the correct thing right from the beginning and learn good habits (striving for efficient, effective, elegant solutions).  So please, please, please everyone: use the LCM method!

Suitable Levels
* Secondary 1 Mathematics
* GCE ‘O’ Level (“Elementary”) Mathematics Revision
* other syllabuses that involve algebraic Fractions
* precocious children who want to learn algebra

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