Tuesday, May 5, 2015

[S2 Expository] Square-of-Difference Identity for Algebra

     An algebraic identity is an equation that is true for all values of the variables involved.  If we substituted any set of values to the Left Hand Side (LHS) and the same values to the Right Hand Side (RHS), the equation will be true i.e. the LHS will always be equal to the RHS.  The square-of-difference identity
                                       

is one of the three identities that students have to learn in secondary two.  Many students have difficulty remembering this, and they mix this up with the other identity, which involves  a2b2.  However  (ab)2  is not the same as  a2b2.  They do not understand why the above formula is true, because almost nobody explains it.  Perhaps a few teachers explain the identity for  (a + b)2.  But if the  ‘+’  is changed to a  ‘–’  this is a little trickier.  Let me try to explain the formula visually, and with colours to boot, for perhaps the first time in history.

     We start (on the left) with a square of side  a,  whose area is  a2.  This is shown in green in the diagram.  We partition each side of the square into  ab  and  b.  Our goal is to get an area of   (ab)2.  Let us flip the strip of width  b  on the right of the square.  This strip has area  ab  and is shown in pink in the middle square.  This is the same as saying we are subtracting one copy of  ab.  Note on the bottom of the square, there is another strip of area  ab  (shown outlined in orange).  If we subtracted that, we would have subtracted  2ab  (see the square on the right), and we would seem to get  (ab)2.   But then the little square of area  b2  (indicated by a darker green) would have been subtracted twice.  So we need to add  b2  back, so as to restore balance in the universe. 
     You can imagine doing this with a square of area  a2  made of layer of sand.  We remove strips of area  ab  two times – from the right and from the bottom.  Then we patch up the  b2  hole by adding back a layer of sand.  We finally end up with a layer of sand of area  (ab)2.  This illustrates why  a2 – 2ab + b2 = (ab)2.
     Isn’t this kewl?

Suitable Levels
Lower Secondary Mathematics
* other syllabuses that involve algebra, expansion and factorisation




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