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 a2 – b2. However (a – b)2 is not the same as a2 – b2. 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 a – b and b. Our goal is to get an area of (a – b)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 (a – b)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 (a – b)2. This illustrates why a2 – 2ab + b2 = (a – b)2.
Isn’t this kewl?
* Lower Secondary Mathematics
* other syllabuses that involve algebra, expansion and factorisation