## Combining or Collecting Like Terms

The phrases “combine like terms” or “collect like terms” are used a lot in algebra, and for good reason. The process they describe is used a lot in solving algebra problems. Two approaches, one intuitive and the other algebraic, can help in understanding why some terms are “like” terms, and others are not.

### Quantities With Units

Suppose you are sitting in front of a table that holds three piles of fruit:
– five apples
– three oranges
– four apples
If someone asks you “What do you see on the table?”, how would you answer the question?

Chances are you answered “nine apples and three oranges”. Why did you combine the two piles of apples with one another, but not with the oranges? How did you know that you could do that?

The quantities of apples may be combined because addition or subtraction only work with  Continue reading Combining or Collecting Like Terms

## Simplifying Fractions

Three concepts help explain the process of simplifying fractions:

1. Multiplying a quantity by 1 has no effect
2. A fraction whose numerator is exactly the same as its denominator is equal to 1 (unless the denominator equals zero)
$\dfrac{17a^2b}{17a^2b}~~=~~1~~~~a\ne 0,~~b\ne 0$
3. A product of two fractions can be rewritten as a fraction of two products (and vice versa)
$\dfrac{a}{b} \cdot \dfrac{c}{d}~~=~~\dfrac{ac}{bd}\\*~\\*\dfrac{ac}{bd}~~=~~\dfrac{a}{b} \cdot \dfrac{c}{d}$

To simplify a fraction:

• Rewrite both numerator and denominator as products of factors (if they are not already factored)
• Examine both numerator and denominator to see if they share any factors
• If they do share factors, use concept (3) above to move the shared factors into a separate fraction
• That separate fraction should now have a numerator that is exactly the same as its denominator, which by concept (2) above means that it must equal 1, therefore by concept (1) above we can drop it from the expression

Consider the following fraction… can it be simplified? Continue reading Simplifying Fractions

## Negative Differences

Algebra is a set of rules that allow us to change the appearance of an expression without changing the quantitative relationship that it represents. Sometimes the changes in appearance are greater than expected, causing us to doubt whether two expressions really do represent the same quantitative relationship.  The ways in which negative differences can be rewritten seem to surprise people until they become accustomed to them.

Consider a difference that is being subtracted:

$b-(a-3)$

If we wish to eventually drop the parentheses, we’ll have to distribute the negative sign that is in front of them first.  Leaving the parentheses in place while Continue reading Negative Differences

## Negative Fractions

Question: Where should I put the negative sign when I am writing a fraction like negative two thirds?

Answer: As long as you write only one negative sign, it does not matter where you put it.

Two ideas are useful to keep in mind during the explanation that follows:
– Subtraction is the same thing as the addition of a negative.
– The negative of a number can be created by multiplying the number by negative one.

These principles apply to fractions as well, so:

$-\dfrac{3}{5}\\*~\\*~\\*=(-1)(\dfrac{3}{5})\\*~\\*~\\*=(\dfrac{-1}{~1})(\dfrac{3}{5})\\*~\\*~\\*=\dfrac{-3}{~5}$

Placing the negative sign before the entire fraction (subtracting the fraction) is equivalent to Continue reading Negative Fractions

## Geometric Sequences and Geometric Series

### Geometric Sequences / Progressions

The terms “sequence” and “progression” are interchangeable. A “geometric sequence” is the same thing as a “geometric progression”. This post uses the term “sequence”… but if you live in a place that tends to use the word “progression” instead, it means exactly the same thing. So, let’s investigate how to create a geometric sequence (also known as a geometric progression).

Pick a number, any number, and write it down.  For example:

$5$

Now pick a second number, any number (I’ll choose 3), which we will call the common ratio. Now multiply the first number by the common ratio, then write their product down to the right of the first number:

$5,~15$

Now, continue multiplying each product by the common ratio (3 in my example) and writing the result down… over, and over, and over:

$5,~15,~45,~135,~405,~1,215, ...$

By following this process, you have created a “Geometric Sequence”, a sequence of numbers in which the ratio of every two successive terms is the same.

### Vocabulary and Notation

In the example above, 5 is the first term (also called the starting term) of the sequence or progression. To refer to the first term of a sequence in a generic way that applies to any sequence, mathematicians use the notation

$a_1$

This notation is  Continue reading Geometric Sequences and Geometric Series

## Arithmetic Sequences and Arithmetic Series

### Arithmetic Sequences / Progressions

The terms “sequence” and “progression” are interchangeable. An “arithmetic sequence” is the same thing as an “arithmetic progression”. This post uses the term “sequence”… but if you live in a place that tends to use the word “progression” instead, it means exactly the same thing. So, let’s investigate how to create an arithmetic sequence (also known as an arithmetic progression).

Pick a number, any number, and write it down.  For example:

$5$

Now pick a second number, any number (I’ll choose 3), which we will call the common difference. Now add the common difference to the first number, then write their sum down to the right of the first number:

$5,~8$

Now, continue adding the common difference to the sum and writing the result down… over, and over, and over:

$5,~8,~11,~14,~17,~20,~23,~26,~29, ...$

By following this process, you have created an “Arithmetic Sequence”, a sequence of numbers that are all the same distance apart when graphed on a number line:

### Vocabulary and Notation

In the example above 5 is the first term, or starting term, of the sequence. To refer to the starting term of a sequence in a generic way that applies to any sequence, mathematicians use the notation

$a_1$

This notation is Continue reading Arithmetic Sequences and Arithmetic Series

## Piecewise Functions and Relations

While many relationships in our world can be described using a single mathematical function or relation, there are also many that require either more or less than what one equation describes.  The behavior being described might start at a specific time, or its nature changes at one or more points in time. Two examples of such situations could be:

 Acceleration up to a speed limit Free fall then controlled descent

In the graph on the left, note that the blue line starts at the origin. It does not appear to the left of the origin at all. Furthermore, when x = 3 the blue line stops and the green line begins – but with a different slope.

In the graph on the right, note that the blue curve starts at x = 0.  It does not appear of the left of the vertical axis at all.  And when x = 3 the blue parabola turns into a green line with a very different slope. And the green line stops at x = 5.5, just as it reaches the horizontal axis.

These graphs do not seem to follow all the rules you were taught for graphing lines or parabolas. Instead of being defined over all Real values of x, they start and stop at specific values. The graphs also show (in this case) two very different functions, but in a way that makes them look as though they are meant to represent a single, more complex function.  Both of these graphs are Continue reading Piecewise Functions and Relations

## Polynomials and VEX Drive Motor Control

VEX Robots can be more competitive when they have addressed several drive motor control challenges:

1. Stopping a motor completely when the joystick is released. Joysticks often do not output a value of  “zero” when released, which can cause motors to continue turning slowly instead of stopping.
2. Starting to move gradually, not suddenly, after being stopped. When a robot is carrying game objects more than 12 inches or so above the playing field, a sudden start can cause the robot to tip over.
3. Having motor speeds be less sensitive to small joystick movements at slow speeds. Divers seeking to position the robot precisely during competition need “finer” control over slow motor speeds than fast motor speeds.

These challenges can be solved using one or more “if” statements in the code controlling the robot, however using a single polynomial function can often solve all of these challenges in one step. A graph can help illustrate the challenges and their solution:

## Linear Systems: Why Does Linear Combination Work (Graphically)?

A system of linear equations consists of multiple linear equations. You can think of this as multiple lines graphed on one coordinate plane. Three situations can arise when looking at such a graph. Either:
1) No point(s) are shared by all lines shown
2) There is one point that all lines cross through
3) The lines lie on top of one another, so there are many points that the lines have in common.

There are four commonly used tools for solving linear systems:
– graphing
– substitution
– linear combination
– matrices
Each has its own advantages and disadvantages in various situations, however I often used to wonder about why the linear combination approach works. My earlier post explains why it works from an algebraic perspective. This post will try to explain why it works from a graphical perspective.

Consider the linear system:

$\begin{cases}y=-3x+2\\y=x-6\end{cases}$

which, when graphed, looks like:

Continue reading Linear Systems: Why Does Linear Combination Work (Graphically)?

## Successfully Asking Questions In Class

Do you ask questions in class at least once per week? For many students, the answer is probably “no”.  Reasons for such an answer may include one or more of:
– I don’t want to let my peers or the teacher know I don’t understand something
– I am uncertain about what to ask… I just don’t get what the teacher is talking about
– I don’t wish to appear to be the teacher’s “pet”
– I am not being called on when I raise my hand
– Someone else asked a question first, and the teacher needed to move on
– The teacher has not answered my past questions – they just said “see me after class”

### Preparation

A number of small preparatory steps may help get your questions answered in class, particularly if your class is a large one.  The need for such steps will vary greatly from one school to another, or one teacher to another, but they will not hurt your efforts to master the subject even if they are not necessary to get your questions answered during class time:

## What A Parent Wants From A School

As a parent, I look for two categories of attributes when choosing a school for my child:
– Ones which benefit my child directly
– Ones which benefit my child indirectly, by helping others (teachers, parents) do their jobs more effectively

Schools that satisfy more of the attributes in both categories are likely to have happier parents and more successful students.

## The Administration and Teachers Should Help My Child

### Directly By:

• Being aware of history. Before the start of each school year, my child’s current teacher(s) should have reviewed all of
– last years’ teacher comments for my child
– my child’s transcript (all courses, all years at the school)
• Helping my child to both pursue existing  Continue reading What A Parent Wants From A School

## Domain, Range, and Codomain of a Function

When working with quantitative relationships, three concepts help “set the stage” in your thinking as you seek to understand the relationship’s behavior: domain, range, and codomain.

### Domain

The “domain” of a function or relation is:

• the set of all values for which it can be evaluated
• the set of  allowable “input” values
• the values along the horizontal axis for which a point can be plotted along the vertical axis

For example, the following functions can be evaluated for any value of  “x”:

$f(x)=2x+1\\*~\\*g(x)=x^2+5$

therefore their domains will be “the set of all real numbers”.

The following functions cannot be evaluated for all values of “x”, leading to restrictions on their Domains – as listed to the right of each one:

$h(x)=\dfrac{1}{x}~~~~~~~~~\text{x cannot be zero}\\*~\\*j(x)=\dfrac{1}{(x-2)(x+4)}~~~~~~\text{x cannot be 2 or -4}\\*~\\*k(x)=3x+2,~1

The values for which a function or relation cannot be Continue reading Domain, Range, and Codomain of a Function

## Roots and Rational Exponents: a summary

Although addition and multiplication are commutative, exponentiation is not: swapping the value in the base with the value in the exponent will produce a different result (unless, of course, they are the same value):

$2^3 \ne 3^2$

Therefore, two different inverse functions are needed to solve equations that involve exponential expressions:
– roots, to undo exponents
logarithms, to undo bases

Just as there are many versions of the addition function (one for each number you might wish to add), and many versions of the “logarithm” function (each with a different base), there are many versions of the “root” function: one for each exponent value to be undone.

### Notation

The symbol for a root is $\sqrt{~~~~}$, and is referred to as a “radical“.  It consists of a sort of check mark on the left, followed by a horizontal line, called a “vinculum”, that serves as a grouping symbol (like parentheses) to Continue reading Roots and Rational Exponents: a summary

Long assessments can waste precious class time unless there is much material to be assessed, but shorter assessments (with few questions) can cause small errors to have too big an impact on a student’s grade.

For example, consider the following assessment lengths where each question is worth 4 points, and the student has a total of two points subtracted from their score for errors:

 # Questions Points % % Grade 1 2 / 4 50% F / F 2 6 / 8 75% D / C 3 10 / 12 83% C+/ B 4 14 / 16 88% B / B+ 5 18 / 20 90% B+/ A-

The “% Grade” in the table above reflects a 7-point / 10-point per letter grade approach. A one question quiz is risky for students: they could get a failing grade for losing two points on the only question. Two question quizzes are only slightly less risky.  Only with three or more questions does this scenario start to minimize the risk of actively discouraging a student who loses several points.

Should quizzes therefore only have three or more questions? What if I don’t want the class to spend that much time on an assessment, or don’t have Continue reading Short Assessment Grading: Add or Average?

## Logarithms

Unlike the two most “friendly” arithmetic operations, addition and multiplication, exponentiation is not commutative. You will get a different result if you swap the value in the base with the one in the exponent (unless, of course, they are the same value):

$3^2 \ne 2^3$

The most significant impact of this lack of commutativity arises when you need to solve an equation that involves exponentiation: two different inverse functions are needed, one to undo the exponent (a root), and a different one to undo the base (a logarithm).

Just as there are many versions of the addition function (adding 2, adding 5, adding 7.23, etc.), and many versions of the “root” function (square roots, cube roots, etc.),  there are also many versions of the “logarithm” function. Each version has a “base”, which corresponds to the base of its inverse exponential expression.

### Inverse Functions: Logarithms & Exponentials

Logarithms are labelled with a number that corresponds to the base of the exponential that they undo. For example, the Continue reading Logarithms