Distribution and Absolute Values
Date: 09/22/1999 at 20:39:45 From: Lea Ann Smith Subject: Distribution through an Absolute Value Sign I am a first year teacher in an Algebra 2 class. I am trying to determine if it is okay to distribute through an absolute value sign. I was told that I need to isolate the absolute value sign prior to solving the problem, but I am having a hard time convincing myself (and my class) that I can't distribute through the absolute value sign. For example, the following problem gives the same answer two different ways: Method 1 2|3x+1| = 10 |3x+1| = 5 3x+1 = 5 or -(3x+1) = 5 : 3x+1 = -5 3x = 4 3x = -6 x = 4/3 x = -2 Method 2 2|3x+1| = 10 |6x+2| = 10 6x+2 = 10 or -(6x+2) = 10 : 6x+2 = -10 6x = 8 6x = -12 x = 4/3 x = -2 Is distributing through the absolute value sign a generally applicable method or will it only work in special cases? Thank you, Lea Ann Smith
Date: 09/22/1999 at 23:21:41 From: Doctor Peterson Subject: Re: Distribution through an Absolute Value Sign Hi, Lea Ann. >Is distributing through the absolute value sign a generally >applicable method or will it only work in special cases? Neither. It won't always work, but it's not only for special cases: it will work half the time. Specifically, the case you have to watch out for is distributing a negative number. The correct "distributive" property for absolute values is |a|*|b| = |a*b| not a*|b| = |a*b| because in the latter if a were negative, you would have a negative on the left and a positive on the right. You can say that the latter statement is true, however, as long as a is positive, and that is the rule you were using. In your example (and probably in all examples you would have thought of, because you're aware of the rule subconsciously), the multiplier is positive and you can distribute. - Doctor Peterson, The Math Forum http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
Date: 09/23/1999 at 15:31:13 From: Lea Ann Smith Subject: Re: Distribution through an Absolute Value Sign Thank you so much for your prompt and logical response to my question. I showed your response in class today and it was a huge help, both from a math standpoint and from a technology/Internet standpoint. Regards from a happy teacher, Lea Ann
Date: 09/23/1999 at 17:08:10 From: Doctor Peterson Subject: Re: Distribution through an Absolute Value Sign Hi, Lea Ann. I hope you caught my little mistake. I used your term to describe the property I explained, but it's really not a distributive property at all; that's just how you were using it, with an addition inside the absolute value. A distributive property involves two binary operations like multiplication and addition, whereas absolute value is a unary operator or function. I'm not sure if there's a name for this property, but I'd just call it the multiplicative property of absolute value. If we write absolute value as a function f, it would say: f(a * b) = f(a) * f(b) I suspect we don't talk about this property enough; if we did, there would be a name for it. Anyway, I'm glad I could help! - Doctor Peterson, The Math Forum http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
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