Should students learn the properties of equality before we ask them to solve equations in one variable? Would it be too hard for them to solve the equation 2(x + 7) = 4x without knowing the properties of equality?
In the grades, pupils learn to find equivalent ways of expressing a number. For example 8 can be written as 4 + 4, 3 + 5, 4 x 2, 10 – 2. Now, what has the pupils previous experience of expressing numbers in different ways got to do with solving equations in one variable?
Let us take this problem. What value of x will make the statement 2(x-5) = 20 true?. The strategy is to express the terms in equivalent forms.
2(x-5) = 20 can be expressed as 2(x-5) = 2(10).
2(x-5) = 2(10) implies (x – 5) = 10
x-5 = 10 can be expresses as x-5 = 15 – 5. Thus x = 15.
This way of thinking can be used to solve the equation 2(x + 7) = 4x.
2(x+7) = 2(2x)
=> (x+7) = 2x
=> x + 7 = x + x
=> x = 7.
Of course not all equations can be solved by this method efficiently. So you may asked ‘why not teach them the properties of equality first before asking them to solve equations like these?’ Here are some benefits of asking students to solve equations first before teaching the properties of equality:
1. It makes students focus on the structure of the equation. Noticing equivalent structure is very useful in doing mathematics.
2. It makes the equations like 3x = 18, x + 15 = 5, which are used to introduce how the properties are applied, problems for babies.
3. It is easier to do mentally. Try solving equations using the properties of equality mentally so you’ll know what I mean.
4. I hope you also notice that the technique has similarities for proving identities.
So when do we teach the properties of equality? In my opinion, after the students have been exposed to this way of solving and thinking.