Teaching Square Roots with a Non-PC Analogy

What do you think about this analogy I use when teaching square roots and other manipulations of radicals? It's pretty non-PC, but it seems to work. http://mathfour.com/?p=9713I’ve been teaching square roots (and other radical manipulations) for years with a terrible analogy.

Every time I teach it I get a little nervous. “Someday I’m going to jail for this,” I think. But I do it – and get away with it – because I grew up in a very redneck community. And I have quite a few redneck tendencies myself.

It may or may not work for you – feel free to take it and modify it for your students.

Teaching Square Roots with the “Redneck Honky-Tonk” Analogy

It goes like this:

Rednecks go to honky-tonks. They smoke. They drink. And sometimes (often in fact) they fall in love.

And when two rednecks fall in love, what do they do? They push their mobile homes together to make a double wide.

But it doesn’t always last.

In fact, many times it doesn’t.

When they break up, they pull the mobile homes apart – sometimes getting their stuff mixed up in the separation.

There’s good math behind this horrible story!

Two rednecks \sqrt3 and \sqrt6 meet in a honky-tonk. They fall in love and push their mobile homes together to make a double wide:

\sqrt3 \cdot \sqrt6 = \sqrt{3 \cdot 6} = \sqrt{18}

After a while they decide they don’t like each other after all. In the separation, their stuff gets mixed up:

\sqrt{18} = \sqrt{9 \cdot 2} = \sqrt9 \cdot \sqrt2 = 3\sqrt2

High emotions help people remember stuff.

Research indicates that when people have heightened emotions, they remember things better.

Which means if my students are thinking, “Can she say this?!” They just might remember it better.

Does that make it okay to do? I’m not sure.

I’ve been researching another way to explain it – which I’ll share in a couple of days.

Until then, could you use this analogy in teaching square roots? Would you?

Would you want to modify it? Or can you get away with it the way it is?

Share your thoughts in the comments!

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5 Responses to Teaching Square Roots with a Non-PC Analogy

  1. No, I probably wouldn’t use this analogy. We are Christian, and homeschool. And usually when you are teaching this concept in square roots, kids are still fairly young…. And despite the fact that my kids know people go to honky tonks and get divorced, I don’t think I’d use this analogy to teach square roots. I did think of earthquakes — altho that may be offensive to someone who lives in an earthquake-prone area!! You know, two houses smash together in the earthquake, then they need to sort it all back out…..

  2. It’s only words, folks, and if it works then it works. In any event, it provides a impetus for communication. I’d use it to teach stereotypes (what is a “redneck”?). If kids are asking questions and thinking, that’s good.

    Keep thinking outside the box!

    • Manisha, this is awesome! I love your distributive property example. I do something similar with multiplying binomials. Two brothers, Abel and Ben, come to a dance and meet two sisters, Caroline and Danielle. Each brother dances with each sister. But the brothers don’t dance with each other. Nor do the sisters. And it looks like: (a+b)(c+d)=ac+ad+bc+bd

      I would love to see the full article!

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