## Kate’s Urban Legend

January 23rd, 2011 by Dan Meyer

Kate Nowak, on the grand finale of Pseudocontext Saturday:

I realize this is going to sound urban legendy, but I know someone who knows the teacher who wrote this question [..] And, the story goes she wrote this question as a joke. As in, as a lark she wrote something so bad and ridiculous that it would never be used. And then they put it on the exam.

Nope nope nope. No way. Not buying.

on 23 Jan 2011 at 5:33 pm1 Kate NowakOh come on. Don’t you kind of love the idea of a math problem SO BAD it spawned an urban legend? Just BELIEVE.

on 24 Jan 2011 at 11:01 am2 Michael Paul GoldenbergI’m not buying the legend, either. I AM glad someone mentioned on the original thread that complex numbers aren’t ordered, a fact that makes the whole notion of adding them or subtracting them to see who has “more” runs (or how many more runs someone has) rather doubtful.

Of course, one can compare the modulus of one complex number to that of another. Maybe in polar form, some sort of game can be devised to make the addition somewhat more sensible, but off-hand it seems like that would be beyond the capabilities of the authors of high-stakes tests (and WELL beyond their goals and those of their masters. That, ultimately, is the point here, I think: this problem is CLASSIC pseudo-context because it’s so glaringly obviously slapped on because someone somewhere said, “Let ’em have ‘real world’ problems whenever possible.”

on 24 Jan 2011 at 8:51 pm3 Matthew BardoeWhat it also reminds us is how far we have taken the concept of complex numbers from ‘real world’ applications. Most students, and probably most teachers have no idea of any real context to put with this topic.

Thus, if someone is asked to create a complex number problems with context they create the kind of hash we see here.

on 25 Jan 2011 at 4:06 pm4 louiseOh you can order complex numbers. They just don’t obey (sort of like students).