Kate’s Urban Legend

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.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. I’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.”

  2. What 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.