7 reasons why kids right to have went apeshit over this GCSE maths question

Donald Clark, Donald Clark Plan B, Jun 07, 2015
Commentary by Stephen Downes

I mentioned this item last week. Now, Donald Clark lists seven reasons why the question is unfair. "It sets you up with a probability question, they bait you with probability, then switch to algebra," he says. "it lays a trap for students. The appearance of an equation in the question n2 – n – 90 = 0 suggests that this needs to be solved." Well, yeah. All of these are good points. Again, though, let me emphasize that the point of a question like this is to test whether you think like a mathematician. When you look at the world, what frame do you see it through? The entrepreneur will 'see' spreadsheets of sweets and profit margins. The chemist will 'see' chemical processes and reactions. The explorer will 'see' possibilities and discoveries. And the mathematician sill 'see' everything in equations (yes, even probabilities). The core question is: do we need to 'see' the world this way? Well, some of us (especially physicists) need to. But by no means all of us. And therein lies the problem with standardized tests.

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