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Square wheels in an Italian maths exam

There have been various stories in the Italian press and discussion on a Physics teaching mailing list I’m accidentally on about a question in the maths exam for science high schools in Italy last week.

The paper appears to be online.

(Ed. – Here’s a copy of the first part of this four-part question, reproduced for the purposes of criticism and comment)

The question asks students to confirm that a given formula is the shape of the surface needed for a comfortable ride on a bike with square wheels. (Asking what the formula was with no hints would clearly have been harder.) It then asks what shape of polygon would work on another given surface.

What do people think? Would this be a surprising question at A-level in the UK or in the final year of high school in the US or elsewhere? Of course, I don’t know how similar this question might be to anything in the syllabus in licei scientifici.

The following links give a flavour of the reaction to the question:

6 hours, 1 question out of 2 in section 1, 5 out of 10 in section 2. My own initial reaction is that if I had to do this exam right now I’d do question 2 in section 1 but I’ve not actually attempted question 1 yet.

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    I help the University of Pisa commit fraud on an annual basis. I run a games and puzzles table at their Open Week every year even though I don't work for the UoP and the games and puzzles I demonstrate do not resemble anything that students would be likely to do if they signed up.

3 Responses to “Square wheels in an Italian maths exam”

  1. Avatar Barbara

    I would kindly request that in the future, no link is put to anything written by Odifreddi. He has used his platform (he’s basically the only mathematician Italian recognize) to put down women scientist in the best Larry Summers’ style, and insisted he was right even when set straight by the Equal Opportunities Committee of the Italian Mathematical Union; to add insult to injury, his answer was only addressed to the president of UMI, a man, and not to the other, female members of the committee. If you are committed to diversity, his is a voice which should be silenced, since it has already taken way too much public interest away from actual, working mathematicians.


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