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:
- Italian recreational mathematican Maurizio Codogno adds some historical context to the problem then posts about how the question as posed provides lots of help.
- La Repubblica gives a round-up of the tough questions in all this year’s exams.
- Il Corriere della Sera offers some takes on the question from experts and Twitter.
- Mathematician Piergiorgio Odifreddi gives a brief description of how a square-wheeled bicycle works, with lots of discussion in the comments section.
- The Rudi Mathematici post about the question on their blog. They also have an e-zine. Yes, they have an h on their main site but not on their blog. (They write the recreational maths column in the Italian edition of Scientific American.)
- Finally, a thread on it.scienza.matematica picks apart the question a bit more pedantically.
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.