Textbooks have included the occasional awful problem ever since Pebbles Flintstone and Bamm-Bamm Rubble chiseled their homework on slate tablets while attending Bedrock Elementary. But even with the understanding that there have been children have been doing awful homework problems since the dawn of time (and long before the advent of the Common Core), this one is a doozy.

There’s no sense having a debate about standards for elementary mathematics if textbook publishers can’t construct sentences that can be understood by students (or their parents).

This one makes my blood boil. According to its advocates, the whole point of the Common Core standards was to increase the rigor in secondary mathematics. However, this one is SIMPLY WRONG.

The textbook does correctly note that the proper definition of a function is a set of ordered pairs. The “correct” answer, according to the textbook, is answer G — the plotted points do not match the ordered pairs.

However, answer H is also wrong. The textbook would have students believe that order is important when listing the elements of a set. However, order is not important — the domain of is the same as latex \{3, -3, -1, 1\}$. This is standard mathematical notation — in an ordered pair (or ordered tuple), the order is important. For a set, the order is not important.

Specifying that the domain is and the range is does not uniquely determine the function. In fact, there are 24 different functions that have this domain and range (where we distinguish between the range of a function and its codomain).

In other words, in trying to be clever about properly defining a function and showing different representations of a function, the textbook promotes a misconception about sets… which makes me wonder if the textbook’s attempt at trying to be ultra-careful about the definition of a function is really worth it.

I'm a Professor of Mathematics and a University Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of North Texas. For eight years, I was co-director of Teach North Texas, UNT's program for preparing secondary teachers of mathematics and science.
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3 thoughts on “Another poorly written word problem (Part 6)”

It amazes me that the horribly formal definition of a function as a set of ordered pairs, however restricted, ever got into the school curriculum. It sure doesn’t give a clue as to the origin of the concept. I’m sure Newton never thought of it this way!

It amazes me that the horribly formal definition of a function as a set of ordered pairs, however restricted, ever got into the school curriculum. It sure doesn’t give a clue as to the origin of the concept. I’m sure Newton never thought of it this way!

“Ignorance is bliss” until it is applied to math.