21 June 2010

Bad word problems

An example of a bad word problem, from Frank Quinn's article The Nature of Contemporary Core Mathematics, who is at Virginia Tech:

Bubba has a still that produces 700 gallons of alcohol per
week. If the tax on alcohol is $1.50 per gallon, how much tax will Bubba pay in amonth? [Set up and analyze a model, then discuss applicability of the model.]

I have given an example with obvious cultural bias because I am not sure I could successfully avoid it. At any rate students in my area in rural Virginia would think this problem is hilarious. We have a long tradition of illegal distilleries and they would know that Bubba has no intention of ever paying any tax.


Sue VanHattum said...

Why bad?

You might enjoy this post, on making word problems work better for students, by using mythological settings.

Nick Johnson said...

The most obvious reason this is a bad problem is because the production is per week, but the tax is per month - and the number of weeks in a month varies from month to month. There are at least 5 plausible answers, by my figuring.

Jakob Lund said...

No, really... Does it say in the article that it is a bad problem? I've partly read the article and it's quite interesting. If I read the part where the example is taken from correctly, it says that you should give word problems that emphasize the model/reality distiction, and that the example problem does this, because everybody knows that Bubba would never really pay taxes.