Because, face it, some of them are dumb

I am putting together a quick and it-should-be easy assignment on the Pythagorean Theorem right now, to make up for an assignment on the Pythagorean Theorem from late last week that did not turn out to be easy. It contains this question:

There is an absolutely 100% certainty that someone will come up to me and say something along the lines of “Why are there four numbers here?” And then I will say “Can you make a triangle with four sides?” And they will say “No.” And then I will say “Well, then, can those sides make a right triangle?” And they will not know the answer, and they will stare at me, with big, cow-like eyes.

I am tired and perhaps a bit crabby.

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Luther M. Siler

Teacher, writer of words, and local curmudgeon. Enthusiastically profane. Occasionally hostile.

2 thoughts on “Because, face it, some of them are dumb

  1. Not trying to bust your chops, Luther. I don’t teach math. But I did teach English, and I can interpret the original question in two ways. It CAN be interpreted as “Can a shape with sides that are 8, 6, 5, and 3 units long be a right triangle?”


    It could also be interpreted as “Can a shape with 8 sides be a right triangle? How about a shape with 6 sides? With 5 sides? With 3 sides?” Which is how I interpreted it on first read.

    I took a coding class in BASIC one year, where I got everyone a minimum of 10 extra points on every test. His instructions and questions were usually too vague or ambiguous. I was frequently in his office trying to figure out what he was actually trying to ask. The problem was that I was an English major, and he was a coder. We used the same words, but they meant different things.

    I think the follow up question you asked could have been “Well, then, can A SHAPE WITH sides that long make a right triangle?”

    Again, not trying to make you into the bad guy, but sometimes we are too close to the problem.


    1. I think the question would need the word “or” in it to be interpreted the way you’re suggesting, but I’m not going to argue about it. 🙂 That said, and for whatever it’s worth, this is question 14 on an assignment that is nearly entirely the same question but with three (different) numbers, so misinterpreting the question is not going to be the problem, I think. The issue will be that they won’t make the connection between “has four sides” and “cannot, therefore, be a right triangle.”

      It is simultaneously a gimme question and kind of mean, tbh, because I can tell you exactly what kids are going to come over to me to ask about it.

      Liked by 1 person


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