Maybe I should rename this blog to Saturday 'Morning' Post. After all, no one reads that either anymore!
As the school year comes to a close (and I'm assuming it's already over for some), here's an innocent-looking equation which might be worth discussing with your advanced algebra/precalculus students now or next year. I might have considered saving this for our next online math contest but it's complex nature makes it more suitable for discussion in the classroom than on a test. Have you seen exercises like this in your Algebra or Precalculus texts? Do students often delve beneath the surface of these? It's kind of like a black box. We often feel we simply cannot reveal too much of the mystery here or we will not finish required content. Well, you know my philosophy of 'less is more' and I don't even live in Westport, CT. (Ok, that's a post for another day!).
SOLVE (by at least two different methods):
2a-3/2 - a-1/2 - a1/2 = 0
- Is the term solve ambiguous here, i.e., should we always specify the domain to be over the reals or over the complex numbers or is that understood in the context of the problems? I'm guessing that most advanced algebra students learn that the domain of the variable or solve instructions may impact on the result, but, that is precisely one of the objectives of this problem.
- Should students immediately change all fractional exponents to radical form? OR use the gcf approach (which requires strong skill)?
- It's not hard to guess that 1 is a solution but is it the only solution? Can we make a case for -2 being the other solution? The graph doesn't reveal this and surely, -2 doesn't make sense or does it....
- Is there ambiguity in raising a negative real number to a fractional exponent (never mind raising i to the i)? Why? Isn't there a principal value for such an expression? How is it defined? This problem raises fundamental and sophisticated issues about numbers which can be taken as far as one chooses to go Just how complex can complex numbers get?
- What is the role of the graphing calculator here? Mathematica? Wolfram Alpha? In addition to verifying solutions or determining answers, can these tools also be useful in clarifying ideas or raising new questions?
- Students (and the rest of us) are now capable of quickly filling in the gaps in their knowledge base by visiting Wolfram's MathWorld or Wikipedia for more background. Should this impact on how we present material? Typically, in the pre-web days teachers would avoid opening up a can of worms like complex solutions here, but, with your more capable groups, the sky's the limit now IMO...