One of my little obsessions is teaching complex numbers, but it’s really hard to find genuine instances of complex number mistakes. You start looking around at the most pernicious complex number mistakes, and they’re a lot like this one here: essentially algebraic. These mistakes, to my mind, are indistinguishable from the sorts of mistakes you’d expect from
That observation is probably helpful in itself, though. The mistakes that we see from kids working with complex numbers are essentially algebraic mistakes. That means that kids aren’t really seeing much of a difference between the algebra that they’re usually asked to do and their work with complex numbers. Complex number arithmetic is just algebra with a twist.