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Topic: Re: where's the math? so? (was Re: 5th Grade Activity)
Replies: 2   Last Post: Apr 20, 1995 1:27 PM

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Edward S. Miller

Posts: 15
Registered: 12/6/04
Mathematics as a historical entity
Posted: Apr 20, 1995 1:27 PM
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On Thu, 20 Apr 1995, Ted Alper wrote:

> Why is it important to teach that mathematics is a growing body of
> knowledge? I mean, it's certainly true, and it is better to
> be aware of the wide world than not -- but how much attention should be
> paid to this in an 8th grade math class?


> The bulk of the mathematics students learn in K-12 dates from the 18th
> century or earlier. It is dressed up in 20th century notation, and
> takes some of its emphases from the late 19th/early 20th century --
> and is frequently applied to modern contexts -- but there is little
> "modern" mathematics in it. Perhaps a few topics in the BC calculus
> saw their first rigorous proofs in the 19th century -- not that the BC
> calculus students are given complete proofs.

I seed to have missed the point to these statements. I recall that the
physics, chemistry, biology, english grammer, spanish grammer,
literature, and even the history was largely a century or more old. I
also came away with the impression that all of these areas of human
endeavor were constantly evolving (pardon the biological pun) and that
human understanding of even small areas of study in them were also
changing. I did not get a similar impression of mathematics.

In hindsight, that was (is? I hate temporal mechanics) a problem. I
graduated from high school equating mathematician with actuary or some
similar object.

After lamenting the problem, I will give my first guess at a solution. I
try, and would suggest that others also try, to place mathematical ideas
that are being taught in their historical perspective. If you are
teaching classic geometry, talk about the Greeks; include Greek
philosophy and drama. I teach calculus, so I get to talk about the
parallel development of physics.

Maybe if we place math in its historical perspective, and talk about when
the stuff we're talking about didn't exist, then we can impart the idea
that math isn't like latin: mostly dead and easily forgotten.


Edward S. Miller

Division of Natural Sciences VOICE 208-799-2810
Lewis-Clark State College FAX 208-799-2064
500 8th Avenue
Lewiston ID 83501-2698 USA

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