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Teaching Discrete Mathematics via Historical Sources: An Invitation
Posted:
Sep 7, 2006 2:22 AM


Dear colleague,
Are you or a colleague interested in participating in a program using primary historical sources to teach topics related to discrete mathematics?
A team of mathematicians and computer scientists at New Mexico State University and Colorado State University has developed an innovative pedagogical technique for teaching material in discrete mathematics, combinatorics, logic, and algorithm design, with National Science Foundation support for a pilot project. Topics are introduced and studied via primary historical sources, allowing students to participate in the sense of discovery, and to appreciate and gain motivation from the context in which concepts were developed. For example, we have authored classroom modules in which students learn mathematical induction from Pascal's "Treatise on the Arithmetical Triangle," written in the 1660's. Another module develops the short recursion relation for the Catalan numbers from a seminal paper of G. Lam\'e in 1838.
We have authored 18 modules so far; all these modules and more information can be found at www.math.nmsu.edu/hist_projects/. The modules will appear in a chapter of a forthcoming MAA resource book for teaching discrete mathematics. We found that 65% of the students who completed a course with these historical projects performed equally well or better than the mean GPA in subsequent mathematics and computer science courses.
We are seeking to expand our pilot program with further support from the National Science Foundation to create a full book with a comprehensive collection of classroom projects based on historical sources. We would like to invite any instructors of mathematics or computer science courses to agree to site test future projects in related courses in discrete mathematics, combinatorics, logic, or algorithm design, or perhaps even to design your own projects. If you would like to participate in this activity, possibly with NSF support, please contact either David Pengelley (davidp@nmsu.edu) or Jerry Lodder (jlodder@nmsu.edu).
David Pengelley



