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Topic: [HM] Teaching Discrete Mathematics via Historical Sources: An Invitation
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David Pengelley

Posts: 61
Registered: 12/3/04
[HM] Teaching Discrete Mathematics via Historical Sources: An Invitation
Posted: Sep 3, 2006 1:52 AM
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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 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
( or Jerry Lodder (

David Pengelley

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