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Questions from Second Graders


Date: Tue, 22 Nov 1994 13:33:01 -0600 (CST)
From: Marianne Perez
Subject: Math Questions from Second Graders

Dear Dr. Math,
We are a second grade class at Williams Elementary in Austin, Texas and we 
have several questions to ask you.

1.  Where did the plus sign come from? 

2.  Who invented numbers?  How did they come about?

3.  Where did the subtraction sign come from? 

4.  Why does math have patterns?

5.  Who was the first person (people) to use math?

6.  Where do the Greater Than and Less Than signs come from?

Sincerely,
Heather, Tony, Timothy, James, Patty, Abbey, Andrea, Brandt, Shane, Neil, 
Elise, Jennifer, Jimmy, Lora, Stephanie, Ryan, Nicole, Terrica, Julio

Mrs. Perez's Second Grade Class


Date: Wed, 30 Nov 1994 11:30:59 -0500 (EST)
From: Dr. Sydney
Subject: Re: Math Questions from Second Graders, Part 1

Dear Heather, Tony, Timothy, James, Patty, Abbey, Andrea, Brandt, Shane,
Neil, Elise, Jennifer, Jimmy, Lora, Stephanie, Ryan, Nicole, Terrica, Julio,

        Hello there!  Thanks for writing Dr. Math -- you asked some good
questions.  I'm going to answer as many as I can right now before I go to
class.  Another math doctor or I will answer the rest of the questions later
on, okay?

        1.  Where did the plus sign come from?  The plus sign, +, came into
use in Germany around 1480.  It turns out that the + sign and the word
"and" were often interchanged in Latin manuscripts on math.

        2.  Who invented numbers?  How did they come about?  This is an
interesting question!  No one person really invented numbers -- it was an
idea that came about naturally.  People needed to be able to count things
around them.  Can you imagine living in a world in which there was no way to
express quantity?  There might be a better answer to this question--if so
one of the other math doctors will write you.

        Okay, well, I have to go to class now, but one of the other math
doctors or I will answer the rest of your questions later.  Thanks for
writing.

--Sydney, AR


Date: Wed, 30 Nov 1994 12:33:39 +0000
From: Dr. Math
Organization: Swarthmore College Math Doctors
Subject: Re: Math Questions from Second Graders

Hey, 
   Heather, Tony, Timothy, James, Patty, Abbey, Andrea, Brandt, Shane,
Neil, Elise, Jennifer, Jimmy, Lora, Stephanie, Ryan, Nicole, Terrica, 
Julio

>3.  Where did the subtraction sign come from? 

Well the history of the subtraction or minus sign is closely related to
the history of the plus sign. Like the plus sign it was not used regularly
until the 1480's in Germany.  Before that many different symbols were used
but since then is has just been - for everybody.
 
>4.  Why does math have patterns?
> 
      One of my fellow math doctors Ken can often be seen walking around
quoting his favorite definition for Math which is "Math is the Study of
Patterns".  So You can see that he agrees that there are a lot of patterns
in math.  In fact if there weren't patterns like that then it wouldn't be
math. Hope that helps.

> 5.  Who was the first person (people) to use math?

      Well just like Sydney's number answer, I must say that I don't
think there ever really was a first person to use math.  The very oldest
documents that have been discovered from any ancient civilization involve
using math.  There were however many different groups who helped to
develop certain ideas in math but everybody has always been using math.

> 6.  Where do the Greater Than and Less Than signs come from?

   I looked it up but I couldn't really find a clear source.  Certainly by
the 1800's  they had become standard but I couldn't find a real source for
their development and acceptance as standard.

Ethan, Doctor On Call
    
Associated Topics:
Elementary Math History/Biography

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