When Do We Need to Know Roman Numerals?
Date: 08/26/2003 at 11:40:07 From: Trudy Burner Subject: Practicality of Roman Numerals Dr. Math: I am a new teacher in Maryland, USA. I have a student who does not see how learning Roman numerals will benefit her, other than reading clocks and the Super Bowl. What advice can you give her to make this learning experience more relevant to her life and needs? When do we need to know Roman numerals?
Date: 08/26/2003 at 12:20:26 From: Doctor Peterson Subject: Re: Practicality of Roman Numerals Hi, Trudy. That's a valid question. Let's see what we can do for her. First, there are other places where Roman numerals are used; we have a section on that in our FAQ: Roman numerals http://mathforum.org/dr.math/faq/faq.roman.html And see: Roman Numerals - History and Use http://www.wilkiecollins.demon.co.uk/roman/intro.htm You'll find that they are more important in our life than you might think. (A good question is, why have they remained so common, and how long will it be before we stop holding on to this antiquated system?) Second, we can consider the purpose of learning ANYTHING. Do we learn only what we expect to use directly, or does most of what we learn come into our lives in indirect ways? For a closely related example, why do we learn ancient history? We aren't going to meet any Roman soldiers and need to know their strategies for conquering Gaul; but we may find it useful to be aware of what has gone wrong in ancient governments and what kinds of solutions were found. And knowing that there have been different ways to live can broaden your appreciation for such systems today. The application to modern life is indirect. Similarly, it is useful to be aware of different ways to write numbers, in order to better understand the advantages of our modern system. I can imagine some students thinking that place value is too complicated, and inventing a "new" system in which there is a different symbol for each place. If they don't realize that they are reinventing a system that was used long ago and found wanting, they could waste a lot of time. But more typically, people might live their lives assuming that the way we do arithmetic is the only way there is, something that was decreed by some authority long ago. Knowing that new discoveries have been made, and new methods invented, can at the least help you see that the "hard" techniques kids are taught today are really far easier than the equivalent methods in the past, in large part because better notations were invented. Consider that at one time very few people learned how to do arithmetic, because it was far beyond normal minds! To know how much easier we have it changes your perspective on math. If you have any further questions, feel free to write back. - Doctor Peterson, The Math Forum http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
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