Monday, April 20, 2009

Elementary Mathematics Learning: Education and Teaching

mathematics teaching applied teacher curriculum

THE history of maths has become a subject of concern. Much literature on the subject has evolved in the 20 century. An analysis of this evolution is said to have revealed some distinguishable attitudes in the study of the subject. Two principal groups have emerged.

A group of scholars called ‘cultural historians’ depicted a unified image of maths giving descriptive historical accounts of the development of concepts over the centuries, without making any analytical distinction between various branches of maths. While the other group, called ‘mathematical historians’, approached the discipline from the point of modern mathematical knowledge.

Responding to the need, an international seminar entitled, ‘Showcase seminar on history of mathematics’ was organised by Ramjas College of Delhi University (DU), to take a glimpse into such divergent schools, evolution of history and heritage of maths and to examine their implications in the development of mathematical cultures. About 50 delegates from the US, UK, China, Canada, Germany, Greece, France, Israel, Iran and Netherlands participated.

The deliberations were on topics such as chronology of ancient astronomers and mathematicians; mechanical character of Decarte’s geometry; history of mathematical sciences in India; Indian numerical methods and their transmission to other cultures; ‘Madhava’ - the mediaeval astronomer and mathematician; maths history in education; Egyptian techniques - a new analysis, among other discussions.

Why was this need felt for talking about the history of maths? According to V Lakshmikantham of the Florida Institute of Technology, “Almost 60 per cent of the students require encouragement in maths. As kids are curious, they always put up questions like ‘how?’ and ‘why?’ But parents and teachers kill this curiosity. The idea here is to sensitise teachers to the probable difficulties that the students encounter and help in listening to students’ arguments. This way, the students will develop interest in the subject.”

Realising the importance of teaching the history of maths, the Indian Society for History of Mathematics was set up in 1978. Former dean, Faculty of Mathematics, DU, BS Yadav said: “The aim of the society is to promote, discussions, research, teaching and publication in the history of mathematics.’’

On the relevance of the history of mathematics education, Yadav said: “The studies have not yet begun in India.One of the society’s main aim is to start courses in various institutions and universities of India. The students should know ancient India’s contribution to maths.’’

Data found in the Internet points out to the history of mathematics in India including an image of the ‘Pancha-Siddhantika’ or five principals, which documents the method of gradual calculation. The historical concepts of zero and concepts of algebraic computation are said to have been originated from our country. ‘Rekha-Ganita’ or line computation was used for architectural purposes.

According to Kim Leslie Plofker of University of Utrecht, Netherlands, 19thcentury historians popularised the notions that maths in India lost prominence after the work of Bhaskaraa-II, in the 12th century. “Recent research has uncovered many sources that contradict this hypothesis, taking as its source important developments from latter centuries, in places such as Delhi, Jaipur and Kerala.’’

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