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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Old texts inspire new thinking about math teaching

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University professor is turning to early math scholars in research focused on using primary math sources."

Central Washington University math professor Dominic Klyve is pioneering a novel new way to teach math — by relying on some of the oldest mathematical texts ever written. 

Central Washington University math professor Dominic Klyve (photo courtesy Central Washington University)

Klyve has been awarded a $1.5 million National Science Foundation grant, which will be shared among six other universities and will be used to test whether teaching math using primary sources will make it easier for college students to grasp math concepts.

Klyve believes that studying the struggles of early math scholars, like Euclid and Archimedes, can help give college students insights that are missing in most college textbooks.

“Over generations, as the original author’s ideas are copied and recopied, transcribed and interpreted, we end up with a modern textbook that is stripped away of all context,” he said.
Modern textbooks are filled with the equations used to solve math problems, but rarely do they explain how and why the equations were developed, Klyve said.

As an example, Klyve says that an influential Swiss mathematician, Leonhard Euler, wrote a paper on prime numbers and factoring that is easy for even a first-year math student to understand, yet clearly shows Euler’s struggle to come up with a theory to explain the concepts he was exploring. “There are some things he writes that make little sense, there are some things that are brilliant,” Klyve said. “By the time you finish reading it, you understand the basic concepts. But you can also get a sense of what it is to do mathematical discovery.”

Source: eCampus News