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History of Mathematics: Why We Need to Look Backwards to Go Forward in Math Education

Author: Sunil Singh | Publish on October 4, 2019
Here at Buzzmath, we are starting our 16th school year supporting students and teachers with engaging math activities that are aligned to the principles of play in learning and exploring mathematics. However, much has changed over that time. Specifically, a complete reexamination of why, what, and how we teach mathematics has undergone a much- needed audit.

One of the themes to emerge has been the idea of equity. And, in order to ensure that we look through equity with the broadest and clearest lens, it is imperative, a moral one at that, to understand the history of mathematics and its thematic development.

That is why we are devoting the entire month of October to sharing articles that honor the history of mathematics, and what we here at Buzzmath are doing to promote it not only in our platform, but in our working culture of everyday conversations.

The history of mathematics is more than an encyclopedia of facts and discoveries. The history of mathematics is the story of the curiosity of humans to seek truth and beauty about our universe through its most powerful, yet somewhat mysterious language, mathematics.

The history of mathematics goes well, well beyond the nine mathematicians pictured above, who are all featured in our Missions, an integral part of our digital platform. But, they symbolize what is the soul of our own mission : to have the exploration of mathematics by students intersect with vibrantly with its own history.

That is why in our development of our early years platform we are committed to communicating the history of mathematics with color and curiosity! Currently, there is a broad interest in elementary math education, especially around the idea of play. However, children also love to hear stories. Frankly, WE all do! So it seems like a natural fit to give young children access to stories of courage, wonder, and awe. To help inspire them to keep developing the inner mathematician that is in all of them.

The mathematicians drawn so far by our illustrator Mathieu Beaulieu not only represent mathematics from its distant past, but also from its most recent trailblazers and explorers like Julia Robinson and Katherine Johnson.

History is about storytelling. And we need to tell these stories.

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.”

– Sue Monk Kidd

Going forward we need to remember who we are through the gift that is mathematics. But, more than just adding content knowledge to our teaching, it highlights in no uncertain terms that mathematics has been, and continues to be, a most human endeavor. Constructing good pedagogy for the future must include a framework that is robust in history, and to have clear ideas of the important contributions of mathematicians. Especially those who have been marginalized because of gender, race, or culture.

Next time: 1000 Years of Revolution: The Stories of Women in Mathematics

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