Prior to studying Stevin’s decimal fractions, I assigned the article, “Who? How? What? A Strategy for Using History to Teach Mathematics” (Wilson & Chauvot, 2000). The authors argue that one way to successfully include history in teaching mathematics – without feeling the need to become an expert historian in order to do so – is to use a strategy in which the following questions are addressed:
How is mathematics done? Many tools have been used not just by mathematicians, but also by those who use and contribute to the development of mathematics: different numeration systems, mathematical and scientific instruments, calculating machines and computers. Consequently, “each method of doing mathematics made a difference in how mathematics was viewed” (Wilson & Chauvot, p. 644).
What is mathematics? Finally, history enables us to “view mathematics as not only a combination of … mathematical topics…but also a human endeavor that has spanned centuries and cultures” (Wilson & Chauvot, p. 644). Indeed, “who does the mathematics and how it is done influence what is considered to be mathematics” (Wilson & Chauvot, p. 644, emphasis in original).
Quick Reflection I
The Wilson and Chauvot (2000) article became the guide for introducing my PSMTs to thinking deeply about a mathematical topic, using a historical perspective to ground not only their own mathematical knowledge but possibly that of their future students as well.