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The Unique Effects of Including History in College Algebra - Using History Develops Mathematical Communication

Author(s): 
D. Goodwin (Black Hills State University) and G. W. Hagerty (Black Hills State University) and S. Smith (Black Hills State University)

Developing mathematical communication was not a primary reason for adding history to the College Algebra course. However, the inclusion of the historical modules appears to have been beneficial to communication. When a student is struggling with communication, instead of just trying to fit the words by rote into the mathematical procedures being taught, incorporation of the historical development of mathematical terms helps students make sense of mathematical terminology. This provides a much stronger basis for mathematical terms to be understood and used in communication.

Napier coined the word logarithm from the Greek words logos (ratio) and arithmos (number) to describe the math that he was working on (Eves, 1992). Based on his methods, this wordsmithing made perfect sense. However, today, the process used in logarithms has greatly changed as easier methods have been found. Through history, the cognitive structures associated with mathematical terms have been strengthened, allowing students to more easily communicate effectively. It also appears that this process of including the historical development of terms has allowed the student to relax and made it easier to incorporate new terms and concepts into their intellectual structures. While the majority of the lessons did not focus specifically on terminology, informally it was found that including the history lessons increased the usage of correct mathematical terminology during classroom discussions.

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