Special issue of Mathematics in School

The May 2010 issue of Mathematics in School was devoted to history of mathematics, edited by Leo Rogers. It contained a rich collection of articles, specifically chosen to help teachers widen “students’ horizons and linking mathematics with other aspects of their life”. The list of authors includes Elisabeth Boag, Jackie Fairchild, David Kaye, Eileen Magnello, Sue Pope, Chris Pritchard, Jenny Ramsden, Peter Ransom, Leo Rogers, Madeleine Shiers and Chris Weeks, many of whom are frequent contributors to the HPM conferences as well.

In a short review, I can only mention a few of the articles. In “Mediaeval Mathematics in the Modern Classroom”, Leo Rogers and Jackie Fairchild gives a brief introduction to connections between equations and geometry may motivate teachers to explore these connections further. Eileen Magnello’s article on Florence Nightingale hopefully makes teachers more aware of her mathematical accomplishments. Peter Ransom and Madeleine Sheir’s article called “Yo ho ho-ratio: Some mathematics of Trafalgar. Or: How Lord Nelson inspired curriculum development in mathematics” gives a rich example of how history of mathematics can be the basis of cross-curricular lessons – a two-week module, in fact. Chris Weeks’ article “Can a voting system ever be fair?” shows the importance of mathematics to understand society, while Jenny Ramsden’s article on measuring shows, among other things, mathematics’ contributions to navigation.

There is always the problem of how careful we should be when recommending literature to teachers. How many or big inaccuracies do we accept before we stop listing a certain work? Considering the controversy surrounding Georges Ifrah’s The Universal History of Numbers From Prehistory to the Invention of the Computer (see Joseph Dauben’s review in the AMS), it is a bit surprising to see it included in a list of recommended books for teachers. But there are many other resources mentioned, both books and websites, that will be helpful to teachers trying the navigate the area of history of mathematics.
This special issue is likely to make more teachers interested in the history of mathematics and how the history can enhance their teaching. Sadly, it does not seem to be easily available outside Britain. A simple way of obtaining it for teachers abroad would make its effect even better.

Bjørn Smestad, Norway

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