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Mathematics, Education and History: Towards a Harmonious Partnership

Kathleen M. Clark, Tinne Hoff Kjeldsen, Sebastian Schorcht and Constantinos Tzanakis, eds
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
ICME-13 Monographs
[Reviewed by
Frank Swetz
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“Another collection of conference papers!” My enthusiasm for reading the book waned, but the first part of the title drew me on. Mathematics, Education and History is a triad of concepts that I have grappled with for many years, attempting to incorporate the combination into classroom teaching strategies and my teacher training programs. This anthology contains seventeen edited papers that were presented at ICME-13 during the session “The Role of Mathematics in Mathematics Education.”

The collection is prefaced by an excellent introduction, “Integrating History and Epistemology of Mathematics in Mathematics Education.” In fact, I would recommend any novice considering using the history of mathematics in their teaching to read this piece. It thoughtfully asks the relevant questions necessary for such an endeavor, outlines the history of efforts made in working towards a “fruitful and harmonious interplay among History, Education and Mathematics” and then offers this most recent contribution of experiences and suggestions.

The papers are divided into five categories, briefly summarized as: Theoretical and/or Conceptual Frameworks; Courses and/or Didactical Material; Empirical Investigations, Using Original Historical Sources, and Interdisciplinary Teaching. The considerations are international in scope and based mainly on classroom experience and student interactions. Several presentations actually contain transcripts of student comments. There is a rich variety of ideas and shared experiences, making this book a valuable resource on using the history of mathematics in teaching.

One criterion I employ in judging the worth of a book or scholarly paper is that I must learn something new for my efforts. I certainly did in this reading. The engineer Eduard Lill’s (1830–1900) geometric method of finding the roots of polynomial equations was interesting, but I doubt it would appeal to students familiar with graphing calculators. Similarly, the British astronomer and talented scientist Edmund Halley’s (1665–1742) involvement with life annuities was unknown to me prior to my examination of this text.

The classroom teaching strategies proposed are creative and adaptable, from using a work of art as a reference, or performing a dramatic skit. The lesson that I most liked involved the pantograph, its use and history. Each presentation is followed by a useful bibliography. The only negative aspect I identified was the brevity of the book’s index, which could have been more comprehensive in its scope.

This is a good, useful and readable book. The second part of the title is “Towards a Harmonious Partnership. This book transports the reader in that direction.

Frank Swetz, Professor of Mathematics and Education, Emeritus, The Pennsylvania State University, is the author of several books on the history of mathematics. His research interests focus on societal impact on the development, and the teaching and learning, of mathematics.

See the Table of Contents on the publisher's web page.