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Primary Source Projects and Reading Apprenticeship in Mathematics History: Students’ Perspectives

Jennifer Clinkenbeard (California State University, Monterey Bay)


At the end of the semester, students in the math history course that included the PSPs and RA routines described above were asked to reflect on their experiences in writing. Students were asked, “In your opinion, what are some benefits and challenges of learning about math history via primary sources?” Selected responses are given below with emphasis added.

I believe a challenge of learning math history via primary’s sources is how difficult it can sometimes be to translate and understand the wording of an older problem. As a benefit of using PSP’s would be gaining a better understanding and the origin of mathematical terms that one would use.

The biggest challenge was interpreting the language given in the primary source. Reading the source by itself you'd not know what some of the terms mean without outside explanation. The benefit would be learning the historical context in which the math concepts originated and puts the history in math history.

I really enjoyed reading the PSPs as it provided a lot of historical context and insight into some of the differences in the problem solving process and mathematical writing style employed in the past. Translating the writing into modern terms was a bit challenging at times, but I don't think this detracted from the process.

It’s challenging to get through the information since it’s written in a way that makes it difficult to process and understand but working with a group and along with the rest of the class makes it possible to complete.

These responses reflect the personal, cognitive, social, and knowledge-building dimensions that form the RA framework. However, the conclusions that can be drawn from these responses are limited. Students did not reflect explicitly on their experiences with making sense of a PSP using RA routines, nor on their use of RA routines otherwise in the course. Collecting these data would greatly strengthen the claim that RA routines are an effective strategy for facilitating PSPs in the classroom.

A set of quantitative survey items around these four dimensions was developed for the course involved in this study. Figure 5 describes specific skills associated with each of these four dimensions; the questionnaire items were developed using this language to specifically ask students about their experiences in using RA routines to facilitate learning with PSPs. While there were not a sufficient number of student responses to report aggregate findings, the survey is provided in Appendix I. Readers are encouraged to adapt the questionnaire for their own needs.


Jennifer Clinkenbeard (California State University, Monterey Bay), " Primary Source Projects and Reading Apprenticeship in Mathematics History: Students’ Perspectives," Convergence (November 2023)