Math History on the Internet

[Image from the MacTutor Archive.]

The story of mathematics is the story of interesting people. What a shame it is that our children see only the dry remains of these people’s passion. By learning math history, our students will see how men and women wrestled with concepts, made mistakes, argued with each other, and gradually developed the knowledge we today take for granted.

In a previous article, I recommended books that you may find at your local library or be able to order through inter-library loan. Now, let me introduce you to the wealth of math history resources on the Internet.

Hooray for (Math) History

Photo by Benimoto.

John Napier foiled a thief with the aid of logic and a black rooster. For this and other acts of creative problem solving, his servants and neighbors suspected him of witchcraft.

What does this have to do with mathematics?

Math was Napier’s favorite hobby. He invented logarithms to help people handle large numbers easily, and he even created a calculator out of a chessboard. [See how it works: addition, subtraction, multiplication.]

Math Game: What Number Am I?

Photo by jaycoxfilm.

Math concepts: mental calculations, math vocabulary, and anything else you want to include
Number of players: any number, but I think it works best with two players who alternate asking questions
Equipment: imagination and, if necessary, scratch paper

Many years ago, I read a magazine article by mathematical music critic Edward Rothstein, wherein he described a game he invented for his daughter:

• “What number am I? If you add me to myself, you get four.”

Rather than explaining the rules of the game, let me tell you a story…

Does Life Have You Swamped?

Photo by Niner.

My yard, my life! This was our front yard and driveway last weekend, as we rushed through our last-minute preparations for the County Fair. Niner, too old for 4-H, was determined to get her photos entered in the open competition before Saturday afternoon’s deadline. She rolled up her pants legs and waded through the drink, using her feet to feel out the edges of the driveway and marking the path with red-flagged fence posts so the Jeep could make it through.

Just in case you were wondering why there were no new posts this week.

Dear Alexandria Jones,

We continue to excavate the ancient building complex, which I believe may have been Pythagoras’s school. Yesterday, one of our digging crews uncovered a mosaic tile floor in the courtyard. The pattern of the tiles alternates between two square designs. (See enclosed sketches.)

During your family’s recent visit, you expressed an interest in the mathematical ideas of Pythagoras. Could you or your father offer us any insight into what these tile designs may represent?

I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,
Sofia Theano, Ph.D.
Crotone, Italy