A study on the use of history in middle school mathematics : the case of connected mathematics curriculum
Haile, Tesfayohannes Kiflemariam
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This dissertation explores the use of history of mathematics in middle school mathematics. A rationale for the importance of the incorporation of historical dimensions (HD) of mathematics is provided through a review of the literature. The literature covers pedagogical, philosophical, psychological, and social issues and provides arguments for the use of history. The central argument is that history can help reveal significant aspects regarding the origins and evolutions of ideas that provide contexts for understanding the mathematical ideas. History can be used as a means to reflect on significant aspects—errors, contractions, challenges, breakthroughs, and changes—of mathematical developments. Noting recent NCTM (2000) calls for school math to include so-called process standards, I contend that incorporating the history of mathematics can be considered as part of this standard. This study examines how HD is addressed in a contemporary mathematics curriculum. Specifically, the study examines the Connected Mathematics Project (CMP) as a case. This curriculum has some historical references which triggered further exploration on how seriously the historical aspects are incorporated. The analysis and discussion focus on four CMP units and interviews with three curriculum experts, eight teachers, and 11 middle school students. The analysis of textbooks and interviews with the experts explore the nature and purpose of historical references in the curriculum. The interviews with teachers and students focus on their perspectives on the importance of HD in learning mathematics. This study examines specifically historical incorporations of the concepts of fractions, negative numbers, the Pythagorean Theorem, and irrational numbers. The analysis reveals that CMP exhibits some level of historical awareness, but the incorporation of HD was not systematically or seriously considered in the development of the curriculum. The interviews suggest that the teachers did not seriously use the limited historical aspects available in the textbooks. The experts’ and teachers’ interviews suggest skepticism about the relevance of HD for middle school mathematics. The teachers’ accounts indicate that students are most interested in topics that are related to their experience and to future applications. The students’ accounts do not fully support the teachers’ assessment of students’ interest in history. I contend that incorporating HD can complement instruction in ways that relate to students’ experiences and to applications besides adding an inquiry dimension to instruction.