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Sunday, February 21, 2010

On Shoulders of Giants: Historical Math Cubes

One of my favorite topics in math is actually HISTORY.

All too often we treat MATHEMATICS like some monolithic and pure subject, devoid of the quirks of human nature.

But as Spock (Star Trek) so clearly stated, "We are essentially irrational beings." And mathematics is a part of it all.

Each year I have my 7th graders do a mini research project I call "On the Shoulders of Giants" (a quote attributed to Isaac Newton). They are asked to research an important historical figure in mathematics and present this information on a 5 inch cube. I do not tell them how to construct this cube so that they have to muddle through the measurements and design. When all the cubes are completed we stack them up in class. It is a fun way to present information.

This year I had my university students do this project. Here are some samples:

They brought their cubes to class and without following a real script, each present the info to the group. It was interesting to hear how much they had found out and been impressed by their historical figure. The feedback I received was that the project was quite a bit harder than they had anticipated. In particular, it was challenging to create a sturdy 5 inch cube and then condense the information to the 6 faces in meaningful ways. One student found herself trying to layout the required information in a logical manner on the faces, which gave her a new way to think about what she had learned and wanted to present.

Overall, a successful project.

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