Robert Recorde is not a name that will be known to most people particularly outside the country of Wales. His career and achievements were however remarkable and he has left an extremely important legacy to mathematics.
He was born in Tenby, Wales in 1510 and throughout his life became a doctor, astrologer and even became the controller of the Royal Mint at one point. However it is his legacy to Maths which he should be best remembered for by introducing the “=” and “+” signs to the language in the mid 16th Century, which of course are still used to this day.
Recorde was the founder of the English School of Mathematics and was one of the very first people who tried to improve the accessibility of mathematics. One major step was to produce mathematical texts actually written in English at a time when the majority of important texts were all written in Greek and Latin.
To honour his many achievements the London Mathematical Society sponsored the events in his hometown of Tenby based in the local museum. The event which was open until the end of October, also contained a series of lectures by various experts and a one man show about mathematical history designed to help children learn about maths and it’s history.
His introduction of the mathematical notation everyone uses today will of course always be his most lasting legacy, it helped move Britain from a medieval approach to maths to the modern day use of decimal notation and of course the concept of zero.
For the slightly more mathematically minded, Recorde also brought widespread use of algebra and also devised the method of extracting the square root of numbers. Throughout the exhibition there were also a variety of computer based presentations and slides similar to produced by this online slideshow video maker.
It is wonderful that organisations such as the LMS are able to sponsor and make these events possible without them many people would probably completely unaware of the important contribution made by the Welshman Robert Record.
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There is often a presumption that some people can ‘do maths’ and others simply can’t. The idea that many people are destined to fail in maths whatever their intentions, is rather an outdated belief but amazingly one that is often prevalent in mainstream schools.
There is of course no doubt that some pupils are able to learn maths much more easily than others, but many academics are beginning to believe that this is more to do with how they are taught than any intrinsic mathematical ability. Could it be that our maths teaching methods are actually to blame in why some people feel left out of mathematical knowledge?
One academic from Stanford believes that there is a big problem in how pupils in most of the world are taught maths. One of the issue that Jo Boaler highlights is that many children simply believe that mathematics is a subject where the answers are either right or wrong. This is perhaps because the school classroom environment focuses on coming up with ‘right’ answers quickly rather than truly understanding the subject.
She suggests in her book Mathematical Mindsets that there should be much less focus on testing in maths, less worrying about failure and a much wider use of visual representation and manipulatives. These manipulatives are items which can be used to explain concepts that can be handled like blocks, cubes and shapes, best used in group work.
There is definitely an idea that in maths, there is only right or wrong, success and failure as opposed to other subjects which have a much more widespread definitions. There is also a significant perception that maths success doesn’t need hard work – if you are a mathematically minded individually everything will come very easily.
The concept works towards a growth mindset which encourages children to believe that they are all capable of achieving anything and it is not a talent that you are simply born with. Many educators are now buying into this vision and changing the way they teach maths including using video presentations using products like Content Samurai.
The Professor’s ideas are often controversial, even recently she complained that schools should ban the learn by rote of times tables. The focus she says was wrong and that the goal of maths education should be greater than simply learning these by memory. These views were not popular and many teachers pointed out that actually times tables were extremely important and should be viewed at the very least an educational entitlement.
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