Papers for the 2001 IHPST Conference

The papers are in PDF format. They were created using the TeX typesetting system, and are therefore in the wrong format for the conference CDROM, which requires Microsoft Word.


A Radical Experiment in Mathematics Teaching

Abstract. The usual ways of teaching mathematics merely `chloroform the child's reasoning faculties.' So, over seventy years ago, Louis P. Benezet, an imaginative school superintendent, abolished all formal arithmetic teaching until grade 6. Instead, students spent years reading, writing, and speaking, all the while learning mathematics in context. Today mathematics teaching is also a powerful anaesthetic: Students solve problems by rote, a skill that improves with every year in school, and have no time to develop understanding. Benezet's approach, a lost episode in the history of education, eliminates rote learning and has great possibilities for incorporating historical materials.



Learning Proof and Questioning Lies

Abstract. I developed a course in `Guessing and proving'. One goal was to learn how to critique everyday arguments: to transfer skills from the mathematics class to the social world. Students said that thanks to the class they no longer accept what they read in the newspaper. I then wondered why mathematical demonstration applies so well to the social world. The reason, no pun intended, lies in the origin of demonstrative argument: It arose partly from the prevalence of rhetoric in Athenian democratic culture. If, after reading this paper, you also find it painful to read the newspaper, don't sue me.


Physics Students Learn Nothing, So Try History of Science

Abstract. Standard methods of teaching physics are useless. I want to give you evidence or, if you like, ammunition. When people say that there is no time to incorporate history of science into the curriculum, you can point out that standard methods do not teach physics, so radicalism cannot hurt. Students might even find physics fascinating. My examples come from interviewing students in the Cambridge University physics course. Even though they are among the most talented in the United Kingdom, they have great difficulty with fundamental mathematical and physical concepts. They can solve exam problems yet cannot reason qualitatively -- they cannot think like physicists.
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Last modified: 3 November 2001