What Worked & What I Would Change With The History of Math Activity

As promised, here’s a recap of what worked and what I would change with the history of math card activity   The whole activity (including discussion) took about 30 minutes.  We could have spent more time discussing the events, but we had a shortened bell schedule that day.

What Worked

  • I was impressed by the conversations that students had with each other while trying to figure out the order of events.  They tried to analyze specific words as they fit the events into a historical context.
  • One of my history colleagues, who is an expert on gaming in the history classroom (Twitter:  @gamingthepast) suggested that I project the dates of some major world events to give students perspective while they worked.  That was helpful.  Here are the events I projected:

    Some important world events that you might want to consider as you sort:

    50,000 BCE — Neanderthal Man

    2,500 BCE — Construction on the Great Pyramid in Egypt

    750 BCE — Founding of Rome

    1215 CE — Magna Carta

    1492 CE — Columbus discovers America

    1776 CE — Declaration of Independence

    1914 CE — WWI begins

    1969 CE — Moon landing

    1977 CE — First Star Wars movie released

  • My students worked in groups of two, with a few groups of three as needed.  This was the perfect group size.
  • When groups finished sorting, I asked them to visit other groups to see what other groups did.  This worked REALLY well.  I enjoyed hearing friendly debates about card placements (“Can we use the word BOOK before the invention of the printing press?”) and discussions of potentially related world events.  Groups were allowed to change their order of events after this visit, and some students were convinced to make changes by their peers.
  • Students enjoyed checking the dates on the back of the card and joked about how the answer was in front of them the whole time.  A few groups put all the cards in the right order on the first try.
  • I asked students which events were most surprising to them.  The date of the first use of the symbol Pi in a book was a popular answer.
  • I asked students to take pictures of the cards, in order, and put the pictures into their notes.  (We use Microsoft OneNote at my school.)
  • I have some pictures of the Mandelbrot set in my classroom, and the card on fractals led us into a quick discussion of how operations on complex numbers are used to create these images.

What I Would Change

  • How, oh how, did I forget to include the first algebra book and the origin of the word algebra?  My deepest apologies to Islamic mathematician Al-Khwarizmi, who some call the Father of Algebra.  I’ll add this for next year.  I’ll also include a fact from a Chinese and/or Indian mathematician.  Adding three more cards might turn into too many to sort, so I may decide to cut out a few of the original cards.  I’ll repost the cards when I make the changes.
  • I asked students to take pictures of the cards AFTER we discussed the events.  However, some students had already put their cards away and had to re-sort them to take pictures.  I’ll mention the picture-taking step earlier next time.
  • Since we reflected during class, I did not assign a reflection activity as homework.  I still think this would be a useful assignment, so I’ll keep it on the “to do next year” list.

Hope you enjoy the cards, if you can use them!


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