Assessing the effect of implementing mathematics history lessons with algebra I students

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By Thomas M. Vohs

Summer 2005

According to California mathematics standards, the use of history in mathematics classes has been de-emphasized. At the same time, however, research shows that student interest in mathematics is an indicator of student achievement. Internationally, the use of history to enhance mathematics instruction has gained in popularity.

The challenge to have all students successfully comprehend Algebra I has placed an increased value on raising student interest in this subject. A review of literature has been included to show that algebra has evolved through an interesting, interconnected history of people and ideas. Some researchers maintain that the stages of this history correlate with the way students learn. Other educators who have implemented history in the classroom found positive influences on student attitude.

The purpose of this research was to assess the effect that four lessons involving the history of mathematics would have on motivating Algebra I students. Data from this project could be used to support math instruction that integrates math history into the standard curriculum. The tested lessons provide direction or ideas for how to add math history to the curriculum.

The four lessons, which included personal stories and ideas about four famous mathematicians were tested in three high school Algebra I classrooms during the 2004-2005 school year. The pre/post student surveys were given to measure any change in attitudes and to give specific feedback on student feelings about using history in Algebra I. Statistical analyses indicate that the students who were exposed to the history had a more positive opinion of mathematics than those who were not given the history lessons.

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