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Topic: The beauty and utility of maths
The beauty and utility of maths
To some mathematicians, mathematics is a beautiful subject which should be taught in a way which allows people to extend their minds and explore the universe. However, mathematics, and especially arithmetic, is also a necessity of modern life, and can be a struggle for many of us. Some teachers have advocated avoiding mental effort where possible to get the result quickly and painlessly. Mathematical instruments, devices and models have been invented with both aims in mind. This topic contrasts the two approaches – advocating mathematics and avoiding mathematics – from the eighteenth century until the present day, recognising that the tension goes back much further in the history of mathematical education.
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Topic section: Improving minds; obeying rules
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Even today we argue about the purpose of learning maths. Is maths an elitist intellectual pursuit to fill the vacant hours or simply a matter of learning a few basic rules from a book? In the eighteenth century, businesses and the state alike, needed people who could do basic calculations.  > more

Topic section: Beautiful mind-games; mind-numbing calculations
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Should we examine models to understand maths better or just use calculators to get the job done? In the nineteenth century, the introduction of new methods of teaching maths foreshadowed today’s modern maths. The development of the calculating machine removed the need to do huge sums using pen and paper.  > more

Topic section: Engaging brains; pressing buttons
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The debate over the use of calculators in schools still rages today. Should we simply learn how to use the tools or try to understand how the problem was solved? The abacus can serve both these functions.  > more
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