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About Mathematics

The history of mathematics is nearly as old as humanity itself. Since antiquity, mathematics has been fundamental to advances in science, engineering, and philosophy. It has evolved from simple counting, measurement and calculation, and the systematic study of the shapes and motions of physical objects, through the application of abstraction, imagination and logic, to the broad, complex and often abstract discipline we know today.

Mathematics as a formal area of teaching and learning was developed about 5,000 years ago by the Sumerians. They did this at the same time as they developed reading and writing. However, the roots of mathematics go back much more than 5,000 years.

The development of reading, writing, and formal mathematics 5,000 years ago allowed the codification of math knowledge, formal instruction in mathematics, and began a steady accumulation of mathematical knowledge.

Mathematics as a Discipline

A discipline (a organized, formal field of study) such as mathematics tends to be defined by the types of problems it addresses, the methods it uses to address these problems, and the results it has achieved. One way to organize this set of information is to divide it into the following three categories (of course, they overlap each other):

  1. Mathematics as a human endeavor. For example, consider the math of measurement of time such as years, seasons, months, weeks, days, and so on. Or, consider the measurement of distance, and the different systems of distance measurement that developed throughout the world. Or, think about math in art, dance, and music. There is a rich history of human development of mathematics and mathematical uses in our modern society.
  2. Mathematics as a discipline. You are familiar with lots of academic disciplines such as archeology, biology, chemistry, economics, history, psychology, sociology, and so on. Mathematics is a broad and deep discipline that is continuing to grow in breadth and depth. Nowadays, a Ph.D. research dissertation in mathematics is typically narrowly focused on definitions, theorems, and proofs related to a single problem in a narrow subfield in mathematics.
  3. Mathematics as an interdisciplinary language and tool. Like reading and writing, math is an important component of learning and "doing" (using one's knowledge) in each academic discipline. Mathematics is such a useful language and tool that it is considered one of the "basics" in our formal educational system.

To a large extent, students and many of their teachers tend to define mathematics in terms of what they learn in math courses, and these courses tend to focus on #3. The instructional and assessment focus tends to be on basic skills and on solving relatively simple problems using these basic skills. As the three-component discussion given above indicates, this is only part of mathematics.

from http://pages.uoregon.edu/moursund/Math/mathematics.htm & luke mastin

 

 

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