When you were in school, did you learn to calculate using a 7-foot-long
slide rule? Did you learn about the properties of numbers using brightly
colored Cuisenaire rods? Ever wonder who invented the graph paper you used
in geometry class?
An exhibition, titled "Slates,
Slide Rules, and Software: Teaching Math in America,"
will take museum visitors back to the classroom with a display of tools
used to teach math across American history, from the 1800s to the present.
National Museum of American History exhibition will open on Feb. 8. An
on-line exhibition can be viewed at americanhistory.si.edu/teachingmath
from the same date.
In the United States, innovations in teaching mathematics have been
spurred by a number of factors, including growing and shrinking school
populations, new technological advances, and international relations.
Some of these factors led to the creation of ingenious, often
beautifully crafted, educational tools.
"Almost all Americans have vivid
recollections of time spent in math class,"
said exhibition curator Peggy Kidwell. "This
showcase places objects they may have encountered there within the broader
framework of American history."
Visitors will be able to see a wide variety of teaching tools. A wooden
blackboard from the 1800s was used in a New Hampshire school, established
when several states founded the public schools to provide basic
education for their citizens. Blackboards became popular after teachers
with ties to England and France introduced the erasable surfaces.
A 1997 geoboard, a plastic pegboard on which rubber bands can be
stretched in patterns, was used more recently in an elementary school. The
board was invented by Egyptian-born educator Caleb Gattengo, who together
with Belgian school teacher Emile-Georges Cuisenaire argued that students
should learn basic concepts about math with tangible objects.
Graph paper, a math class staple, was developed between 1890 and 1910,
when the number of high school students in the U.S. quadrupled, and math
professors took an active interest in improving high school education.
A late 1950s "On-Sets"
game was used to teach "set
and other ideas associated with the New Math taught to high schoolers
during the Cold War, in the hope of increasing national security.
Casio, a Japanese firm, introduced handheld electronic
calculators to U.S. schools in 1986. The University of Hawaii developed
computer programs, such as muMath in 1979 and later DERIVE in 1988, that
could perform such functions as calculating algebraic equations.
Computerized devices became commonplace in math teaching as they became
accessible to public consumption, and 20th-century math courses were
reshaped to take advantage of such tools.
The National Museum of American History, Behring Center traces American
heritage through exhibitions of social, cultural, scientific and
technological history. Collections are displayed in exhibitions that
interpret the American experience from Colonial times to the present. The
museum is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., and is open
daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For more information, visit the museumís
Web site at americanhistory.si.edu
or call (202) 633-1000, 357-1729 (TTY), or 633-9126 (Spanish).
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