Academic journal article Australian Mathematics Teacher

Mathematical Expeditions: Exploring Word Problems across the Ages

Academic journal article Australian Mathematics Teacher

Mathematical Expeditions: Exploring Word Problems across the Ages

Article excerpt

Mathematical Expeditions: Exploring Word Problems across the Ages

Frank J. Swetz

The Johns Hopkins University Press

2012, 208 pp., paperback

ISBN: 978-1-4214-0438-7

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

   As I was going to St Ives I met a man with 7
   wives, each wife had 7 cats, each cat had seven
   kits. Kits, cats, man and wives, how many are
   going to St Ives?

This was a riddle I remember my Dad telling me when I was young. It piqued my interest and helped develop a desire to not only study mathematics, but to apply it in a variety of contexts.

Mathematical Expeditions by Frank J. Swetz, a Professor Emeritus of Mathematics and Education at The Pennsylvania State University, takes this contextual style to a much higher and deeper level. He has chosen a collection of "culturally [and] I historically diverse mathematical problems" which can be used "to enrich mathematics teaching from middle school through to college level". He traces the journey of worded mathematical questions from Mesopotamia (2000 BCE) through to modern day, explaining the 'footprints' of mathematics and the history it has left behind.

I very much enjoyed this easy-to-read, well-structured, mathematical journey through history. It gave me many 'I never knew that' moments, as well as further ideas on how I could enrich my teaching, and paths for future research. For example, the Babylonian (20001600 BCE) problem:

   A gate, the height is 1/2 rod, 2 cubits [1 rod
   equals 11 cubits], the breadth 2 cubits. … 
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