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Rare Book Collection is Focus of MAC-MTL Trip to American University

Article about a trip by MAC-MTL students to American University

november 2008 017.jpgby Joe Savrock (January 2009)

Doctoral fellows and faculty of the Mid-Atlantic Center for Mathematics Teaching and Learning (MAC-MTL) recently had an opportunity to examine a collection of mathematics textbooks that were used in American schools during centuries past.

Five MAC-MTL fellows traveled with MAC-MTL co-director M. Kathleen Heid, distinguished professor of mathematics education, to American University in Washington, D.C. Accompanying Heid were Maureen Grady, Duane Graysay, Kim Johnson, Shiv Karunakaran, and Svetlana Konnova.

The group got a look at the Artemas Martin Rare Book collection, a part of American University’s library holdings. The collection contains more than 4,000 titles. The collection provides historic insight into the character of education in the United States dating back to the 1600s.

“The Mid-Atlantic Center scholars were able to study first-hand mathematics texts that were used by Americans up to four hundred years ago,” said Heid.

The MAC-MTL, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), is a partnership between Penn State, the University of Maryland, the University of Delaware, and a public school partner in each of the universities’ states. It is the first center designed to train a cadre of future mathematics education professors and to conduct research into how teachers learn mathematics.

Students and mathematics education faculty from all three Mid-Atlantic Center universities met at American University for the joint experience. A presentation by a widely recognized mathematics education historian, West Point faculty member Fred Rickey, was part of the day’s events. Rickey conducted a session on some of the interesting historical aspects of the mathematics texts in the Artemas Martin collection.

Artemas Martin (1835–1918) was a self-taught mathematician from Erie, Pa. He had a passionate interest in mathematics, even though he had limited formal mathematics education. He founded and edited two mathematics journals. He possessed by far the most extensive collection of American texts on algebra and arithmetic.

“The students had identified books they wanted to examine prior to the visit, and Susan McElrath, University Archivist at the American University library had those books available for students on their arrival,” noted Heid.

The MAT-MTL fellows were highly enthusiastic about the trip. Said Graysay, “The trip was a unique and exciting opportunity to examine rare books spanning the early development of school mathematics curriculum and the dramatic ways in which the content, goals, and methods of school mathematics have changed over two centuries of education in the United States.”

The visit was part of research studies that the students were conducting on a curricular topic from a historical perspective. The students were able to complete their research using the Artemas Martin collection, along with Penn State’s collection of mathematics textbooks—New Math (from the 1960s) and Reformed Curricula (from the 1990s).

The trip exemplifies MAC-MTL’s endeavor to enrich the experiences of its research fellows. “Through this kind of enriching experience, our doctoral students are being better prepared to assume their roles as the next generation of mathematics education professors,” said Heid.

Research conducted at the Center has focused on the mathematical knowledge of secondary teachers and how the teachers use that knowledge in their instruction.  The Center, funded by the NSF for two five-year periods, is the only one that has received a second round of funding. Total MAC-MTL funding has reached nearly $20 million.