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Origins of Math

The ancient Mayan civilization of Central America produced extremely accurate astronomical observations using no instruments other than sticks. They developed sophisticated calendars, measuring solar years and lunar months with impressive accuracy. All this with a number system using just three symbols. The mathematical system of ancient China had no concept of zero, yet the system’s efficiency made complex calculations quick and easy and supported a rapidly expanding trade empire. In this seminar students explore mathematical worlds far different from their own.

Faculty: Melissa McQueen - Math 7

Dates Offered

October 5, 2018
October 26, 2018

Explore More

  • Go to:  These links take you to three National Geographic videos, each just a few minutes long, that provide insight into the ancient Mayan, Roman, and Chinese civilizations:

  • Great books: The Number Devil, by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, is the story of a twelve year-old boy who hates math. In his dreams he meets a Number Devil “who leads him to discover the amazing world of numbers: infinite numbers, prime numbers, Fibonacci number.” By the end of the book even reluctant math students will marvel at what numbers can do. A copy is available for checkout in the MS Media Center.

  • TedTalk: Students explored the History of Math in this seminar. Next, consider the Math of History: view Harvard University’s Jean-Baptiste Michel in a five-minute TedTalk. 

Why Study Ancient Math?

An understanding of the history of math and numbers helps students understand modern math, especially concepts such as place value. This seminar shows how mathematical concepts were developed and refined over time with a variety of civilizations contributing to advances within their own cultural contexts. Competencies developed include growth mindset, innovation, and global learning.