Math E-320: Fall 2017
Teaching Math with a Historical Perspective
Mathematics E-320:
Instructor: Oliver Knill
Office: SciCtr 432

About this project

The task is to write an essay with the title "Four millenia, four milestones, four lives". The deadline is Sunday, December 17th, pretty much at the end of the possible exam period.
Here is a more detailed talk: write four short stories, each should deal with a major mathematical idea and each be connected to a major mathematician. One from -1000-0 AC, one from 0-1000 BC and one from 1000 to 2000 BC and one from 2000- to now. The format is pretty free. There are no formal requirements. It does not have to be long but there are no length restrictions. I expect 3-4 pages for each story. Here is an example of a structure. What I would like to see is to one side cover an important aspect of the mathematics of that millenium, on the other side to be personal if possible entertaining, some story you could tell to a student, if possible something inspiring. Here is an example of a structure:
Four millenia, four milestones, four lives
Project written by Leonard Euler

1. Antique:  Hyppocrates
2. First Millenium: Thabit ibn Qurra
3. Second Millenium: Sofia Kovalevskaya
4. Modern time: Grigori Perelmann
In this course, I always have evaluated the projects with four numerical grades, then took the average.
1. Sources www sources are ok but count less than books or article bibliography
2. Content especially mathematical and historical accuracy, correctness, richness
3. Originality choice of topic, implementation, weaker are rewritings of well known things
4. Style clarity and readability, also the overall uniformity and how the 4 stories match or complement
In general, the level of mathematics or difficulty of topic should not matter. With more math content it is also reasonable to be more forgiving as writing about a difficult topic can be harder. Also writing about an more elementary topic should not be penalized. For style, also some structural things can matter. Having one story 10 pages and an other 2 pages is less good than a balanced essay with four stories each weighting about the same. I would be a bit careful about implementing too much constraints. One could for example make the restriction to have all 4 stories taking place in Greece or that all stories deal with Algebra. It has sometimes worked out to be more restrictive to get a "theme" but it also has turned out to be tougher to write. It is a good idea to start with the project early. Open a file and enter ideas while we go through the topics. Make 4 bins, through in ideas for each. Look for sources for each and see whether it is rich enough. Some topic might look good but is harder to implement. Inventing a fictional character like "anonymous Mayan Mathematician" could be challenging for example Let me know if you have questions. You can also bounce ideas with me if you like.

About Writing

About mathematical writing, Some Guidelines for Good Mathematical Writing Francis Edwards Su, MAA Focus, August/September 2015 summarized:
Audience:   Put yourself in readers shoes
Context:    Use complete sentences, explain notation
Formality:  Avoid shorthand formal writing
Etiquette:  Conventions, define unfamiliar words
Tone:       Set an invitational tone
Elegance:   Highlight the important
Structure:  Use Paragraphs, split hard things
Examples:   Use good examples
Clutter:    Remove the unnecessary
Simplify:   Step back, streamline
Culture:    Observe norms, practice
Enjoy:      The art of writing

About the parameters

Here is an older explanation of parameters: For the project, the A) bibliography and sources, B) math and theme, C) clarity and style and D) originality and freshness are relevant. There will be score for each of the 4 parts we will then average them for the total:
Please send questions and comments to
Math E320| Oliver Knill | Fall 2017 | Canvas page | Extension School | Harvard University