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Professor's keynote speech in Mexico City tells of using history in teaching mathematics

New Mexico State University professor of mathematics David Pengelley recently presented the opening keynote address in Mexico City at the History and Pedagogy of Mathematics quadrennial international conference, hosting participants from all continents and 28 countries.

New Mexico State University professor of mathematics David Pengelley gives opening remarks at the international keynote address for the History and Pedagogy of Mathematics quadrennial conference in Mexico City in July. (Photo Provided)

"This is the world's top venue in the research area that focuses on the relation between history of mathematics and teaching of mathematics," Pengelley said, expressing his excitement at this recognition.

The conference is held every four years and this summer's July meeting is the seventh time the international research group has held a worldwide conference. The History and Pedagogy of Mathematics (HPM) organization is affiliated with the International Congress on Mathematics Education (ICME) and its meetings are scheduled specifically to bring together individuals working on the link between history of mathematics and teaching mathematics. This is an area Pengelley greatly enjoys and has been practicing for 20 years.

HPM group meetings allow historians, mathematicians, and teachers to share theories, ideas, and practical experience with each other. His extensive research in implementing primary historical sources (first-hand documents or publications of original discovery) to teach mathematics in his own classroom led to the selection of Pengelley as this year's keynote speaker. In his address, Pengelley said it has been his dream for mathematics teachers to use primary sources in the teaching of mathematics at all grade levels. Pengelley's lecture was titled "Teaching With Primary Historical Sources: Should it Go Mainstream? Can it?"

His teaching method, which he first implemented in the '80s, was originally intended for NMSU Honors students and then expanded to mainstream courses at the university. The mathematical goal, he added, is for students to become "questioners" and to bring students closer to the process of discovery themselves by learning the actual process of how mathematicians began their work instead of how it is perceived today.

"All students could learn the principal content of their mathematics directly from studying primary sources. We see it done in the humanities all the time," Pengelley said, giving credit also to his many colleagues and research partners along the way. "I have been fascinated by history and for the past 20 years I have been looking for new ways to motivate my students and enhance their learning. I'm always looking for new ways to challenge my students...to keep the courses lively for me and my students."

In student assessment surveys, feedback on his teaching method has been largely positive, he said.

Pengelley has presented and published work on a variety of other topics including mathematical research discoveries in the subject of algebraic topology, and a recent historical project based on Sophie Germain, the first woman documented to do original research in mathematics, on her partial proof of a longstanding problem called Fermat's Last Theorem.

You may find Pengelley's HPM address online at http://www.math.nmsu.edu/~davidp