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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Emerging Mathematics Workshop

16th March 2015, 09:00 to 17:00, F009, Wolfson Research Institute, Queen's Campus, Durham University, Stockton on Tees


A one day workshop which will examine the emergence of early mathematical concepts, looking at the interaction between the cultural and historical, the psychological, and the educational perspectives. It will involve researchers, educationalists, other interested stakeholders, and particularly teachers, where the different perspective on the development of early mathematical knowledge can be presented.

The history of mathematics is an example of the cumulative cultural evolution of human knowledge. Only after Babylonian scholars invented numerical notation and basic arithmetic in around 2000 BC could Greek and Arab scholars develop geometry and algebra, which then allowed Newton, Liebniz and other Europeans to invent calculus and mechanics. From an anthropological standpoint, it is interesting to model this cumulative cultural process, in order to explain the emergence of mathematical knowledge and link this to individual-level developmental processes, i.e. how individuals acquire mathematical knowledge from others during their lifetime. From a psychological viewpoint, Vygotsky (1896-1934) considered conscious thought as the progressive build-up of representations and processes as a result of interactions with the environment, given the basis of elementary biological ‘givens’. In terms of development, and linking to the anthropological view, an important question is how this innate ability interacts with different cultures, and whether this result in different ways of thinking mathematically. From a Vygotskian perspective, do the cultural tools (number systems, language, writing symbols) adopted by different cultures build upon the emergence of these elementary ‘givens’ or is mathematics socially constructed?

From a mathematical education perspective, the development of mathematical understanding can be viewed as the connecting together of internal representations of concepts, with more numerous and stronger (in terms of reasoning) connections denoting greater understanding. An implication of teaching for understanding is the introduction of a variety of external representations of mathematical concepts, in line with the Vygotskian view of the social construction of knowledge.

How different disciplines can inform the development of mathematics in children can be examined, and inform teachers as to how best to help develop this knowledge. The workshop will include a presentation from Professor David Geary from the University of Missouri and IAS Fellows a world expert on the
psychological development of mathematical knowledge in children, and whose research also examines this issue from evolutionary and neurobiological perspectives.

Contact for more information about this event.