Mathematics without history is soulless
Junaid Mubeen
68434

Montessori fully understands this context.

In Montessori elementary schools, the kids are given Five Great Lessons every year at the beginning of the year over the course of a few days, weeks or months (depending on the teacher and the class):

First Great Lesson — how the universe came to be. Basically, the Big Bang and how the Universe formed. Ends just before Life begins. Curriculum: physical sciences, astrophysics (yes, in first grade, the basics.) (Originally called “The God With No Hands.” Dr. Montessori, though catholic, didn’t believe in a bearded sky god. :) )

Second Great Lesson — The Coming of Life. Basically, how Life formed on the Earth, through all the kingdom, phylum, etc. Kids study one animal deeply. Ends just before humans. Curriculum: biological sciences.

Third Great Lesson — The Coming of Humans. Basically all of human history, starting with fire and pre-history. Study begins with how all humans have the same basic fundamental needs — our differences are merely how we get those needs met in our different environments. We are all the same. Curriculum: human history.

Fourth Great Lesson — Speaking in Signs. Basically how writing came to be, the long history and study of many writing forms, in their context. Kids study writing systems, ways to write, and make secret codes. Curriculum: language.

Fifth Great Lesson — The Story of Numbers. Basically the history of mathematics and how using numbers changed society. Curriculum: math.

These lessons are not meant to be instructive. There is very little actual information, just stories and demonstrations. They are meant only to be impressionistic. They are meant to give context to all of the curriculum areas.

When kids have context, this gives meaning to their work.

For Pi Day, I do a simple lesson at my daughter’s school. I bring in a cake pan and string and scissors. I first have the kids guess how many times a string around the outside can go across the middle. After their guesses, I wrap a string around the pan and cut it. Then I stretch it across the pan, cut, and do that twice more. I lay out the pieces. “It’s not exactly 3. It’s 3 and a little bit more. The little bit more is very interesting, and many people have tried to calculate it exactly over thousands of years.” I leave it there, and discuss more about pi as good stories come up. Impression is more important than accuracy. If they want accurate, they can try for themselves!