Math Education: December

December was a very productive month for me. I have a good idea of what I want my thesis to look like and I’m about a third of the way through writing it. I have a draft of the first chapter that covers a lot of background information on professional mathematics in early-20th century America. What is important about this period is that mathematicians went from being a few scattered people working on their own to a connected community with journals and professional societies. Different groups within this community took different attitudes toward math education: some teachers (mostly in the Chicago area) thought that math teaching should become more experimental and hands-on, with a focus on applications in science and engineering. Other professors from the East Coast wanted to stick closer to traditional math education, which was more focused on memorizing proofs and understanding abstract relations. The main character of my thesis, David Eugene Smith, took a moderate position between these two extremes, and by 1910, he was one of the more famous math educators in the country.

After finishing that, however, I am feeling a bit stuck. I am a few pages into chapter 2 and I’ve also made a start on chapter 4, but my progress has been slow lately. I think I’m still a bit lethargic from eating so much over the holidays. I am taking a trip to the archive in a few days, which should help me keep on track. Overall, I am happy to have made some concrete progress toward finishing the thesis, and I think that will keep me motivated for the last few months.