Washington’s most innovative math professor has developed a most innovative way to teach math. Central Washington University’s Dominic Klyve—of weird numbers, Mozart and math, and juggling equations fame—proposes to develop math curriculum based on primary historical sources. For example, if you want to learn about geometry, you start with Euclid’s original proofs.

The National Science Foundation has awarded Klyve $1.5 million for Transforming Instruction in Undergraduate Mathematics via Primary Historical Sources (TRIUMPHS), a national, seven-university collaboration to design, publish, and test a new curriculum. The grant money will be distributed among the institutions, with CWU receiving approximately $400,000. New Mexico State University, Colorado State University-Pueblo, Colorado University at Denver, Ursinus College in Pennsylvania, Xavier University in Ohio, and Florida State University will be participating in the grant.

“In just about every other discipline—history, philosophy, psychology—students read the original source material,” said Klyve. “In philosophy, students read Plato and Descartes, but our mathematics students don’t read Newton or Gauss.” Students are just given modern equations and theorems without any context as to how they were developed.

“Students are missing a big part of the picture they need to deeply understand the math we are teaching.”

The TRIUMPHS curriculum is based on primary source projects (PSPs), which will focus on a particular math principle or equation as it was developed by an historic mathematician. Students will study source documents of the original author, and through a series of exercises, develop a fuller understanding of the mathematics. Klyve and his collaborators will create and test at least 20 full-length primary source projects (PSPs) and 30 one-day mini-PSPs.

The curriculum will range from undergraduate pre-calculus classes to advanced abstract algebra and topology.

The advantage of the historical approach is that it provides context and direction to the mathematics. It also hones students’ verbal and deductive skills through reading the work of some of the greatest minds in history.

TRIUMPHS will also provide training in developing and implementing PSPs to more than 100 faculty members and doctoral students all across the country. An evaluation-with-research study is proposed to provide formative and summative feedback throughout the award period while contributing to the research base in STEM education. More than 50 faculty members from 31 geographically and institutionally diverse institutions have already committed to using them in their classes, including 16 faculty members at CWU.

“One of the strengths of this grant is the significant participation of [CWU] math faculty who agreed to test the curriculum,” noted Klyve. “They were great! It is the best place to teach math in the country. My colleagues’ complete support of this project helped us get the award.”

The TRIUMPHS program will start this fall quarter.

Media Contact: Valerie Chapman-Stockwell, Public Affairs, 509-963-1518, valeriec@cwu.edu