On the Significance of History-Based Research Projects in Undergraduate Mathematics

Ilhan M. Izmirli

If one were to sum up the major premise embodying this paper in one paradigmatic sentence, it would have to be the following: integrating the historic development of mathematical concepts in the educational practice of mathematics plays a vital role in the cognitive development of students. For, by following the path of these developments, some of which have instigated bona fide transformations in the history of mathematics and even of sciences in general, the students are not only exposed to creative problem solving techniques, but also to many false starts, incorrect solutions, and flawed and even erroneous theories, and consequently, to the essentially non-absolutist nature of mathematical research. As a matter of fact, decades ago Bradis, Minkovskii, and Kharcheva (1963) showed that a unique and effective system for teaching mathematical reasoning was to lead students toward a clearly false conclusion and then make them analyze the lapses. In this paper we will present the results of an extensive study conducted on two hundred nineteen college students to show that integrating history-based research projects in the undergraduate curriculum significantly improves students’ understanding of and attitudes towards mathematics.