All Maths is Beautiful: accounts of how we improved our Mathematics curriculum (part 5)

Kalsoom Iqbal

Lead Practitioner, The Cumberland School

All Maths is Beautiful!

Without mathematics, there’s nothing you can do. Everything around you is mathematics. Everything around you is numbers.”

Shakuntala Devi

Mathematics is unequivocally beautiful for a number of reasons: it is its own language, pictorially magnificent, balanced, challenging and more complex than we can imagine. Fundamentally it is a way for us to describe everything we know and the world around us. Its beauty is not due to one predominant factor; but rather, a conglomerate of so many.

Since the start of time, humans have yearned to learn more about the world in which they live in. Our ability as humans to progress from simple counting to applying the abstract discipline in the modern world is nothing short of remarkable. The history of mathematics is as old as humanity itself.

The development of mathematics into the beautiful discipline it is today tells us much about the development of human civilisation. The Ishango Bones discovered in Africa are the first known tool demonstrating how humans counted over 20,000 years ago. As humans developed their ability to navigate the world around them, agriculture brought about developments in mathematics in Mesopotamia (Iraq/Iran) and Egypt. The much revered Golden Ratio, which is used to define beauty in aspects of nature, was used by Ancient Egyptians in their creation of one of the most beautiful structures in the world: the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Mathematics cannot be separated from philosophy. The mathematicians and revolutionary thinkers from the Hellenistic Empire developed ideas linking the concrete world they lived in with the abstract world they imagined. The baton for mathematical thought was then passed to China, India and the Islamic Empire. It is during this time that so many of the mathematical conventions we use today without much thought, such as zero and our numeral system, were formalised. It is amazing to think that over 1200 years ago, Arab mathematicians such as Al-Biruni and Al-Khwarizmi were calculating the circumference of the Earth so accurately. This is without all the modern technology we have today, out of sheer intellectual curiosity and a need to understand the universe. So many different civilisations inputted into developing maths into the complex, abstract subject we study in school today.

As educators, it is imperative we ensure our students understand the shared cultural heritage we have as a result of what we like to call ‘the universal language’. At Cumberland, the Mathematics Department has tried to incorporate the multifaceted nature of our discipline by presenting Maths Fascinations in our booklets. We want students to appreciate the mathematical world beyond the examined curriculum. Like the real world, the mathematical world is one in which the more you explore, the more beautiful it gets.