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Historians of Indian mathematics have long discussed how the concept of zero, positives, negatives and the laws-of-sign were documented in the early 7th Century. However, new research reveals an incomplete understanding of India’s zero in the Medieval Arabic world. This meant the role of zero as a placeholder was transmitted to Renaissance Europe, yet the more profound role of zero as a number, defined as the sum of equal positives and negatives, was not. As a result, neither negatives nor zero were involved in early and subsequent developments in Algebra and erroneous rules on Integer ordering emerged.
Today, this incomplete understanding of zero and negative numbers persists in typical elementary school classes. Alongside historical observations, Jonathan J Crabtree calls for a more cohesive curriculum, constructed around India’s original understanding of zero that better integrates the laws of mathematics, physics and common sense. Recorded by Sangam Talks at INTACH New Delhi (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) December 2019.
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