In my Physical Science class this year I taught 16 scientists and mathematicians to my students. Most of these scientists are well known and a few less so .
To engage the student, I try to tell a story about each scientist because as research shows, students can remember a story much better than just a list of facts alone.
For each scientist, I also have them remember the year they were born and one or two key facts about an important aspect of their lives as a scientists.
Now for some of these scientists I am generalizing as some are mathematicians, but there is usually a scientific link from their work to sciences.
One good example is G.H. Hardy. He proudly exclaimed in his book that his work in mathematics was useless to the common man. He did, however, do some important science with genetics. This gets a good discussion going on just how “useless” prime numbers are.
This discussion about Hardy and prime numbers then carried over to my IB math class where the class did a project on twin primes and we read about Dr. Zhangs recent proof involving the bounds of twin prime numbers.
Science facts with a memory devise wrapped in a story
The bottom row are the scientists given in the first semester and the top row were the ones given in the second semester. On each picture, I also mark the year they were born using the Major System to help them remember the digits. Some of the scientists are closely related and that makes for some interesting stories.
Some of the more well know pairs that can be linked are:
- Erdos and Fan Chung
- Gauss and Riemann
- G.H. Hardy and Ramanujan
Some of my students have become very interested in the lives of some of these scientists. For example, the story of how G.H. Hardy brought Ramanujan to England to collaborate in mathematics and how Hardy was the only one to see his genius. This has also led to discussions on the nature of numbers and number theory and if it is all “useful”. We also discussed Ramanujan’s lost notebooks which led to being a vegetarian and taxi numbers. There are so many connections.
Another example is how Gauss gave Riemann his dissertation topic in geometry and how that led to the famous unsolved Riemann Hypothesis, and the nature of prime numbers.
My students love the stories of how Erdos would show up in the middle of the night at another mathematician’s home expecting to do mathematics with his proclamation of “My brain is open”, and “Another roof another proof”. A few stories about Chung’s life with Paul Erdos and Dr. Graham are interesting, which leads into large numbers such as Graham’s number. These stories are from the book The Man Who Loves Only Numbers, one of my favorite books of all time. I’m still thinking of ways I can get my Erdos number.
It’s the little stories that bring my science class to life and spark an interest in science and mathematics for my students. Mathematics is the language of science and technology and I’m convinced that wrapping facts and content in stories is a good way for students to retain information.
The list of scientists for the 2015-2016 school year
For my class, I try to get a mix of male and female and well known and a few lesser well known but important scientists. I can always make a connection between the scientist/mathematician and the curriculum content. A few times during the year, I had the class pick one their favorite and write a report. The focus of the report was usually how the particular scientist overcame some sort of adversity. There are many way you can go with this type of report.
The scientists I taught in the first semester were:
- Albert Einstein
- Georg Ohm
- Fan Chung
- Sonya Kovalevsky
- Nikola Tesla
- Rachel Carson
- Sophie Germain
- Rosalind Franklin
And for the second semester:
- Paul Erdos
- Galileo Galilei
- G.H. Hardy
- Srinivasa Ramanujan
- Sir Isaac Newton
- Carl Friedrich Gauss
- Bernhard Riemann
- Marie Curie
For the coming year, I will add a few more. I’m thinking of Galois and another scientist. Any ideas?
Let me know if you have any interesting stories to share about these scientists.