The Time Traveller's Guide to Maths part 1

Did you know that almost 80% of what you study in Maths lessons today would be understood by school age students in Ancient Greece or Rome more than 2000 years ago?

The Maths that we study today is pretty much all based on the same principles discovered all those centuries ago. Although modern Algebra (which literally means “joining things together”) was developed in the 17th century, the basics of the Algebra we use in school was known to the Ancient Babylonians.

Certainly, the bulk of what we know about numbers, from the basic buildings blocks of Maths that we call prime numbers to strange and weird numbers such as pi, and awesome practical applications such as Pythagoras was known, used and taught by ancient Mathematicians.

So what about the other 20% of our Maths knowledge? Well, much of that is really old too (though not as old as your Maths teacher!).

In fact, some of the most “recent” Maths we study for GCSE and A Level is almost 300 years old, being the Maths of Probability, Statistics and Calculus.

In the past, there were people that were known as universal men and women. These were people like Leonardo Da Vinci, who many believe knew just about everything about anything! Leonardo certainly understood all of the Maths in his Renaissance Italy...and he could paint and draw amazingly well.

Sir Isaac Newton, the discoverer of the dreaded Calculus (ask any A Level Maths student what this is) not only understood every area of Maths in his time, but also invented lots of other powerful techniques that still baffle A Level Physics students to this day.

Nowadays, no one man or woman (not even Stephen Hawking) understands all areas of Mathematics. That’s because Maths has became very diversified, especially from the 18th and 19th Centuries, when Maths had to help out the many new branches of Science that were being discovered then just about every day!

Maths today is probably always at least 25 years ahead of any type of Science or Technology. Isn’t that the way it should be? What would happen if a scientist or inventor came up with a brilliant new idea only to find that the Mathematical tools she needed to test or predict results had not yet been discovered. Well, we wouldn’t move forward very fast.


Laurence Flood Key Stage 3 Maths Tutor (Tonbridge)

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