James Tanton, a famous mathematician and lecturer, was visiting Belgrade from 25 to 29 May to participate in the annual event “May, Month of Mathematics” (M3 2016). This visit was organized by Aleksandra Ravas, a math promoter, in cooperation with the Centre for the Promotion of Science under the auspicies CREATIONS Project. During these five days, James Tanton gave eight lectures on mathematics, in his words a “deep, rich, fun and beautiful science”.
Tanton’s focus is on reforming the secondary mathematics curriculum. If e.g. language curriculum includes both the rules (grammar) and poetry, why would a math class be limited to the rules? Mathematical solutions and discoveries are elegant, sometimes confusing, often surprising. After he realized that in elementary education one covers all the math for ”everyday use”, according to Tanton, secondary school is an ideal field for developing love, critical thinking and a sense of joy in relation to mathematics.
Upon earning his PhD from Princeton University, Tanton pursued a usual academic career of a university professor for a decade, when the desire for reforming the mathematics curriculum led him into teaching at a high school. In order to gain better understanding of the community of teachers he was trying to inspire, he joined it. He taught at St. Mark’s School in Massachusetts, USA, from 2002 to 2013. He is now a visiting scholar at the Mathematical Association of America in Washington, DC.
The topic of his main lecture in Belgrade was Numbers; he talked about them at the large auditorium of the Faculty of Chemistry. The title of the lecture was Playing with Math: Figurate Numbers and the Square Root of Two. Tanton presented the topic of square and triangular numbers using the history of the international paper size standards.
Tanton also visited the Institute of Mathematics (Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts), Mathematical Grammar School, the Gallery of Science and Technology, Petnica Science Center, Mathematical Society “Archimedes” and StartIt Centre. The target groups include students, teachers and parents, depending on the topics ranging from improving the mathematics curriculum to personal experiences, interesting mistakes and thought experiments.