Islamic tilings of the Alhambra Palace: teaching the beauty of mathematics

Islamic tilings of the Alhambra Palace: teaching the beauty of mathematics

By Raymond F. Tennant

Teachers, Learners, and Curriculum Journal, Vol. 2 (2004)



Introduction: How were the ancient Greeks able to measure the circumference of the earth? How did the Babylonians discover the Pythagorean Theorem two thousand years before Pythagoras? How were 13th Century Islamic mathematicians able to develop mathematical models that would call into dispute the longstanding theory on planetary motion laid down centuries earlier by Ptolemy? What geometry was needed by artisans in the Middle Ages to create the beautiful symmetric tilings of the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain? These open questions are not easy to answer but they are precisely the type of questions that can spark dynamic discussions with students in mathematics classrooms.

In recent years, mathematics educators have investigated teaching methodologies for introducing mathematics with the aid of cultural connections. The NCTM, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, has as one of its overall goals for students to view mathematics as a part of cultural heritage. The history of mathematics is a rich tapestry woven of contributions from individuals and groups from throughout the ancient and modern worlds. Mathematical ideas that we now take for granted like the ten Indo-Arabic digits, 0 through 9, may be told with a story that spans two-thousand years and includes chapters from the Indian subcontinent through the Islamic world of the Middle East and ultimately to Europe and the West with several twists and turns along the way.

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