Students looking at a demonstration of Alberti's windows

Students looking at a demonstration of Alberti’s windows

Joint SDSU-UCSD program aimed at improving teacher training, curriculum


One way to learn projective geometry is to sit in a classroom and memorize Whitehead’s axiom and ternary relations.

Another is to go out on a wide swath of grass and use Alberti’s window to study giant parabolas.

The latter is the manner preferred by Ricardo Nemirovsky, a professor of mathematics education at San Diego State University and director of the Center for Research in Mathematics and Science Education, a joint program involving SDSU and the University of California San Diego.

The center’s purpose is to study how people learn math and science and then use that research to develop more effective K-12 and college curricula and better train educators to teach those subjects.

“I think it’s very important to expand the framework of mathematics and science, show people that math is not just cold formulas,” Nemirovsky said. “We try to expand the experience to take into account emotional and aesthetic expression.”

That is what occurred on a recent sunny morning when undergraduate students in Nemirovsky’s “foundations of geometry” class lay prone on an intramural field, stared through acrylic panes and traced the path of half of a giant parabola laid out on the grass.

The panes, Alberti’s windows, are named for a 15th century painter who used his knowledge of science and optics to hone perspective in his art.

As the undergraduates learned, a team of Nemirovsky’s graduate students made video and audio recordings of their efforts.

Molly Kelton, 27, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in mathematics education, pointed a boom microphone toward students as she simultaneously chatted with a reporter, using the common acronym for the center.

“I think CRMSE’s mission is to use data collection to improve our overall understanding of how people best learn math and science and, at the pedagogical level, how we best support them.”

Of the undergraduates’ work with Alberti’s windows, Kelton said: “It’s teaching them more mathematics and it’s also teaching them innovative pedagogical techniques, like going out on a football field to study geometry.”