Issue Number 256 April 30 2019

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is edited by Dave Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education (IAE) and Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) publications.

All back issues of the newsletter and subscription information are available online. In addition, seven free books based on the newsletters are available: Joy of Learning; Validity and Credibility of Information; Education for Students’ Futures; Understanding and Mastering Complexity; Consciousness and Morality: Recent Research Developments; Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education; and Common Core State Standards for Education in America.

Dave Moursund’s newly revised and updated book, The Fourth R (Second Edition), is now available in both English and Spanish (Moursund, 2018c). The unifying theme of the book is that the 4th R of Reasoning/Computational Thinking is fundamental to empowering today’s students and their teachers throughout the K-12 curriculum. The first edition was published in December, 2016, the second edition in August, 2018, and the Spanish translation of the second edition in September, 2018. The three books have now had a combined total of more than 38,500 page-views and downloads.

Dave Moursund’s newly revised and updated book, The Fourth R (Second Edition), is now available in both English and Spanish (Moursund, 2018, link). The unifying theme of the book is that the 4th R of Reasoning/Computational Thinking is fundamental to empowering today’s students and their teachers throughout the K-12 curriculum. The first edition was published in December, 2016, the second edition in August, 2018, and the Spanish translation of the second edition in September, 2018. The three books have now had a combined total of more than 37,000 page-views and downloads.

Some Roles of ICT and Math
in the History Curriculum (Chapter 3)

David Moursund
Professor Emeritus, College of Education
University of Oregon

Chapter 3: The Early History of History

“History must share with reading, writing and arithmetic first rank as the most important subjects in the curriculum. Understanding the issues on which citizens of a republic are expected to vote is impossible without an understanding of the past.” (Walter Leland Cronkite Jr.; American broadcast journalist who served as anchorman for the CBS Evening News for 19 years; 1916-2009.)

“Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.” (John Dewey; American philosopher, psychologist, democratic socialist, and educational reformer; 1859-1952.)


This is the third in a sequence of IAE Newsletters I am writing on the general topic of ICTing and mathing across the history curriculum. My goal is to produce a short book that will be made available free through IAE. Before I started to write these newsletters, I developed an outline of what I might want to cover.

However, after writing the first two newsletters, I began to reconsider my outline. I spent considerable time ICTing across those aspects of the history curriculum that seemed somewhat related to mathematics. My ongoing research provided many ideas that probably belonged in the first two newsletters.

I don’t think I will ever fully appreciate how I am empowered by being able to sit at home and have computer access to the world’s largest library. Nor will I ever fully comprehend the power and artificial intelligence of the increasingly capable search engines that I routinely use.

My problem is one of information overload! This is a problem now faced by every student taking history courses and by every person designing and teaching such courses. As I started on the third newsletter, I realized that my situation was well described by the following quote:

“If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.” (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll; English writer of world-famous children's fiction; 1832-1898.)

This third newsletter contains considerable content that eventually will be integrated into earlier parts of the book. So, as you read this newsletter, try not to be bothered too much by some discontinuities with its flow in terms of the first two newsletters.

Some Possible Goals of Historians

A historian analyzes data and information about past events, ranging from those that have happened in the recent past to those from our ancient histories. The historian may have multiple goals. For example, the goal may be to communicate effectively about these events to a particular audience, perhaps about the places they have lived, the places they may want to visit, and so on. I am particularly interested in materials developed especially for preK-12 students. What do you think they should be learning through their informal and formal history studies while they are in school?

A different goal may be to help inform decision makers, such as our political leaders, about past situations that are somewhat similar to current events. A very personal goal of the historian might be the pleasure that comes from learning and understanding more about the past, and sharing with a broad audience.

In Teaching History of Humankind, How Far Back Should We Go?

Suppose that you were in charge of overseeing the development of the history curriculum to be taught in our K-12 schools. How far back would you go in time? I recently viewed David Christian’s TED Talk, The History of Our World in 18 Minutes (Christian, March, 2011, link). The short video begins with information about the formation of our universe, about 13.82 billion years ago. Thirteen billion is a very large number! I found the fast-paced video absolutely delightful.

Nowadays, many computer games make use of numbers in the billions. I wonder what such numbers mean to children. We often hear about people who are millionaires, and think of them as being quite wealthy. A billion is a thousand times that large. There are about 7.5 billion people on earth. Each is generating a personal history. Try to imagine 7.5 billion stories unfolding day after day.

Kate May quotes David Christian in her own TED Talk, A History Curriculum that Starts at the Beginning of Time (May, 12/3/2013, link):

“I had this feeling that, somehow, we ought to be teaching not just the history of particular nations or particular regions, but the history of humanity,” Christian tells TED. “I started thinking: how would you teach the history of humanity? I thought, ‘Well, you’re going to have to go back to pre-history, to the moment when humans first appear. And to do that properly … it means you need to start talking about biology. And to do that properly, you need to really get interested in … the evolution of life, and that takes you back to the beginnings of the planet. And to understand that, you need to talk about geology. These questions pushed me back and back and back, until eventually I started thinking, Oh my god, to teach the history of humanity, it turns out I have to teach the history of the universe.’ Which sounded completely crazy.”

David Christian’s work has led to the development of a middle and high school history course that Bill Gates helped to fund (Big History Project, n.d., link). This course starts with the Big Bang, 13.82 billion years ago. Quoting from the course website:

Big History Project is a free, online, and totally awesome social studies course that puts skills development and student engagement first … [It] delivers a big picture look at the world, and helps students develop a framework to organize what they’re learning both in and out of school … All lessons are instantly accessible, evaluated and updated regularly, highly customizable, and free to learners and educators everywhere. More than 1,600 teachers and 80,000 students are teaching and taking the course each


Astronomy is a branch of physics. Both astronomy makes substantial use of mathematics. Quoting from Nola Taylor Redd’s article, How Old is the Universe? (Redd, 6/8/2017, link):

Age may only be a number, but when it comes to the age of the universe, it's a pretty important one. According to research, the universe is approximately 13.8 billion years old. How did scientists determine how many candles to put on the universe's birthday cake? They can determine the age of the universe using two different methods: by studying the oldest objects within the universe and measuring how fast it [the universe] is expanding.

When we say the universe is 13.82 billion years old, we mean that our earth has traversed around our sun 13.82 billion times since the Big Bang occurred. Hmm. That sounds rather strange, since our earth is only about 4.543 billion years old. To further complicate matters, do you think that the time for the earth to orbit our sun has changed over the past 4.543 billion years? Of course it has.

It is easy to understand why our ancestors divided time into years, months, and days. But, why do we have 24 hours in a day, 60 minutes in an hour, and 60 seconds in a minute. These are interesting questions from our history.

This is an aside. When were clocks—and eventually, watches—invented? How did these inventions change the daily lives of people? What role did clocks play in ocean navigation? And, think about jobs such as being a miner or working in a factory, where you need to arrive at work at a precise time and the workday ends some specific number of hours later. These are interesting questions that some students in a history course are apt to enjoy studying. A clock can be thought of as a machine with a certain type of artificial intelligence. In terms of measuring time, a clock is more accurate than a human brain.

An often-quoted statistic from a 1994 publication is that an earth year is currently 365.256363004 days (Wikipedia, 2019c, link). As a mathematician, I wonder about the accuracy of data such as the time of the Big Bang, the length of a day, and the length of a year. There is theory and methodology from mathematics, physics, and computing underlying current estimates.

I find the statement of there being 365.256363004 days in a year particularly interesting. When scientists write such a number, they are saying that the last digit (in this case, a 4) is in the range of 3.5 to 4.5. In any case, they are saying that they have computed the number of days in a year very accurately! It is fun to think about how they did that. What progress in science occurred somewhat before 1994 that facilitated this measurement? And, anyway, who cares about having such as accurate measure?

Here is a partial answer to the who cares question. Why do we have leap years? If we just look at the approximation 365.25 days in a year, then in four years the fractional parts add up to one full day. That is, we need to add one day to every fourth year to come closer to approximating the average number of days in a year. This has been known for more than two thousand years (Bellis, 2/6/2019, link):

Julius Caesar was behind the origin of leap year in 45 BC. The early Romans had a 355-day calendar and to keep festivals occurring around the same season each year a 22 or 23 day month was created every second year. Julius Caesar decided to simplify things and added days to different months of the year to create the 365-day calendar; the actual calculations were made by Caesar's astronomer, Sosigenes. Every fourth year following the 28th day of Februarius (February 29th) one day was to be added, making every fourth year a leap year.

Next, consider the approximation of 365.25636 days in a year. In a thousand years, the fractional part amounts add up to 256.36 days. That is, in a mere thousand years, our calendar would be off by about 256.36 days if we did not make leap year adjustments. Even by adding a leap year day every four years, our calendar would still be off by more than six days every thousand years. This is partially corrected by more sophisticated methods of determining when leap years should occur.

Stone Age

Recently I have thoroughly enjoyed rereading Yuval Noah Harari’s book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Harari, 2011 in Hebrew; 2014 in English). The book surveys the history of humankind from the evolution of archaic human species in the Stone Age up to the twenty-first century.

The oldest stone tools that have been discovered are about 3.3 million years old. Especially in terms of current Homo Sapiens, that was a very long time ago. Current estimates are that the first Homo Sapiens (people like us) were born about 300,000 years ago (Wikipedia, 2019e, link). Thus, stone tools were made and used by our pre-Homo Sapiens ancestors more than 3 million years before the time of the first Homo Sapiens.

This is an aside. As a mathematician and scientist, I wonder how dates are determined for artifacts such as a stone tool from 3.3 million years ago. This is one of the things that anthropologists do. An anthropologist is a person who studies human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artifacts and other physical remains. The science and methodologies involved in dating such ancient artifacts are challenging and interesting. If you make use of project-based learning in your teaching of history, you might want to suggest that the science of discovering and dating ancient artifacts might well interest some of your students.

Radioactive decay is used to date the age of rocks above and below an ancient specimen. Scientists date igneous rock using elements that are slow to decay, such as uranium and potassium. Quoting from the article, How Do Scientists Date Things? (Mauk, 11/20/2012, link):

Radiocarbon dating involves determining the age of an ancient fossil or specimen by measuring its carbon-14 content. Carbon-14, or radiocarbon, is a naturally occurring radioactive isotope that forms when cosmic rays in the upper atmosphere strike nitrogen molecules, which then oxidize to become carbon dioxide. Green plants absorb the carbon dioxide, so the population of carbon-14 molecules is continually replenished until the plant dies. Carbon-14 is also passed onto the animals that eat those plants. After death the amount of carbon-14 in the organic specimen decreases very regularly as the molecules decay. Carbon-14 has a half-life of 5,730 ± 40 years, meaning that every 5,700 years or so the object loses half its carbon-14.

Samples from the past 70,000 years made of wood, charcoal, peat, bone, antler or one of many other carbonates may be dated using this technique.

Cave wall paintings have been discovered going back perhaps as far as 64,000 years (Wikipedia, 2019a, link):

A 2018 study claimed an age of 64,000 years for the oldest examples of (non-figurative) cave art in Iberia, which would imply production by Neanderthals rather than modern humans. In November 2018, scientists reported the discovery of the oldest known figurative art painting, over 40,000 (perhaps as old as 52,000) years old, of an unknown animal, in the cave of Lubang Jeriji Saléh on the Indonesian island of Borneo.

Nearly 340 caves have now been discovered in France and Spain that contain art from prehistoric times. Initially, the age of the paintings had been a contentious issue, since methods like radiocarbon dating can produce misleading results if contaminated by samples of older or newer material, and caves and rocky overhangs (where parietal art is found) are typically littered with debris from many time periods. But subsequent technology has made it possible to date the paintings by sampling the pigment itself, torch marks on the walls, or the formation of carbonate deposits on top of the paintings. [Bold added for emphasis.]

We also have artifacts that suggest a start in coding of numerical information that could be preserved over time (Wikipedia, 2019d, link):

Tallies made by carving notches in wood, bone, and stone were used for at least forty thousand years. These tally marks may have been used for counting elapsed time, such as numbers of days, lunar cycles or keeping records of quantities, such as of animals.

Lebombo bone is a baboon fibula with incised markings discovered in the Lebombo Mountains located between South Africa and Swaziland. The bone is between 44,230 and 43,000 years old, according to two dozen radiocarbon datings. According to The Universal Book of Mathematics, the Lebombo bone's 29 notches suggest "it may have been used as a lunar phase counter, in which case African women may have been the first mathematicians, because keeping track of menstrual cycles requires a lunar calendar." But the bone is clearly broken at one end, so the 29 notches can only be a minimum number.

In writing this newsletter, it occurred to me that we can think about stories that were shared among people and passed from generation to generation as a type of artifact. Of course, such stories change over time, and so they lack the solidity of a stone ax and other stone age tools.

Also, how do you date such ancient stories? For example, when was Jesus born? (Wikipedia, 2019b, link):

The date of birth of Jesus is not stated in the gospels or in any historical reference, but most theologians assume a date of birth between 6 BC and 4 BC. The historical evidence is too incomplete to allow a definitive dating, but the date is estimated through two different approaches—one by analyzing references to known historical events mentioned in the nativity accounts in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, and the second by working backwards from the estimation of the start of the ministry of Jesus.

Natural Language

We do not know when fully expressive natural language(s) developed (Pagel, 2/6/2016, link):

All human societies have language, and no language is “better” than any other: all can communicate the full range of human experience. To those of us who study human evolution, this incredible universality suggests that our species has had language right from when Homo Sapiens arose in Africa between 200,000 and 160,000 years ago. A more recent origin could not explain how groups that stayed in Africa after H. sapiens migrated to the rest of the world 60,000 years ago also have language.

However, more recent archeological findings indicate Homo Sapiens likely date back to 300,000 years ago (Wikipedia, 2019e, link). Thus, as we attempt to learn and teach the history of Homo Sapiens, we are looking at a period of time during which we had oral communication for 300,000 years, but have only had written language for a little over 5,000 years.

The Smart Phone is putting a new twist on this. As more communication occurs over phones, more of the oral tradition of people talking together in family and/or small groups is being lost.

Final Remarks

This newsletter began with the question of deciding what time period to cover in precollege history education courses. My suggestion is that precollege students should learn the history of the universe, along with the history of earth, and the history of life on the earth. Of course, historians are most interested in the history of Homo Sapiens, starting perhaps a little more than 300,000 years ago. It seems obvious to me that this should be the main focus of history education.

In recent years the discipline of Future Studies has developed, with researchers studying and using historical information in an attempt to predict the future. Future Studies is now an important component of the study of history..

Even with their “big” brains and oral language capabilities, it took Homo Sapiens a long time to colonize the world. The next newsletter in this series begins at about 12,000 years ago when hunter-gatherers first began to develop farms and permanent settlements (Wikipedia, 2019e, link). The total Homo Sapiens population at that time was perhaps in the range of one to ten million. Reading and writing had not yet been invented. So, all education up to that time came through a combination of storytelling and on-the-job training (apprenticeships) in which people learned to live and survive in a hunter-gather, mobile environment.

Agriculture led to a rapid growth in population and to a gradually increasing pace of development of technology to augment our physical and mental capabilities. Reading and writing certainly increased our mental capabilities. ICT has now become, and will continue to be, a giant step forward in increasing our mental capabilities.

References and Resources

Bain, R. (2008/2009). Into the breach: Using research and theory to shape history instruction. Retrieved 2/9/2019 from

Bazan, A.L. (May, 2010). Creating a historically literate classroom: Teaching students to think like a historian. Minds @ UW. Retrieved 2/9/2019 from

Bellis, M (2/6/2019). The history of leap year. Retrieved 4/14/2019 from

Big History Project (n.d.). 1.83 Billion years of history. Free. Online. Awesome. Retrieved 4/10/2019 from

Christian, D. (March, 2011), The history of our world in 18 minutes. TED Talks. (Video, 18 minutes.) Retrieved 4/10/2019 from

Christian, D., Brown, C.S., & Benjamin, C. (2013). Big history: Between nothing and everything. McGraw-Hill.

Harari, Y.N. (2011 in Hebrew; 2014 in English). Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Harper.

Mauk, B. (11/20/2012). How do scientists date ancient things? LiveScience. Retrieved 4/8/2019 from

May, K.T. (12/3/2013). A history curriculum that starts at the beginning of time. Retrieved 4/10/2019 from

Moursund, D. (2018). Digital filing cabinet: Secondary school history. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 2/9/2019 from

Moursund, D. (2018). The Fourth R (Second Edition). Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Retrieved 3/21/2019 from Download the Microsoft Word file from Download the PDF file from Download the Spanish edition from

Pagel, M. (2/6/2016). Who spoke the first words? New Scientist. Retrieved 3/4/2019 from

Redd, M.T. (6/8/2017). How old is the universe? Science & Astronomy. Retrieved 4/11/2019 from

Wikipedia (2019a). Cave painting. Retrieved 4/12/2019 from

Wikipedia.(2019b). Date of birth of Jesus. Retrieved 4/18/2019 from

Wikipedia (2019c). Earth’s orbit. Retrieved 4/13/2019 from

Wikipedia (2019d). History of ancient numeral systems. Retrieved 4/12/2019 from

Wikipedia (2019e). List of first human settlements. Retrieved 4/15/2019 from


David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and editor of the IAE Newsletter. His professional career includes founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology (now published by ISTE as Empowered Learner).He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free online. See .

In 2007, Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE). IAE provides free online educational materials via its IAE-pedia, IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and IAE books. See . Information Age Education is now fully integrated into the 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) that was established in 2016. David Moursund is the Chief Executive Officer of AGATE.

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Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. Current IAE activities and free materials include the IAE-pedia at, a Website containing free books and articles at, a Blog at, and the free newsletter you are now reading. See all back issues of the Blog at and all back issues of the Newsletter at