John Napier's birth and death dates (1550-1617) looked kind of familiar — really familiar, in fact.
And they're awfully close to Galileo's birth and death dates too (1564-1642).
So why not at least mention the historical context of logarithms?
I had translated Napier's Latin preface to his Description of the Wondrous Canon of Logarithms and was thinking about formatting it as a handout for students. So when Kate Nowak asked if she could publish an early version of my translation. Then Sam Shah e-mailed me about his inspiring idea of having his kids read my translation aloud in class. So I decided to follow their always excellent examples!
I played some Renaissance dance music from very close to the period as students entered the classroom — Calliope's album Calliope Dances: A Renaissance Revel (http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/calliope-dances-a-renaissance/id83153241 ) is a great choice for this. If you only want one song, choose Praetorius' Galliarde (1), which is Track 1 on this album (http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/early-17th-century-dances/id83153241?i=83152750 ).
I then gave a very brief mini-lecture on how Napier's invention of logarithms were to Renaissance astronomical calculations as our ubiquitous pocket calculators (and calculator iApps) make such calculations for us today.
We then did a practice activity based on Kate Nowak's "Add 'Em Up" practice structure but for solving logarithmic equations (students working in groups of four are given four different colored sheets each with four problems on them; each person does a problem and passes the sheet around to the next person in their group. When all the problems are done, the group adds up their answers/approximations and compares them to the color-coded answers posted on the side wall).
Students seemed to enjoy the change of pace and liked knowing how and why the mathematics they were learning arose and what it was related to historically.
Next time I might have students read and do something with James Tanton's excellent "Story of Logarithms" write-up.
PRIMARY SOURCE DOCUMENT
Here is a link to the Napier preface handout, formatted as a PDF and available freely on Box.net : Wondrous Canon of Logs
Here is a link to my Add 'Em Up homage to Kate Nowak's practice activity: Add-Em-Up-Logarithmic-Eqns