Bridges in Mathematics

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Gene Maier 1929–2023

Rick Ludeman, Chief Executive Officer

We are sad to share the news that our co-founder, Dr. Eugene Maier, passed away earlier this month after a long illness. Gene was a pioneer in developing visual methods for understanding math, and had an unshakeable belief in the ability of each person to find their inner mathematician. 

Over the span of his distinguished career as a professor, author, and thought leader, Gene had a profound impact on generations of educators and students. We invited two colleagues who knew him well to share their reflections on his legacy.

Dr. Michael Shaughnessy, Professor of Mathematics Education at Oregon State and Portland State Universities, Past President of The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

For over 50 years, Gene Maier was a mentor and visionary leader for hundreds of mathematics teachers and educators in the Pacific Northwest, especially here in Oregon. So many of us were influenced by Gene’s thinking and visual approaches to teaching school mathematics and have subsequently passed his ideas onto the next generation of teachers and educators. Today, there is hardly a mathematics teacher in the state who hasn’t been touched by Gene, even if they’ve never met or heard of him.

Gene obtained grants through the National Science Foundation to provide seed money for the creation of many of Oregon’s math education structures, communities and curriculum materials that are still with us and thriving today. These include: Oregon Math Leaders, TOTOM (Teachers of Teachers of Mathematics), TOMT (The Oregon Mathematics Teacher) and the Math and the Mind’s Eye books that are based on visual approaches to mathematics. Math and the Mind’s Eye led to the development of the Visual Mathematics curriculum for middle grades mathematics teachers and students.

When I came to Oregon nearly 50 years ago, Gene was one of the leaders of a core group of mathematics educators who formed the historical heart and soul of mathematics education in our state. In addition to Gene, this group included Ted Nelson, Marj Enneking, Don Fineran, Oscar Schaaf, Don Rasmussen, Gary Musser, Alan Hoffer, and many others. Oregon was nationally known for its strengths in mathematics education and its innovative approaches to teaching mathematics. It was such an exciting place to be as a young assistant professor, and all these folks were my mentors. It was math-ed heaven!

It is important that we all recognize and remember just how much Gene Maier contributed to all of us, to math educators in colleges and universities, to classroom mathematics teachers, and, most of all, to the students in our classrooms. Gene was truly our mathematics education Grandfather.

Dan Raguse, former executive director of MLC

When I joined The Math Learning Center in 1990, I was challenged by Gene’s perspectives on math education and his unique way of inspiring people to see mathematics in a new and meaningful way. He didn’t tell students how to do math. Instead, he challenged them with interesting problems, encouraged them to explore solutions, embrace mistakes, and find methods that made sense to them. To move their thinking forward, he pressed them with authentic questions and extensions. Most importantly, he believed everyone possessed the potential to learn mathematics. 

Perhaps his signature contribution to math education was his use of visual models. With simple tiles and rectangles, he was able to help teachers and students understand the how and why of place value, number operations, and algebraic expressions. He demonstrated geometric transformations with a geoboard. With manipulatives, sketches and pictures, his students (often for the first time) made sense of mathematical procedures they’d previously memorized.

Not long after Gene retired, I stepped into the role of MLC leadership. I was grateful for his lasting friendship and support, and we continued to benefit from his wisdom and insight. I wish I could fully express the significance of Gene’s work. His contributions live on in the people he taught, in his writings, in MLC materials and methods, and in the efforts of the Maier Math Foundation.

Thank you, Gene, for inspiring us to think differently about math, about teaching and learning, about how we relate to our world and seize opportunities in a serendipitous life.

More information:
Obituary, Oregon Live
About MLC and our co-founders
Maier Math Foundation

Samples of Gene’s work:
Math and the Mind’s Eye
Gene’s Corner and Other Nooks & Crannies
A Play on Numbers