Important People & Ideas in Math Education

David Moursund

I assume that you teach math to elementary school students or are very interested in this aspect of schooling. Here is a pop quiz. Name some people who have made major, lasting contributions to the discipline of math education, and say what they contributed. (Think about this a little before going on to the next paragraph.)

If I asked this question about the discipline of science, you might think of Isaac Newton, with his development of laws of gravity. Or, you might think of Albert Einstein and his famous formula, E = mc 2 . Which was easier for you—math education or science?

In the history of any discipline, I wonder which is more important for a student to learn, a person’s name or the person’s contributions to the discipline?

Recently I wrote an Information Age Education Blog entry in which I provided my thoughts on two really important math educators. As I wrote about these people, it dawned on me that it was their contributions—which have stood the test of time—that I believe are really more important.

The two I selected were George Polya and Seymour Papert. Polya contributed valuable insights into math problem solving. Papert helped design the Logo programming language and helped teach the world about the importance of computers as an aid to problem solving and learning how to solve problems.

I believe my recent book, The Fourth R, (available for free download) is important to math educators and all other educators. But it is the idea, rather than my name, that is important for others to learn about, implement in their own education, and help others to learn.

David Moursund is an MLC founder and current MLC Board member, Professor Emeritus of the University of Oregon’s College of Education, founder of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), and founder of the nonprofit company Information Age Education (IAE). To access the free IAE materials, many of which focus on math education, click here.