boston college mathematics institute
In September 1953, Stanley J. Bezuszka, SJ, Chairman of the Department of Mathematics at BC, conducted along with other department faculty members an experimental program with students in the College of Arts & Sciences and the School of Education. The purpose of the study was to develop an integrated two-year precalculus–calculus course in mathematics, emphasizing structure and using an approach that would provide a solid foundation for the upper-division course in advanced calculus.
During the four-year period of experimentation, it became apparent that incoming freshmen were seriously lacking in fundamental concepts of contemporary mathematics. Most were unaware of the structure of mathematics; they also had very little knowledge of the history of the subject.
This observation led to an investigation of secondary mathematics programs. General consensus was that the course of study needed revision, but the move toward curriculum change at school level was not taken seriously until the launch of Sputnik, which focused national attention on the problems in the schools and served as a catalyst for action.
Sputnik was launched in October 1957. Just before that, in June, the Mathematics Institute was officially established. The Institute has since conducted professional development programs for teachers at Boston College, in area school districts, and at other locations nationally and internationally.
From the 1960s onward, Institute staff have written materials for teachers to use in courses with students at various grade levels in the middle–secondary range. The student experimental texts produced at the Institute in the '60s emphasized the historical development of mathematics, and the content emphasized problem solving.
The July 1957 inaugural summer program for area teachers featured presentations by educators working under a national focus. They included Albert Meder, Executive Director of the Commission on Mathematics; Frank Verzuh, Assistant Director, MIT Computer Center; John Kemeny, Mathematics Chair, Dartmouth College; and Max Beberman, Director of the University of Illinois Committee on School Mathematics.
The goal of this initial workshop was to convince the teachers that significant changes in mathematics instruction were not only being seriously contemplated on the national level, but were already in development. Especially through its work with Professors Kemeny and Beberman, the Mathematics Institute developed a strong master's degree program for teachers. The program focused on courses that would expand and enrich teachers' knowledge of mathematics and enable them to better serve their students and society.
The Boston College Mathematics Institute, through its Academic Year Institutes and combinations of Summer and Inservice Institutes, offered veteran teachers the opportunity to renew and update their skills, and also earn the non-research Master of Arts Degree in Mathematics.
To accommodate the many teachers across the country who were remote from our campus and from other campuses offering similar programs, the Institute, with support from the National Science Foundation, initiated a distance-learning program. Called the Cooperative Unit Study Program, Courses 1 and 2, it enabled participating teachers to study mathematics on their own, complete problem-solving assignments, and mail them to Boston College to get immediate feedback on the results. The content they worked on addressed elements of the history of mathematics, fundamental mathematical concepts, and topics anticipated for school level reform texts.
Mathematics education on the national scene has since gone through various periods of reform, from the "New Math" of the 1960s to the "Back to Basics" movement of the 1970s to "Standards-based Curricula" of the 1990s. Throughout, the Institute has continued to offer professional development programs to teachers.
On December 27, 2008, the Mathematics Institute was saddened by the loss of its founding director, Stanley J. Bezuszka, SJ, just one month shy of his 95th birthday.
A mathematical sculpture by Sol LeWitt on the grounds of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
A mathematical sculpture by Tony Smith on the grounds of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.