Tag Archives: ted widerski

“His parents think he’s fine. The school system thinks he’s fine. But he’s not fine!”

No sooner do I mention Eric Walstein than Emily Messner’s long profile of him appears in the Washington Post. You get a vivid sense of this devoted and — um, what’s the opposite of soft-spoken? — educator, who’s been wrestling Montgomery kids through math since — well, I don’t know how long, but he was already an old hand when I met him. I was seven. He ran me through some arithmetic problems and bawled me out when I gave him an answer of “Two hundred and six.”

“There is NO SUCH NUMBER AS TWO HUNDRED AND SIX!” he told me. He wrote “206” on the board. “This number is called TWO HUNDRED SIX.”

OK, in restrospect, I don’t really understand why he needed to insist on this point. But I was tremendously impressed. I’d never met somebody who would have cared in the slightest how properly to pronounce “206.” Let alone somebody who would yell at a seven-year-old kid about it.

The article isn’t just about Walstein, but about the raging battle over how math is to be taught in Montgomery County, one of the fanciest public school systems in the country. Messner is to be commended for going a little deeper than “Are calculators good or bad? Are standardized tests good or bad? Are math education Ph.D.’s good or bad?” which is all one usually gets on this issue.

Also: more memories of Ted Widerski in the comments on Madison’s School Information System blog.

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Ted Widerski

I just learned that Ted Widerski died last month. Ted was a long-time math teacher, in Madison and elsewhere in Wisconsin, and the programming director for the city’s gifted and talented program. He was 56.

I didn’t know Ted very well. I met him last year, when I spoke at the Middle School Math Fest he organized in Madison. I expected to lecture to a dozen or so overachieving and dutiful students — instead, I found the CUNA cafeteria packed with close to a hundred pre-teens, still fizzy and enthusiastic after a full morning of math activities led by an equally energetic cadre of teachers and high school students from Madison East. And Ted, fizzier if possible than the pre-teens themselves, at the center of it all. Very few people have the drive and know-how even to put together an event like this, let alone to make it such a success. Madison was lucky to have somebody like Ted helping young students find joy in math; from the Cap Times article linked above, it sounds like the students who learned from Ted in the classroom were pretty lucky too.

We talk a good game, in the higher-ed business, about getting kids in secondary school excited about mathematics. But it’s not easy for us to do, because we’re not in secondary schools. You need to have people in the school district who have a real feeling for math beyond the test, and who can convey that feeling to kids who don’t yet know how to articulate what they’re interested in. I think a lot of grown-ups in math can think of teachers of this kind we were fortunate enough to encounter in our youth. For me, and for a lot of other kids in Maryland, it was Eric Walstein. I think there’s a lot of kids, and former kids, from Madison, who’d say it was Ted Widerski.

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