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Watching mathematics education go global

Fifty years ago, the landscape of mathematics education was undergoing a transformation. And professor Jeremy Kilpatrick, as a graduate student at Stanford University, was right there with his own tools, pitching in to help make it happen.

Kilpatrick recently retired from the College of Education after 41 years. But not without contributing more than four decades to the cause of teaching mathematics, helping hundreds of students continue UGA's legacy around the world.

It's a legacy that began with a fortuitous meeting of the minds during the turbulent 1960s.

The New Math After teaching at a junior high school in Berkeley, California, while getting his master's degree, Kilpatrick pursued his doctorate at Stanford. The people he studied alongside there laid the groundwork for an international sea change in mathematics education called New Math.

"What they wanted to do was revise the high school curriculum," says Kilpatrick, whose classmate was recently retired UGA mathematics education professor Jim Wilson. Their paths crossed just as their professor, Ed Begle, brought the preeminent New Math study group from Yale to Stanford. "So we were right in the thick of it."

Kilpatrick's work has since focused on the significance of the New Math movement and its effect on mathematics education. The field has come into its own in the past generation, in large part because of the work done by Kilpatrick, Wilson, Begle, and other pioneers.

Success as department After graduate school, Kilpatrick came to UGA from Teachers College, Columbia University. At the time, the mathematics education program was still finding its footing. But thanks to the administration at the time, mathematics education was—and continues to be—seen as its own field.

"It's really a phenomenon that we became one of the few departments that was mathematics education," he says. "Our dean, Joe Williams, had a vision to say we needed a department of mathematics education."

The department launched in 1966, but when Kilpatrick arrived in 1975, it was still small. At Columbia University, he was used to seeing an international student body—and so, to a certain extent unintentionally, began to create one.

"I was involved in the International Conference of Mathematics Education; when the third one was held in 1976, we had a few from our department who went over there," he says. "That was about the first time the University of Georgia mathematics education group made any kind of international appearance, and right away, we started getting students applying, because mathematics education was developing in different countries."

Over the years, he has influenced hundreds of students who have gone on to teach around the world. The department has an international reputation thanks to scholars such as Kilpatrick and Wilson, and Kilpatrick smiles as he thinks about the corners of the world he's traveled and found a UGA alumnus.

"We've had a lot of students in Georgia but also in other countries," he says, noting Portugal, Spain, Brazil, Chile, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Korea where alumni now play a major role in the direction of mathematics education. "We've had several good people from Thailand; I had a great student from Japan—he's getting close to retirement. That's the problem—people retire before me."

For now, Kilpatrick is happy to keep his finger on the pulse of the department, observing preservice teachers part time. But he's also looking forward to experiencing Athens as a full retiree with his wife, Cardee.

"And I hate to give up my office," he says. "I have too many books in my office to bring home, so I've got to work on that."