May 28, 2009
Vol. 28 No. 17

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    Math fellow continues Wirszup’s work at CPS

    By William Harms
    News Office

    Photos by Bruce Powell

    Members of Izaak Wirszup’s family gathered at a recent luncheon to honor Jerry Lo (foreground, left), who received the first Izaak Wirszup fellowship. As the Wirszup fellow, Lo will continue to make improving mathematics education in public schools a goal of his work. Izaak’s widow, Pera Wirszup, congratulates Lo at the lunch.

    Second-year student Jerry Lo, who aspires to make mathematics both challenging and satisfying for elementary school students, is the first recipient of the Izaak Wirszup undergraduate fellowship. The new fellowship program honors the memory of the legendary University educator who championed mathematics education in Chicago Public Schools.

    Lo, a native of Taiwan who also studied in Canada, makes weekly visits to Chicago Public Schools to work with the students of teachers in the University of Chicago Polk Bros. Foundation Program for the Improvement of CPS Mathematics Teaching.

    Through the program, Chicago elementary school teachers have been trained each summer and at monthly sessions during the school year to use new approaches to encourage mathematics learning among their students.

    “Jerry has shown great energy and enthusiasm as well as talent in helping Chicago Public Schools teachers and students through his visits to the CPS classrooms,” said Robert Fefferman, Dean of the Physical Sciences Division and the Max Mason Distinguished Service Professor in Mathematics and the College. “He has been a wonderful participant in the Polk Brothers-University of Chicago program and has committed to continuing his participation.”

    Lo said his interest in mathematics grew after meeting his mathematics mentor Andy Liu, a professor at the University of Alberta. “Dr. Liu is especially devoted to mathematics education. His desire to excite students and teachers about mathematics really influenced me and changed my perception toward mathematics. This is why I became involved in the CPS/Polk Brothers outreach, to try and make mathematics a little bit more fun for these kids.

    Jerry Lo

    “I wish that mathematics could be a challenging, yet satisfying subject for them and the experience that they gain from learning math could be a stepping stone for all other topics,” said Lo, who is concentrating in mathematics and economics.

    Wirszup, who died in 2008, helped found in 1999 the Polk Brothers-supported program, which Fefferman is continuing. Wirszup, Professor in Mathematics, also helped found the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project and frequently addressed members of Congress about the need for improved mathematics education.

    Fefferman praised Wirszup for his visionary leadership, and the textbooks and methods he helped create to teach mathematics to primary and secondary school students.

    “Currently, millions of children across the country are being taught with these textbooks every year,” Fefferman said.

    The fellowship was presented to Lo at a Friday, May 15 luncheon for Wirszup’s widow, Pera, and the Wirszup family. The University award the Izaak Wirszup fellowship annually to a undergraduate who is committed to improving mathematics education.