Math education, made fun

Mar 16, 2023 | Barrie South

Queen’s professor emerita Lynda Colgan receives the 2023 Margaret Sinclair Memorial Award for lifetime devotion to inspiring a love of science and math in youth.

Most parents want their kids to succeed in math classes, but many openly say they are not strong in math themselves and struggle to support their children in doing so. The challenge to improve Canadian youth’s math literacy is, thus, bigger than adapting and improving school curricula: it requires involving families and communities in recognizing the value and relevance of math in our daily lives.

This has been one of the major goals for Lynda Colgan, professor emerita in the Faculty of Education. For her lifetime achievements in innovation and creativity in mathematics education, she was awarded the 2023 Margaret Sinclair Memorial Award by University of Toronto’s Fields Institute of Research in Mathematical Sciences. The annual award "recognizes an educator in Canada who has demonstrated innovation and excellence in promoting mathematics education at the elementary, secondary, college or university level."

Dr. Colgan has worked across all levels: over four decades, she taught mathematics within Ontario’s public education system, from elementary to post-secondary. She has also supported curriculum development and teacher education, as well as authored textbooks and curriculum method courses. Beyond formal education, Dr. Colgan has led numerous outreach initiatives, from Family Math courses and math-based television programs to non-fiction books.

Additionally, in 2011, she launched Science Rendezvous Kingston, an annual free, family-oriented event that hosts Queen’s researchers and community partners to showcase their work in fun, interactive displays, and demonstrations. Since then, Science Rendezvous Kingston has become the largest pop-up science discovery centre in Canada, attracting thousands of visitors each year. The success of the Kingston event led her to accept the role of Executive Director, Education and Development at Science Rendezvous’ national office.

The Margaret Sinclair Memorial Award acknowledges Dr. Colgan’s efforts to advance mathematics beyond academic practices, creating opportunities to make math more accessible and valued outside the classrooms, and reshaping negative attitudes towards the discipline. But there is also a very personal reason why this award is meaningful. Dr. Colgan was a friend and colleague of Margaret Sinclair, whom she met during their PhD studies at the University of Toronto.

"Margaret opened one of her early papers with a quote from mathematician and educator Seymour Papert, who used to say we don’t educate children – instead, we create contexts in which they will learn," says Dr. Colgan. "I knew then that Margaret and I were kindred spirits – something that makes this award so intimate and special."

This September, during The Fields Institute Mathematics Education Forum (MathEd Forum), Dr. Colgan will deliver the 2023 Margaret Sinclair Memorial Award Lecture and share some of her learnings and education journey doing math outside on the football field, making mathemagical art, and revisiting the mathematical ancients in Egypt, India and China.

Currently, Dr. Colgan and the team in the Vice-Principal (Research) portfolio are busy preparing for the 13th edition of Science Rendezvous Kingston, to be held on May 13 at the Leon’s Centre. This year’s event will host 50 different booths, with displays and activities on topics like robotics, paleontology, chemistry, psychology, geography, biology, geology, art conservation, engineering, health and, of course, mathematics.

"I am a firm believer in the power of informal education – teaching and learning outside of the walls of the school," states Dr. Colgan. "Science Rendezvous pairs concepts and approaches from inquiry-based classroom learning, museums, science centres and carnivals to create an invitational environment designed to educate, engage, and inspire learners of all ages, especially youth."

The 2023 event will showcase more Queen’s researchers and teams than ever before, as well as a huge Saurophaganax, a giant floor map celebrating UN’s Ocean Decade (2020-2030), and a Sensory Friendly Science Zone, for kids who want to explore Science Rendezvous in a quieter way.

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