Elizabeth Fennema of UW-Madison, celebrated for her research on gender and math education, has died

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23 December 2021

Elizabeth Fennema, longtime UW-Madison faculty member and pioneering researcher on math teaching and learning, died on December 20, 2021.

Elizabeth fennema

Fennema, professor emeritus, spent 34 years in the Curriculum and Teaching Department of the School of Education. She was also a senior scientist at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research.

“Professor Fennema was an inspiring teacher, researcher, leader and mentor, and she was a fantastic colleague. The School of Education is a different and better place because of her leadership, ”said Diana Hess, Dean of UW-Madison School of Education, upon news of her death.

Fennema has had a long and productive career researching the engagement and learning of girls and young women in math classrooms. In 1974, she published a review of the literature on gender differences in mathematics in the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, then joined Julia Sherman in producing what are now called the Fennema-Sherman Mathematical Attitude Scales. Through their work, Fennema and Sherman improved understanding of how gender and achievement intersect in mathematics, and they showed that female students’ underachievement in mathematics was sociocultural in nature. The scales have been widely used and continue to allow researchers to collect and compare data on the attitudes of young women towards mathematics.

“Liz was one of the first people to talk about gender and math, and how teachers actually did things that inhibited girls’ participation in math,” said Gloria Ladson-Billings, professor emeritus in the Department. programs and education. and the president of the National Academy of Education.

Ladson-Billings noted that Fennema was instrumental in raising awareness of practices that were never considered sexist – such as the use of sports examples to illustrate mathematical concepts – but which contributed to gender stereotypes. .

Fennema and her colleagues have also been involved in the revolutionary application of research and learning theory of mathematics to the practice of teaching children. They developed and studied an innovative method of teaching mathematics called Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI), detailed in “Mathematics for childrenWhich Fennema co-wrote with Thomas Carpenter, Megan Loef Franke, Linda Levi and Susan Empson.

For more than 25 years, CGI’s professional learning has enhanced teachers’ abilities to increase their students’ learning and understanding of mathematics with a focus on students’ mathematical thinking. CGI has had a profound impact on teachers in Wisconsin, in the United States and abroad, and reflects Fennema’s deep respect for teachers and the teaching profession.

Erica Halverson, professor in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching, noted that Fennema was “a pioneer in research in mathematics education and a role model for female faculty members in our department and in the School of Education “.

“It is thanks to her that our department benefits from gender parity and encourages women to take on leadership roles,” she added.

Fennema and her late husband, UW-Madison Emeritus Professor Owen Fennema, met in high school and both graduated from Kansas State University with their bachelor’s degrees. They then moved to Madison to pursue their master’s studies – Owen earned a master’s degree in food science and Elizabeth got a master’s degree in education.

Although the Fennemas initially planned to return to Kansas to work in a family-owned dairy business after graduating, their plans changed due to the Korean conflict. Owen Fennema joined the military for two years. After his release, he received his doctorate and became a faculty member in the Department of Food Sciences at UW-Madison.

Elizabeth Fennema entered the doctoral program in the Curriculum and Teaching Department of the School of Education and graduated in 1969, majoring in mathematics education.

Elizabeth and Owen Fennema retired from UW-Madison the same day in 1997.

After her retirement, Elizabeth Fennema headed UW-Madison’s program to enhance doctoral education funded by the Spencer Foundation. The program focused on bringing doctoral students from all departments and disciplines together, giving them a broader vision of educational research.

Ladson-Billings said that after joining the faculty at UW-Madison, “she couldn’t have asked for a stronger ally” than Elizabeth Fennema. “She wanted people to really stand up for what they were looking for,” Ladson-Billings said. “She has helped me to really refine my voice and take ownership of my own work.”

“I’ve worked with Liz since I came to Madison after my PhD in 1970 as part of the teacher education program,” said Tom Popkewitz, professor in the Department of Curriculum and Education. “Initially a lecturer in the department, she quickly became a national and internationally recognized researcher in mathematics education. As someone who has worked in a different intellectual area of ​​the department and as a past chair, Liz was a wonderful, caring and caring colleague who greatly contributed to the strength and intellectual vitality of the department.

A phenomenal researcher, author and educator, Fennema has received numerous accolades for her work, including awards from the American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the Association for Women in Mathematics Education. She was appointed a member of the National Academy of Education in 1997.

In 2021, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), the culmination of her distinguished career.

“Elizabeth Fennema’s great work over the decades has literally changed lives,” said Hess. “Her legacy will continue and she will be sorely missed. “


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