from the Dean

Teaching math during a pandemic

With COVID-19 closing schools across the world, many parents have been thrust into a new and unfamiliar role: supervisor of their children’s education. If you’ve found yourself in this position, I am certainly sympathetic. Keeping your children engaged with their lessons while meeting the regular demands of your job is a demanding and difficult balancing act.

But I am also hopeful some collective good can come out of this predicament. If nothing else, perhaps we will emerge from the pandemic with a greater appreciation for the complexities, challenges, and high stakes of our children’s learning. Perhaps we will be compelled to think critically about how education can be enhanced, made more relevant, dynamic, and fun—a passion rather than a chore.

At Waterloo Math, we are proud to be recognized leaders in the field of math education. We’ve achieved this position by pushing boundaries, challenging the status quo, and consistently taking learning beyond the classroom.

The Centre for Education in Math and Computing is a case in point. For fifty years, CEMC has committed to giving students the tools they need to build their confidence, grow their problem-solving skills and get excited about mathematics and computing. From courses to contests to workshops, they have defined the cutting-edge of math education in this country and across the world.

And then there’s our co-operative education program. Co-op gives students opportunities to connect classroom knowledge with real-world experience. Through these experiences, students discover just how valuable and relevant their math skills really are, and return to the classroom invigorated and confident.

Now, in the midst of COVID-19, we’re rethinking our educational paradigms yet again. Over the past year, we’ve found new ways to enrich and expand our virtual learning, ensuring that the quality of our education is maintained throughout this challenging time.

To this end, the theme of our Spring issue of E-Ties is “education beyond the classroom,” and it features compelling stories about how our unique math education is changing lives. It includes stories about:

  • Professor Ondrej Lhotak and his involvement with the International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC). Lhotak competed for UW in the ICPC while still a student, winning the world championships in 1999. Today he has become a coach for our teams. His story is a compelling testament to the importance of contests to math education.
  • Ina Wang, a student from the Philippines, who learned of the University of Waterloo through CEMC’s Problem of the Week and now serves as a part of the executive team for our math student ambassadors.
  • DigitalEd, a software company headed by Waterloo math alumni, is creating innovative STEM learning experiences that lead to better student engagement.
  • Omnium, a data analytics startup launched by Waterloo alumni, is leveraging the Waterloo co-op program to help sports franchises reopen their stadiums to fans.

I hope you enjoy this issue as much as I did!

To conclude, I want to note some sad news. As some of you may already have heard, Tom Coleman (Dean of Math 2005-2010, Professor of Combinatorics & Optimization 2005-present) passed away on April 20 after a battle with cancer. Tom was a pioneer in optimization and scientific computing including combinatorial scientific computing, parallel optimization, automatic differentiation, and portfolio optimization. He was a visionary who, as Dean, helped shape what our Faculty is today (including the innovative education that is the theme of this issue). To read more about Tom’s remarkable life, please see his obituary (also published in the Globe and Mail and the Waterloo Record) and this Daily Bulletin article remembering his legacy. He will be deeply missed in the Faculty of Mathematics.

Mark Giesbrecht
Dean, Faculty of Mathematics