Louise Hay Award

1998 Winner: Deborah Hughes Hallet


In the tradition of Louise Hay, Deborah Hughes Hallett is a first rate classroom teacher as well as a strong administrator. She has made a very strong impact on undergraduate and high school mathematics education both nationally and internationally.

In the classroom, she has been a dedicated teacher who knows how to involve students and get them to realize their potential. She has a unique ability to get into students’ minds, to work out what they are missing and to devise a new way to explain something that overcomes the obstacle. Former students write, “Her teaching was a model of how to get people interested in learning,” and “She engages her students in mathematics by allowing them to discover for themselves the answers to problems and the significance of applications.”

Her influence has spread far beyond her own classroom to many other teachers: undergraduates whom she trained to teach a precalculus course at Harvard that she pioneered; graduate teaching assistants; and university and high school teachers across the country who have attended her workshops on teaching calculus. A former undergraduate instructor Stephen Modzelewski, himself a Putnam winner, writes that the instructors “all gain mathematically as a result of being a part of this community” and grow in “their attitudes towards standards and intellectual rigor” both in their teaching and their own studies.

Her courses involve a fundamental rethinking of curriculum and teaching. Because of their design, they are programs that survive after she leaves them. The calculus book with which she is associated has triggered an extensive debate on educational ideas in the mathematics community. The controversy surrounding it shows how truly innovative it is. Through her workshops and textbooks, her insights into teaching and learning have been conveyed to teachers and students far from Cambridge and Tucson. A German mathematician says, “Her outstanding contribution has influenced many didacticians.”

As a mathematics teacher, mentor, textbook author, and teacher educator whose scope and influence have reached far beyond her immediate students, Deborah Hughes Hallett is an extremely worthy recipient of the Louise Hay Award for Contributions to Mathematics Education.

Response from Deborah Hughes Hallett:

I am surprised and honored to have won the Louise Hay Award for Contributions to Mathematics Education.

This prize complements the other prize of my professional life, which is the opportunity I have had to collaborate with such a spectacular group of mathematicians and teachers. It is an inspiration to see research mathematicians and high school teachers listen carefully to each other and combine their wisdom to work out the best way to teach something. 1 have learned from all these colleagues. I have also learned from the many Harvard and Arizona students who kindly taught me how they thought about mathematics, and thereby taught me how to teach.

I particularly want to thank the research community for welcoming me, an immigrant, into its midst. Mathematics has always been impressively open to people with different accents and different passports, and the field has flourished because of this. However. research mathematics is now faced with a different breed of immigrants. Our accents and passports may be the same as yours, but our lives are focused differently: on teaching and education. All immigrant groups bring with them different cultures, different values, and different religions. These differences always produce strain and often conflict. Yet, as the history of the U.S. has clearly demonstrated,. a society is strengthened by being able to draw on the talents of its immigrants. I hope that U.S. mathematics will continue its tradition of leadership of welcoming immigrants such as I.