ATM People • Tom O’Brien
Tom O’Brien will be well-known to many ATM members, since he has often contributed articles to Mathematics Teaching, and was a regular attender at conferences from the early 1970s until just a few years ago.
A professor of mathematical education at Southern Illinois University, he will best be remembered in educational circles for the Teachers’ Center Project at Edwardsville. Tom recognised that a teachers’ centre was essentially a network of local people engaged collectively in the continual development of their own ideas about education. To assist in this development, he invited speakers of note, not only from elsewhere in the US but also from Canada and from Europe, educators whom he knew would be stimulating and challenging. A home-produced journal, Seedbed, encouraged Center members to write and reflect upon their own classroom experiences.
He was an ardent Anglophile, and his annual visits here included explorations of various parts of the country, but his particular love was for British education, an affection first inspired during a sabbatical year here in 1973-74 when his children enjoyed the hospitality of a London primary school. In subsequent years several ATM members were among the many who were invited to run courses at the Teachers’ Center, where they could meet and work with the enthusiasm that Tom had fostered among local teachers.
He lectured widely, wrote in many journals about his researches into children’s thinking – often with Teachers’ Centre colleagues, published books of problem-solving activities and games and designed problem-solving software. Retirement in 2007 increased rather than diminished his activity, and he was particularly vociferous in latter years about what he saw as regressive developments in American education.
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Margaret Jones talks about Tom
Margaret Jones remembers Tom O’Brien and says “I will miss his e-mails, I will miss his attendance at conference, I will miss his contributions to MT, but most of all I will miss his passion for mathematics and his empathy with learners – be they five, or fifty years old.”
From the Professor Tobbs website
Author, consultant, researcher Tom O’Brien (Tobbs), is professor emeritus in mathematics education, Southern Illinois University.
His work in education is three-fold: teacher education, curriculum development, and research on children’s thinking.
As a researcher, he has studied the growth of mathematical ideas in subjects from preschool to medical school and law school. As a teacher, he has worked with pupils from preschool through graduate school and for more than twenty years he was the director of the Teachers’ Center Project, a project widely regarded as the foremost approach to in-service teacher education in the country. As a curriculum developer, he has authored more than fifty books for children, in addition to having written and edited some eighty papers on children’s thinking and education published through the Teachers’ Center Project.
In addition, Dr O’Brien has published and delivered some 450 papers on children’s thinking, mathematics education, intellectual development and educational change. His presentations and seminars have taken place in the USA, Canada, Brasil, UK, Italy, France, Holland, Switzerland, Hungary, and the Republic of South Africa.
He was named a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Senior Research Fellow in Science in 1978, a position involving collaboration with Prof dr Hans Freudenthal at IOWO, University of Utrecht.
Prizewinning computer software designed by O’Brien for Sunburst Communications include Safari Search, Teasers by Tobbs, King’s Rule, Puzzle Tanks, and Blockers and Finders.
O’Brien’s books have been published in the US, UK, Brasil, Germany, Netherlands and Australia. Discussions are underway for publication in the People’s Republic of China.
In the US, his book titles are Daily Tantalizers Books 1-8 (Problem of the Day), VersaTiles® for Problem Solving, Middle Grades VersaTiles® for Critical-Thinking published by ETA/Cuisenaire, and Off the Path Math, published by FableVision.
In 2007-10 he published widely-heralded articles on the ‘math wars’ in Education Weekly, Phi Delta Kappan, the Montana Mathematics Enthusiast, and Mathematics Teaching (UK).
In July 2007, after 37 years of blissfully nutrified life in St. Louis, Tobbs and Gail (Dr. Gail Marshall) moved to Walnut Creek CA to be near their grand-daughter Molly, and her parents. The visit lasted 2.5 years and Gran and Grandad Tobbs returned to St. Louis.
Upon return Tobbs published the first of a hoped-for dozen Apple apps, iProbes. (Please google on iProbes.)
After the move Tom continues his work with children—research on logical and mathematical thinking—which has been underway for five years and which has produced stunning results published in the USA and Europe, his writing, and his software development.
In summer 2010 he launches www.mathplace.net, an on-line on-demand distribution site for math-related books for children, teachers and parents.
O’Brien received his bachelor’s degree from Iona College, his master’s degree from Teachers College/Columbia University and his Ph.D. from New York University.