For more than 25 years, calculus students at Guelph have been educated and entertained by Prof. Jack Weiner, Mathematics and Statistics. They’ve come to love his weekly five-minute “Friday Specials,” a collection of humorous real-world stories that show the use and frequent abuse of math.
“It is math for fun,” says Weiner, “but also for empowerment. Many of these stories illustrate a misleading use of math, intentional or otherwise.
Weiner suspects his passion for teaching is partly hard-wired but mostly inspired by many teachers who inspired him. “Caring teachers are so important,” says Weiner, who left school midway through Grade 12 and was visited by several teachers who came to his home and encouraged him to return to the classroom. “Math may be my subject, but for me, teaching is more about caring and bringing out the best in students.”
His passion is one of the traits that earned him the 2010 John Bell Award, which celebrates outstanding contributions to education at the University of Guelph. He will receive his award during summer convocation ceremonies for the College of Physical and Engineering Science, June 15 at 4 p.m. in the Gryphon Dome.
In addition to the John Bell Award, Weiner has earned a number of other accolades over the years for his work in the classroom. These include the 2007 University of Guelph Central Student Association Award for Teaching Excellence, a 2007 Leadership in Faculty Teaching Award and a 1994 Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations teaching award. He was cited as a “popular professor” in Maclean’s magazine’s annual Canada-wide university survey in eight of the nine years the feature ran. He was a director of the Ontario Association for Mathematics Education from 1984 to 2007 and has been on the executive of the Grand Valley Mathematics Association since 1983.
Weiner has delivered hundreds of talks to high school students, teachers and the public. Recently, he developed an innovative software package to better prepare incoming students for university-level mathematics and science education. In the past four years, he has worked closely with mathematics software icon Maplesoft to develop best uses of technology in education.
“My life has to have meaning,” says Weiner. “In large part, I get that meaning from helping students succeed. To this end, my classes are conversations.” At the beginning of each class, he scans the room, makes eye contact with each student, yells “hello,” and receives a resounding “hello” back.
“We are people first. We interact with one another and respect one another first as people, then as students and teacher. That ‘hello’ sets the tone and encourages participation. I don’t run classes where students come in and just take notes. My classes are about active learning. I’m constantly working to evolve my teaching to be the best it can be. By definition, I succeed when my students are the best they can be.”