Math Professor Sachs Awarded for Distinguished Teaching

Posted: May 20, 2011 at 1:03 am, Last Updated: May 19, 2011 at 9:22 pm

By Dave Andrews

Bob Sachs with award

Bob Sachs with his award. Photo courtesy of Bob Sachs

Bob Sachs, professor of mathematical sciences, was recently awarded the John Smith Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching by the Mathematical Association of America in the Maryland-D.C.-Virginia section.

Sachs is the first Mason professor to receive the award since its first recipient in 1992, the late John Smith, for whom the award is named.

“I was very honored to receive this award,” Sachs says. “I knew and admired John Smith, and I am proud to represent Mason as the winner of the award named after him.”

The criteria for the award include:

  • Being recognized for extraordinarily successful teaching
  • Having documented examples of teaching effectiveness
  • Showing influence beyond their own institution
  • Fostering curiosity and generating excitement about mathematics in their students

“I am a big believer in meaningfulness and in visualization,” Sachs says. “Every student should not only be able to do things but to explain what they are doing and why.”

He also says he’s continually seeking new ways to reach his students, sometimes by experimenting with different forms of presentation.

“Bob brings a unique point of view to the teaching of mathematics,” says Stephen Saperstone, chair of the Department of Mathematical Sciences.

“Some of Bob’s lessons go beyond mere calculation; they ask students to write in their own words the meaning of what they are doing,” Saperstone says. “This is a great approach that carries over to upper-level and graduate courses.”

Sachs has played many leadership roles in the department since he began working at Mason in 1989.

He was on the planning committee for the Computational Sciences Institute and designed the computational mathematics track for PhD students. He also led the effort to establish a PhD program in mathematics and he created a set of computer labs for the calculus sequence to be used by the faculty teaching MATH 113, 114 and 213.

Outside of Mason, Sachs designed and implemented a four-course sequence for Fairfax County, Va., and other local school districts to teach multivariable calculus. Every semester for the last 10 years, he has taught advanced mathematics courses at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va. And for the last two years, he has often lectured in the weekly Fairfax Math Circle, a math club for middle and high school students.

Sachs is a co-principal investigator on a five-year, $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation that began in 2007. The grant supports graduate students who train kindergarten through grade 12 math and science teachers in local schools.

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