Everyone’s heard of Zoltan Dienes, or at least the multibase blocks he invented for teaching place value and which bear his name. “How could children learn what base ten is if they are not familiar with other number systems?”, he said.
He was born in Hungary – he’d tell people he was actually born in the time of the Austro-Hungarian empire – but grew up and spent much of his working life in England. He travelled widely and subsequently worked in many other countries as well; indeed, he had honorary degrees from several different countries.
Last year I came across his website http://www.zoltandienes.com/ I was pretty well bowled over at what I discovered. Firstly by the fact that, well into his tenth decade, Dienes was still alive and productive. Also by the wealth of materials he’s produced which I’ve downloaded for exploration when I get around to them – lots of articles which start off using very simple and concrete situations to develop some complex mathematics.
Part of my interest was down to the fact that as an undergraduate I was actually a student of his for a term or so. The word had reached us that he was doing remarkable things working with young children, though I guess he wouldn’t claim that teaching differential equations to chemists and physicists was the greatest of his achievements. It’s overdoing things perhaps to put him in the category of my heroes, but he was a remarkable man and few of us can hope to be known throughout one’s profession, fluent in five languages, married for 68 years, have seventeen great-grandchildren, and be active into our nineties.
Dienes lived in Nova Scotia and died last month at the age of 97.