You may never have heard kids cheer when they solve a math equation, or groan because a math lesson has come to an end-unless you've witnessed Lola May teaching math.
Dr. Lola J. May (1923-2007) was a noted mathematics educator, consultant, author and producer of audio-visual materials. A pioneer in mathematics education and an early proponent of the new math educational process, May was beloved by her students, and became a household name among mathematics educators.
The Kenosha, Wisconsin, native graduated summa cum laude from the University of Wisconsin in 1945. She earned a master's degree in mathematics at Northwestern University and received her doctorate in 1964. May taught mathematics at New Trier Township High School in the Chicago area until 1960, and was a mathematics consultant for the Winnetka, Illinois public schools until 1998. During her lengthy career she taught all grades, created a 20-session "live" mathematics series for TV, taught at the college level and spoke at educational conferences all over the world.
She retired from full-time consulting in 1990, and worked "part-time" well into her seventies. But part-time Lola May-style often stopped just short of being full-time. "I've still got things to do," May would explain.
From September 1978 through May 2000, May was Teaching Pre K-8 magazine's math columnist. According to Allen A. Raymond, Editor and Publisher, Lola was famous for her ability to make speeches about math and receive standing ovations, her ability to teach mathematics in the classroom and her uncanny ability to make people of all ages laugh and learn. "Lola was a brilliant, funny, wonderful lady."
She is the author of numerous mathematics textbooks, in addition to other works, including her autobiography "Lola May Who?" and "Teaching Mathematics in the Elementary School." In her autobiography, May wrote that she wanted students to laugh and ask questions-and she would make sure the bright ones were not bored, nor the slower ones intimidated.
Her awards include the Northwestern Alumni Merit Award, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and the Educator of the Year Award from the Winnetka Chamber of Commerce.
"The big thing I have going for me is my enthusiasm," May once said. "There are people who are brighter than I am. There are people who may be better teachers-although I'm pretty good at teaching-and there are certainly people who are better writers. But I have enthusiasm."
Lola passed away on 3/13/07. A date—as her closest friend and past president of NCTM Shirley Frye was quick to point out—that consists of all prime numbers.