The Mathema Foundation is an educational charity that aims to promote the importance of mathematics within the community by helping prospective students and educators harness the skills that will enable them to thrive in an increasingly mathematical world. Because mathematics gives meaning to our lives and the universe around us, it is important that people of all backgrounds and at all levels of education can be encouraged to see mathematics as an enabling rather than inhibiting force in their lives. Everyone should have a chance to experience the knowledge-enriching power of mathematics—be they school-aged children, university students, educators, or educational organisations seeking inspiration through professional learning.
The Mathema Foundation was established by Rosemary and Calvin Irons to provide a source for the thousands of artefacts and ideas they have collected or created over their collective 120 years of work in the disciplines of mathematics and mathematics education.
Rosemary began her study of mathematics in the mid-1960s at Mount Mary College in Milwaukee, USA. She continued that study at Indiana University before accepting a lectureship at Queensland University of Technology (Kelvin Grove College of Advanced Education at that time) in Brisbane, Australia. Her teaching, writing and professional activities have focused on mathematics learning before and in the early years of primary school.
Calvin grew up on a small farm in rural Iowa, USA. He began his study to be a middle school teacher in the early 1960s and soon became interested in mathematics despite having little background in the discipline. After completing every undergraduate subject in mathematics and mathematics education at the University of Northern Iowa, Calvin studied and earned an MA degree in pure mathematics at the same university. After teaching for 4 years, he undertook full-time study for 4 additional years at The University of Hawaii (pure mathematics) and then Indiana University (mathematics education). He also then accepted a lectureship at Queensland University of Technology.
At QUT, Rosemary and Calvin taught over 25,000 students, conducted at least 2500 professional learning sessions, spoke at over 400 conferences and wrote in excess of 800 books. The books ranged from 12-page readers for very young children to whole curriculum programs with 300-page teacher reference guides written for every grade from Kindergarten to Year 7. At the university, Calvin taught both mathematics education and pure/applied mathematics subjects. The latter were designed to provide future teachers with in-depth knowledge of mathematics topics that were high interest for young learners or showed many of the applications of mathematics in current jobs as well as those in the future. He has prepared unpublished university level material related to applications of number theory that can be taught to pre-tertiary students interested in the mathematics of encryption.
Throughout their long careers, Rosemary and Calvin have fostered an interest for mathematics that goes beyond their extensive knowledge of the discipline itself. Their work has been as much about understanding how mathematics education is delivered in local and global contexts, and how it can be improved to make the learning experience more beneficial, meaningful and enjoyable for all. This has seen Rosemary and Calvin work on numerous professional development projects worldwide, including in the US, Canada, New Zealand, England, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and South Africa. One notable project involved a 10-module professional development program for primary school teachers in Thailand, which Calvin wrote after departing QUT in 2014. Both Rosemary and Calvin have since worked closely with leading education authorities in Thailand to prepare for implementation of the modules on a national scale.
It was because of this involvement in international activities that the Irons fostered an interest for the multicultural aspects of mathematics and, in general, came to appreciate the importance of the history of mathematics in shaping the discipline that we know today. Building on this inspiration, Rosemary and Calvin worked to build a library of important and rare books related to mathematics taught in schools. The collection of nearly 1500 books is restricted to titles published in English and date from the early 1600s. This along with the more recent reference material means the Irons have over 5000 items that can be used for reference and study. Their own writing further extends the number of titles in the collection.
The overall aim of the Mathema Foundation is to promote good educational practices within the discipline of mathematics. In part, this means sharing high interest, relevant, and unique teaching and reference materials with the wider community. While many of these aspects might be available using online tools, the digital medium has many distractions and does not always convey important ideas clearly. One of the main purposes of the Mathema Foundation, through the assistance of the Irons Family Trust, is to maintain and manage The Mathema Gallery that is planned for construction at Ocean View, Queensland. This facility will house mathematics materials – two- and three-dimensional art objects, rare and current books and newspaper items, mathematical tools and resources, and memorabilia – that are suitable for people of all age groups and at all levels of education. The Gallery will provide an opportunity for everyone to experience the knowledge- enriching power of mathematics—be they young or old visitors, those seeking simple or more technical research material, or educational organisations seeking inspiration for professional development.