In Memoriam

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unnamedTom Carpenter

This conference will be dedicated to the man who has been one of our most fearless leaders for the past 40 years. It was while discussing his initial work on children’s progression in thinking and resulting developmental framework of problem types with his department colleague Elizabeth Fennema that she famously said, “So what? What has this to do with teachers in their classrooms?” It was out of those lunchtime discussions that the two of them crafted the first experimental studies and coined the phrase Cognitively Guided Instruction.

Since those early studies, Tom Carpenter has cognitively guided all of our thinking about how children learn, how child progress in their thinking, and how to make sense of that knowledge to shape instruction. His legacy in nurturing his graduate students, who have now themselves become powerful voices in expanding our knowledge in children’s thinking, is a testament to his selflessness and his belief in others. This hallmark of his personality extends to how he came to work with and inspire classroom teachers. To him, teaching was problem-solving – a title of a 1989 chapter he wrote that has always stuck with me – and, therefore, all teachers were co-researchers with him in understanding the dynamics and complexities of the classroom. A comment made by a  non-CGI affiliated university professor attending the CGI National conference when it was last held here in Minnesota in 2002 said that it was hard to tell at the conference who was a researcher and who was a classroom teacher. That captures what Tom strove to achieve. Teachers are researchers. Teachers are problem-solvers. Teachers are learners along with both their fellow colleagues and their students. He fundamentally believed that children are powerful mathematical thinkers and capable of developing insightful reasoning skills when teachers provide the setting that allows the children to access their intuitive knowledge.

Tom will be sorely missed. We stand on his shoulders. His legacy will endure in the work of those of us who continue his work. He has provided us a very solid beam of light to cognitively guide us along. — James Brickwedde, Project for Elementary Mathematics