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A Course Ahead of Its Time

Jeanette Lim Esbrook is a 1962 graduate of U-M with a Bachelor of Science and a Teaching Certificate. Esbrook currently serves as a member of the SOE Dean’s Advisory Council.

Dr. Leslie Trowbridge
Dr. Leslie Trowbridge

My School of Education Centennial Story is about a mathematics curriculum course I attended in 1961 at the SOE. My minor was mathematics and I was eager to learn about teaching mathematics. Dr. Leslie Trowbridge, who began his career as a science teacher and earned his doctorate in science education from the U-M, taught a course on teaching students to understand the basis of our number system.

The course began with the importance of teaching students that the commonly used number system is the decimal system that uses base ten as the standard. A thorough understanding of that provides insight into basic mathematics functions. From there, the professor instructed us to provide information to students about bases other than ten, including those that are greater than ten and bases less than ten.

When a student learns how to manipulate functions using a base other than the familiar base ten, that student has a deeper understanding of the fundamentals of basic mathematics, including addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication. While the course emphasized the use of the decimal base ten system, the instruction also included discussion of the binary system. The binary system—also known as base two—is currently the most commonly used non-base ten system.

Photo of Jeanette Lim Esbrook with Lida Lim. Esbrook's arm is around Lim's shoulders. Both wear University of Michigan sweatshirts.
Jeanette Lim Esbrook (left) and Lida Lim

At the time (early sixties), I was not aware that in teaching about the binary system we were learning how to teach the fundamentals of computer programming. In retrospect, I can see that this course was ahead of its time. To me, this course is part of the excellent teaching history that we are celebrating during the school’s centennial.

Dr. Trowbridge, who passed in 2012, went on to serve as chair of the Science Education Department at the University of Northern Colorado from 1965 to 1983. His obituary says, “Leslie had a deep passion for teaching and a lifelong devotion to science education. He instilled a love of science in his children and played a key role in an international movement that championed inquiry-based science learning. He trained many students who are influential in science education around the world.”

I am grateful to have learned from Dr. Trowbridge and glad that the University of Michigan was part of his educational journey.