Skip to main content

Robert B. Davis


Robert B. Davis, known to us as Bob, was born on June 23, 1926, and earned his bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. in Mathematics at MIT, the last in 1951. He was an assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire from 1951 to 1956, came to SU in 1956, and from 1963 to 1972 was professor and director of mathematics education. Beginning in 1956 he developed the 15 year Madison Project, named for Madison Junior High School in Syracuse where it began, to explore how learning of mathematics occurs, and this led to his 1966 book Discovering Mathematics: A Text for Teachers.

From 1972 to 1988 he was director of the curriculum laboratory, associate director of computer-based education research laboratory, and professor of elementary education at the University of Illinois at Urbana. UI president John E. Corbally, Jr., who had formerly been SU chancellor, recommended Bob. In 1988 he became a professor in the graduate school of education at Rutgers.

He was an advisor to government agencies, the Children's Television Workshop, and various research centers, and he was a member of AMS, MAA, AAAS, and the American Psychology Association. He died of an apparent heart attack at his home in Highland Park, NJ on December 21, 1997 at age 71, and was survived by his former wife, Rose Garcia Davis, whom he had married in 1958, their son and daughter, and "a special friend, Mary Howard of Highland Park."

In his 1984 book Learning mathematics: A Cognitive Science Approach to Mathematics Education, he said that to improve the learning of mathematics we must understand how students think mathematically, and to this end he and Herbert Ginsburg founded in 1971 the Journal of Mathematical Behavior. In a article "Remembering Bob Davis" on page 5 of the March 1998 issue of the MAA's Focus, James J. Kaput closes by saying: "He brought many people into the field, including this author (in 1970), partly though his deep respect for mathematics and how mathematics becomes real through human thought, but mostly through his openness and generosity to others, their ideas, their thinking. This openness and generosity seemed to be at the heart of his success as a scientist and as a leader."

Sources: His biography in the 13th edition of American Men and Women of Science; an article in the Herald-Journal of May 31, 1972; his obituary in the Herald-Journal of December 26, 1997; and the quoted article from Focus.

Phil Church 6/4/02

Last updated on 6/11/2003