Esther Mendlesohn was an inspiration to teachers through her creative use of music to teach elementary school mathematics. Gifts to the Esther Mendlesohn Fund support grants for teachers currently working in grades PreK–2 for projects and activities that use music to teach mathematical skills and concepts.
Esther Mendlesohn was born on November 13, 1913, in New Haven, Connecticut. She gave her first public piano recital there at the age of six in 1919, and thereafter was always associated with the piano. She read and wrote music from an early age, but could also play by ear, and would often play for hours from memory and inspiration alone.
Her career in teaching began during World War II, and she later spent 28 years in the inner-city schools of her native New Haven—the last twelve as a Primary Math Specialist. She held Bachelor of Education and Master of Science degrees, both from Southern Connecticut State University.
Esther noticed that many students always seemed to remember the words to popular songs, and therefore decided to make use of music in the teaching of elementary mathematic principles. She wrote numerous songs, taught them to her first-grade students, and was delighted with their success. On many occasions, walking to her car after school, she would see her students in the school’s playground, skipping rope and happily singing her math songs.
She was the author of two works utilizing music to teach mathematics at the Pre-K–3 level. Her “Primary Mathematics Teaching Tapes, With Scripts, Worksheets, and Teacher’s Manual” (Houghton-Mifflin) taught principles of elementary mathematics through the use of clever, catchy songs which students happily memorized and sang years before the appearance of such programs as “Sesame Street.” Her second publication, “Teaching Primary Math With Music—Grades K–3” (Dale Seymour Publications, now Pearson Learning) remains available, along with recorded tapes.
Esther was a member of National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM) for many years, and appeared as speaker and math-through-music workshop leader at regional and national conferences in 38 states and Canada. She was also a member of numerous local and regional mathematics organizations.
In April of 2002, at the age of 88, she traveled to the NCTM Annual Meeting in Las Vegas where she was recognized as a member of a special distinguished panel of longtime contributors to mathematics, and where she gave her final workshop on teaching Pre-K–3 Math With Music to a deeply appreciative audience which responded with a long, standing ovation. Her closest friends were always members of the NCTM/NCSM family, and she was able to enjoy the company of a great many of them at Las Vegas. She returned to her home after the conference, delighted and exuberant. She died six weeks later, on June 1, 2002—her 88 years matching the number of keys on her beloved piano.
Using Music to Teach Mathematics Grants (for Grades PreK-2 Teachers)
MET Named Funds and Honorees
Legacy Article (Summing Up, 10/5/2011)