Kristiania 1904 - Oslo 1968


Brief scientific biography

Piene was born May 7, 1904 in Kristiania (since 1925 Oslo) the son of the artist, painter and art teacher Johannes (Jo) Bugge Piene and his wife, Christiane (Jannik) Mathilde, born Waage. The latter was the daughter of the famous chemist Peter Waage and his wife Mathilde Sophie, the sister of the applied mathematician Cato M. Guldberg. Waage and Guldberg had discovered the chemical mass action law in 1864.

After attending the old Cathedral School in Kristiania - the school where Abel had once been a pupil - Piene studied mathematics at the universities in Kristiania and Copenhagen.
His minor subjects were astronomy, mechanics, and physics. He passed his final exam in 1929, with outstanding results. In 1931-32 he studied mathematics in Göttingen.

Although originally interested in mathematical research, the poor job prospects in the late 1920s induced Piene to take the state exam for teachers in 1929 and look for a teaching job, which he found first in Hamar, then from 1936 in Oslo. As a teacher his interest in general pedagogical problems developed. While still in Hamar he even reported on a permanent exhibit for children's books which was shown by the Bureau International d'Education in Geneva (PIENE 1935). Soon thereafter, Piene became a member of the "Norwegian Carnegie Committee for Exams" where he collaborated with Einar Høigård (a Norwegian educator and politician, who died in the resistance against Germany). Piene's work, which was partly funded by the Americans, was interrupted by the war and by the German occupation of Norway in 1940. Piene - together with other so-called "Kirkenes teachers" - was arrested by the Nazis in 1942 and deported to the far north, to Kirkenes at the border with Russia, for eight months.

Contributions to education

In 1946 Piene became "inspector", from 1953 rector of the "pedagogical seminar" of the University of Oslo, founded in 1907, the biggest and at that time the only institute for secondary school teachers' education in Norway. There Piene continued his work from the late 1930s on the evaluation of students' results in mathematics with the help of marks and grades. He worked as chairman in the "Commission for the system of marks" (Karaktersystemutvalget). His book "Exam marks (grades) and temporary marks" (Eksamenskarakterer og forhåndskarakterer) of 1961 had much importance also for other commissions which discussed similar questions. Piene wrote in the introduction (p. 11):
"We understand as evaluation all judgment which can be done in a school. ... School organisation, the subjects taught, the teachers, the students (physically and psychologically), the buildings, the equipment, the presentations by the students, the motivations of the students. All this not only can be evaluated, it must be evaluated. ... Such a comprehensive evaluation, however, has never taken place in a Norwegian school. We shall restrict our aim to one fundamental point in the evaluation, namely the one which is based on student marks (grades)."
For the purpose of his book Piene explored the historical records from the Norwegian secondary school (gymnas) collected by him between 1935 and 1939, using information from about 12,000 index cards. Not least in this context he revealed his interest in the history of mathematics and of mathematical education, which is shown by several of his articles such as, for instance, the two part (PIENE 1937/38).
During his work on the evaluation of exams, Piene resumed his contacts with The Carnegie Foundation and The International Institute of Teachers College, Columbia University. Piene stayed for one semester as a guest professor at Columbia University in New York City; with his great language skills he was well suited to international collaboration in the field of mathematical education.

The one area which most captivated Piene was the improvement of mathematics teaching in the secondary school. When, in 1959, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) organised a seminar for the modernisation of mathematics teaching in Royaumont near Paris, Piene's participation was a matter of course.
In the subsequent "Nordic committee for the modernisation of mathematics teaching," Piene was one of the most active members in all meetings which took place between 1960 and 1967.

During his life Piene was a member and partly chairman of many committees of different kinds. He was a member at large of ICMI's Executive Committee from 1955 to 1958. He took part in the International Congresses of Mathematicians in Oslo (1936), Amsterdam (1954), and Edinburgh (1958). In Amsterdam he gave an address by invitation of the Organizing Committee (Piene 1956). Among mathematicians Piene is best known as an author of text books for high schools (gymnas), as editor of Norsk Matematisk Tidsskrift (1945-1952) and of its successor, the Nordisk Matematisk Tidskrift (1953-1961).

Piene was a very friendly and tolerant person. He could discuss everything with everybody without the danger of serious conflicts arising. His love for mathematics was passed on to his children. His son Jo Piene, born in 1945, is a computer scientist. His daughter, Ragni Piene, born in 1947, is a mathematician specializing in algebraic geometry. She has been a professor at the University of Oslo since 1987, and is a member of the Executive Committee of the International Mathematical Union (2003-2010).

Piene died April 16, 1968, at only 63 years old.

Relevant bibliography

I. JOHANSSON, 1968, Kay Piene in memoriam, Nordisk Matematisk Tidsskrift, 16, 129-130
Website: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~kielland/slekt/per02027.htm#0

Publications on the teaching of mathematics

K. PIENE 1935, Den permanente barnebokutstilling i Genf, English translation in Bok og Bibliotek, II, 173-176
K. PIENE 1937, 1938, Matematikkens stilling i den høiere skole i Norge efter 1800, Norsk Matematisk Tidsskrift, 19, no. 2, 52-68 and 20, no.2, 33-58
K. PIENE 1953, Karakterfordelingsnormer, in Festskrift til B. Ribsskog 25 Januar 1953, Oslo, Gyldendal, 145-160
K. PIENE 1956, School Mathematics for Universities and for Life, Proceedings of the International Congress of Mathematicians, Amsterdam, NorthHolland Publishing Co., vol. III, 318-324
K. PIENE 1961, Eksamenskarakterer og forhåndskarakterer, Oslo, Cappelen

Reinhard Siegmund-Schultze
University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway