Math formulas and theorems should mesmerize, not just be memorized -- or so James J. Kaput believed.
Concerned that calculus was a ''province of a small intellectual elite," the longtime professor at University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth was convinced that things like arcade games and hand-held devices were the keys to breaking down mathematical concepts so anyone could understand them.
''The importance of the ability to serve as a poor imitation of a $4.95 calculator is rapidly declining," he once said in a newsletter for a nonprofit education research group. ''Before, students were taught how to compute, but not when to compute. Now we are working very hard to put math in context. Students need to be able to use math meaningfully -- to know when and what to compute, and how to interpret the results."
Dr. Kaput, 63, a professor at the university for 25 years, was jogging near his Dartmouth home Saturday when he was hit by a pickup truck. He died later that day from severe head injuries at St. Luke's Hospital in New Bedford.
Dr. Kaput researched methods for teaching mathematics to youngsters, developing curriculum aimed at introducing sophisticated concepts at a younger age.
''He really cared about bringing more rich, more advanced mathematics to many more people," said Jeremy Roschelle, who collaborated with Dr. Kaput on a number of projects. The current teaching system, Dr. Kaput felt, shut far too many students out of some of the best aspects of math.
A native of Chicopee, Dr. Kaput earned a bachelor's degree from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1964. He received a master's degree in 1966 and a PhD in mathematics from Clark University in 1968. He joined the UMass-Dartmouth faculty that same year and became a full professor in 1981.
Working long hours to accrue as much grant money as possible to explore teaching methods in mathematics, Dr. Kaput landed numerous National Science Foundation grants. One gave him $617,000 toward using video arcade-style simulations to expose teenagers early on to calculus concepts.
Calculus ''is an important tool for making sense of your world, not just for science, engineering and business, but for informed citizenship," he told the Globe in 1993. ''Voters and consumers need to understand different ways quantities can accumulate and change over time -- for example, the amount of money, or the fluids in your body."
''Jim was a mentor and friend to his faculty colleagues, an inspiration to his students, a devoted husband and father, and a public servant in the best sense of the word," UMass-Dartmouth Chancellor Jean F. MacCormack said in a statement. ''Jim's passing leaves us all with a deep personal void and challenges us all to keep alive his important work of making mathematics more accessible to people, especially young people."
Eager to see how his theories about teaching practices would play out in an actual classroom, he helped to develop a program for UMass students who struggled to understand mathematics but hoped to pursue a career in engineering or other math-related fields. ''He was just so excited about each step they made along the way," Roschelle said.
About six years ago, Dr. Kaput helped found SimCalc Technologies, a technology development company affiliated with UMass-Dartmouth. He helped to design software for graphing calculators and was trying to promote the use of hand-held devices which could store large amounts of information and that students could work on at home and in school.
He was a sought-after adviser on math education, even consulting Al Gore when he was vice president.
''I would describe him as a visionary -- he could see the potential in something a decade out, and so whenever he developed anything, he realized where the future belongs," said UMass-Dartmouth colleague Cynthia Phillips.
Often wearing bright, pastel-colored shoes, and an Abe Lincoln-esque beard, Dr. Kaput ''had a very distinctive look. He was a real character," Roschelle said.
Math, he would tell students, boils down to one main theme: motion. It was a concept Dr. Kaput understood well. To get to class, he threw on a pair of running shoes and ran from his Dartmouth home to his classroom on campus. He jotted down the time it took on a blackboard.
Dr. Kaput leaves his wife, Susan; a daughter, Sarah A. of Silver Spring, Md.; two sons, Jacob A. and Noah, both of New Bedford; his mother, Emily C. (Nitkowski) of Shutesbury; a brother, Thomas of West Springfield, Conn.; and a sister, Judith Wells of Shutesbury.
Burial is private. The university may hold a memorial service in the fall.