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Critical Issues in Mathematics Education (an MSRI Workshop Series)

This series of workshops addresses key problems in education today. They are designed to engage mathematicians, mathematics education researchers, and K-12 teachers as participants. They provide opportunities for participants to:
  • learn about research and development efforts that can enhance their own work and about the contributions they can make to solving the problems of mathematics education;
  • develop ideas about methods for working on these problems and the nature of evidence used to evaluate different kinds of claims for programs related to the problems;
  • share their own work related to these problems––-e.g., course development, research, teaching, and assessment; and
  • make connections with others concerned with these issues who work in related environments.

Most workshops are held at MSRI and last for several densely scheduled days. Activities include plenary sessions, small group work sessions, working groups, and social time for informal conversation. Approximately 200 people drawn from the communities listed above participate in each workshop. To ensure diversity and relevant expertise, workshop organizers invite participants and also advertise the workshops. They also make an effort to engage those who have worked on different aspects of the problems and in different institutional settings. Special attention is given to inviting mathematicians from a diversity of colleges and universities. 

To ensure the intellectual quality of these workshops, MSRI has recruited an Educational Advisory Committee (EAC) from among the country’s most distinguished mathematical scientists and educators, taking care to ensure that a broad variety of views is represented. The members of the EAC serve for fixed terms, and, in the recruitment of new members, especial attention is paid to representing the best current thinking on the fundamental problems facing mathematics education. The current membership in the EAC is available at www.msri.org/web/msri/about-msri/governance-directory/-/listpeople/16

Current Critical Issues

No current Critical Issue Events

Upcoming Critical Issues

  1. Critical Issues in Mathematics Education 2020: Today’s Mathematics, Social Justice, and Implications for Schools

    Organizers: Meredith Broussard (New York Unviersity), Victor Donnay (Bryn Mawr College), Courtney Ginsberg (Math for America), Luis Leyva (Vanderbilt University), Candice Price (Smith College), Chris Rasmussen (San Diego State University), LEAD Katherine Stevenson (California State University, Northridge), William Tate (Washington University in St. Louis)

    Sophisticated computational and quantitative techniques drive important decision-making in modern society.  Such methods and algorithms are meant to improve the efficiency with which we work and the ways in which we live.  An understanding of the mathematical underpinnings of these techniques can be used either to disrupt or to perpetuate inequities, and thus such knowledge constitutes power in the modern world. How does this powerful knowledge get used for the common good and get passed on to our children equitably? What does it imply about the kinds of mathematical skills, practices, and dispositions students should learn in schools, colleges, and universities?

    Updated on Feb 10, 2020 11:42 AM PST

Past Critical Issues

  1. Critical Issues in Mathematics Education 2019: Mathematical Modeling in K-16: Community and Cultural Contexts

    Organizers: Julia Aguirre (University of Washington - Tacoma), LEAD Cynthia Anhalt (University of Arizona), Staffas Broussard (The Algebra Project), Ricardo Cortez (Tulane University), Michael Driskill (Math for America ), Sol Garfunkel (Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications (COMAP)), Genetha Gray (Salesforce), Maria Hernandez (North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics), LEAD Rachel Levy (MAA - Mathematical Association of America), Javier Rojo (Oregon State)

    Mathematical Modeling (MM) now has increased visibility in the education system and in the public domain. It appears as a content standard for high school mathematics and a mathematical practice standard across the K-12 curriculum (Common Core Standards; and other states’ standards in mathematics education).  Job opportunities are increasing in business, industry and government for those trained in the mathematical sciences. Quantitative reasoning is foundational for civic engagement and decision-making for addressing complex social, economic, and technological issues. Therefore, we must take action to support and sustain a significant increase in the teaching and learning of mathematical modeling from Kindergarten through Graduate School.
    Mathematical modeling is an iterative process by which mathematical concepts and structures are used to analyze or gain qualitative and quantitative understanding of real world situations. Through modeling students can make genuine mathematical choices and decisions that take into consideration relevant contexts and experiences.
    Mathematical modeling can be a vehicle to accomplish multiple pedagogical and mathematical goals. Modeling can be used to introduce new material, solidify student understanding of previously learned concepts, connect the world to the classroom, make concrete the usefulness (maybe even the advantages) of being mathematically proficient, and provide a rich context to promote awareness of issues of equity, socio-political injustices, and cultural relevance in mathematics.
    A critical issue in math education is that although mathematical modeling is part of the K-12 curriculum, the great majority of teachers have little experience with mathematical modeling as learners of mathematics or in their teacher preparation.  In some cases, mathematics teacher educators have limited experience with mathematical modeling while being largely responsible for preparing future teachers.
    Currently, the knowledge in teaching and learning MM is underdeveloped and underexplored.  Very few MM resources seem to reach the K-16 classrooms.  Collective efforts to build a cohesive curriculum in MM and exploration of effective teaching practices based on research are necessary to make mathematical modeling accessible to teacher educators, teachers and students.
    At the undergraduate level, mathematical modeling has traditionally been reserved for university courses for students in STEM majors beyond their sophomore year.  Many of these courses introduce models but limit the students’ experience to using models that were developed by others rather than giving students the opportunity to generate their own models as is common in everyday life, in modeling competitions and in industry.
    The CIME workshop on MM will bring together mathematicians, teacher educators, K-12 teachers, faculty and people in STEM disciplines.  As partners we can address ways to realize mathematical modeling in the K-12 classrooms, teacher preparation, and lower and upper division coursework at universities.  The content and pedagogy associated with teaching mathematical modeling needs special attention due to the nature of modeling as a process and as a body of content knowledge.

    Updated on Sep 24, 2019 09:46 AM PDT
  2. Critical Issues in Mathematics Education 2018: Access to mathematics by opening doors for students currently excluded from mathematics

    Organizers: Aditya Adiredja (University of Arizona), LEAD Julia Aguirre (University of Washington - Tacoma), Kate Belin (Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School), LEAD Ricardo Cortez (Tulane University), Michael Driskill (Math for America ), Nicole Joseph (Vanderbilt University), Katherine Stevenson (California State University, Northridge), Francis Su (Harvey Mudd College), Maria del Rosario Zavala (San Francisco State University)

    Our mathematics education system is inequitable. It operates in ways that leave a significant proportion of students with negative mathematics experiences and inadequate mathematical preparation. The problem is historical and systemic, and the students most disaffected by the current system are overwhelmingly Black and Latino, Indigenous, poor, women, immigrant or first generation college students. If our mathematics community is to sustainably grow and thrive, mathematics education at all levels must be transformed.

    This workshop focuses on students for whom we do not yet successfully ensure access to and advancement in mathematics. Sessions will share relevant programmatic efforts and innovative research that have been shown to maintain or increase students’ engagement and interests in mathematics across k-12, undergraduate and graduate education. The sessions will focus particularly on reproducible efforts that affirm those students’ identities and their diverse intellectual resources and lived experiences. These efforts at various levels of mathematics education will highlight ways in which meaningful experiences in mathematics can disrupt ongoing systemic oppression. Participants will leave with conceptual and practical ways to open up and elevate mathematics education where all students thrive.

    Group Photo

    Updated on Jul 03, 2018 09:03 AM PDT
  3. Critical Issues in Mathematics Education 2017: Observing for Access, Power, and Participation in Mathematics Classrooms as a Strategy to Improve Mathematics Teaching and Learning

    Organizers: Michael Driskill (Math for America ), Esther Enright (Boise State University), Rochelle Gutierrez (University of Illinois), LEAD Jodie Novak (University of Northern Colorado), LEAD Miriam Sherin (Northwestern University), Joi Spencer (University of San Diego), Elizabeth van Es (University of California, Irvine)

    Success rates in mathematics as well as recruitment and retention rates in the mathematics pipeline are low at all education levels and are, across predictable demographics, disproportionately low for students who are women, Latin@, Black, American Indian, recent immigrants, emergent bilinguals/multilinguals, and poor. Efforts to address these low rates often focus on programmatic solutions such as creating mentoring or bridge programs to address perceived deficiencies. While these programs achieve some success, evidence suggests that they may not substantially improve students’ subsequent success in mathematics or meaningfully address the ways that students experience mathematics instruction.

    The 2017 CIME workshop will focus on observations of mathematics classrooms through the lens of equity. Specifically, we will use observation as a tool for understanding and improving imbalances of access, participation, and power in mathematics teaching and learning. In doing so, we seek to better understand students’ experiences in mathematics classrooms in order to improve academic success, recruitment and retention, and meaningful experiences for historically marginalized populations.

    Five questions structure the highly interactive design of the workshop:

    1. What does it mean to create an equitable classroom environment? How can the structure of classroom interactions lead to imbalances of access, identity, and power in mathematics teaching and learning? How can such structures be rebuilt to better serve all students?
    2. How might observations of mathematics instruction help us to identify power dynamics in classrooms? What language is helpful to describe interactions in mathematics classrooms? What might we learn from observations about how culture and identity are developed for some students but not others? What do classroom observations reveal about how instruction supports or discourages engagement in mathematics for students of different backgrounds?
    3. What does it mean to observe interactions in a mathematics classroom with an eye towards equity? What language is helpful to describe interactions in mathematics classrooms? How do we observe and describe interactions among students, between students and mathematics, between students and instructors, and between students and resources (i.e., textbooks, computers, chalkboards, manipulatives)?
    4. What professional experiences can support mathematics instructors to learn how to observe for, describe, interpret, and productively address interactions in the mathematics classroom from the lens of equity? What professional experiences can support mathematics instructors to increase the number of equitable interactions and decrease the number of inequitable ones in their classrooms?
    5. What measures might be useful in tracking our progress in learning to see, describe, interpret, and productively address (in)equitable interactions in mathematics classrooms? What measures and tools might be useful in tracking the impacts on instruction and student learning? How might we develop infrastructure to help with this work (video library, faculty resources, etc.)?

    Updated on May 06, 2017 01:18 AM PDT
  4. Critical Issues in Mathematics Education 2016: Observing, Evaluating and Improving Mathematics Teaching from the Early Grades through the University

    Organizers: Hyman Bass (University of Michigan), Michael Driskill (Math for America ), LEAD Mark Hoover (University of Michigan), LEAD Deborah Hughes Hallett (University of Arizona), Danny Martin (University of Illinois at Chicago), Miriam Sherin (Northwestern University)

    The 2016 CIME workshop focuses directly on the teaching of mathematics at the university and precollege levels. Teaching is not easy to examine in disciplined ways because it is so familiar and seems so obvious.  Although teaching shapes students’ opportunities to learn, what teachers are actually doing is difficult to observe and describe. This impedes work on improving teaching.
    This workshop will offer the opportunity to study and talk closely about mathematics teaching through close observation and discussion of video tapes in a setting that will bring together professionals with a range of perspectives, knowledge, experience, and orientations. The goal of the workshop is to develop language and methods for describing, analyzing and evaluating what can be seen in the classroom, with the ultimate goal of helping us shape and improve teaching — our own and more broadly.
    Four questions structure the highly interactive design of the workshop:

    1. What skills are needed for observing teaching in ways that inform improvement efforts? What is involved in observing teaching? What is the teacher saying and doing? What are students saying and doing? What is the mathematics at play? What else is happening? And what do these imply for teaching?
    2. How can the practice and use of observation be structured in order to improve mathematics teaching? What approaches are available? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
    3. Observation-based assessment of teaching: Why, what, and how? What are the risks?
    4. How can we develop and sustain a cross-professional community that observes and evaluates teaching in such a way that different communities communicate with and learn from each other to support a cycle of improvement in the teaching of mathematics at all levels?

    The workshop will provide a library of videos of mathematics teaching for study. In addition, participants are encouraged to submit a short video clip of their own teaching, together with a brief background commentary.  These videos will provide a central text for our collective work on discussing and assessing mathematics teaching.


    Group Photo

    Updated on May 06, 2017 01:18 AM PDT
  5. Critical Issues in Mathematics Education 2015: Developmental Mathematics: For whom? Toward what ends?

    Organizers: Duane Cooper (Morehouse College), Mark Hoover (University of Michigan), LEAD Robert Megginson (University of Michigan), Richard Sgarlotti (Bay College), Katherine Stevenson (California State University, Northridge)

    This workshop will address the critical issue of developmental mathematics at two- and four-year colleges and universities and the broader dynamic of mathematics remediation that occurs at all levels. It will engage mathematicians, K-12 teachers, mathematics educators, and administrators in a conversation about the goals of developmental mathematics and the contributions that our different professional communities make to this work. Key questions that will be addressed are:

    1. How do we teach content in ways that acknowledge and leverage each student's prior learning experiences? In particular, how do we take advantage of a student's maturity while refining his or her learning habits where necessary?

    2. How can developmental mathematics instruction move students through mathematics which must be relearned while simultaneously gaining momentum on more advanced mathematics (including the development of mathematical practices needed for meaningful mathematical work)?

    3. What are strategies for supporting the needs of the wide range of students in developmental mathematics programs--those developing mathematical skills for life in general as well as those developing the foundation necessary to proceed towards a STEM major?  How can we successfully address equity issues raised for students from groups underrepresented in STEM fields? How can developmental mathematics instruction blend synchronous and asynchronous instruction to achieve maximal efficiency and impact?

    4. What is the proper balance between addressing the needs of the wide range of students mentioned in the preceding point and keeping instruction and course offerings concise?

    5. What are the characteristics, training, and practices of a successful developmental mathematics teacher?

    6. What support services enhance the success of a developmental mathematics program?

    Updated on May 06, 2017 01:18 AM PDT
  6. Critical Issues in Mathematics Education 2014: The role of the mathematics department in the mathematical preparation of teachers

    Organizers: Deborah Ball (University of Michigan), Solomon Friedberg (Boston College), LEAD Jim Lewis (University of Nebraska), Despina Stylianou (City College, CUNY), Peter Trapa (University of Utah), Hung-Hsi Wu (University of California, Berkeley), Darryl Yong (Harvey Mudd College)

    The 2014 CIME workshop will focus on the role played by mathematics departments in preparing future teachers.  As part of this focus, the workshop will consider two broad questions: What mathematics should teachers know, and how should they come to know this mathematics?

    The Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences publication, The Mathematical Education of Teachers II, recommends that, at institutions that prepare teachers, teacher education should be “an important part of a mathematics department’s mission” (p.19). Certainly, at some universities, mathematicians are significantly involved in the mathematical experiences of students who are planning become teachers. But there are many other departments where this is not true. Future mathematics teachers are enrolled in the department’s mathematics classes, but no one is attending to the fact that this is where they are developing mathematical knowledge and (from watching their instructors) ideas about how teach mathematics.  This role – whether deliberate or latent –– is vitally important for the mathematical preparation of beginning teachers.  

    The CIME workshop has three core aims: (A) to acquaint mathematicians with basic facts about teacher education and how teacher education intersects with the math department even when no one is taking special note of the department’s role; (B) to explore a set of key questions and best practices central to taking advantage of the role that mathematics departments do – or could – play in the mathematical preparation of teachers:

    1. What is known about effective mathematical preparation of teachers, including curriculum, instructional approaches, and assessments?  
    2. What supports do mathematicians and mathematics departments need to carry out this important role effectively?  What are examples of successful models and what evidence exists about their effects?  
    3. What are some of the persistent problems or challenges and what are promising examples of addressing these? 

    and (C) to identify possible action steps to provide more collective capacity for math departments to contribute to teachers’ mathematical education.


    Updated on May 06, 2017 01:18 AM PDT
  7. Critical Issues in Mathematics Education 2013: Assessment of Mathematical Proficiencies in the Age of the Common Core

    Organizers: Mark Thames* (University of Michigan), Kristin Umland* (University of New Mexico), Noah Heller (Math for America) and Alan Schoenfeld (University of California, Berkeley)

    This workshop will explore the fundamental problems of trying to assess students' mathematical proficiency, seeking to take a more comprehensive perspective on what it is to learn, know, and use mathematics. The advent of the Common Core State Standards both increases the demand and broadens the conception of what it is to be mathematically skillful, and opens new opportunities and challenges to improving our ability to assess what students understand and can do.

    Updated on May 06, 2017 01:18 AM PDT
  8. Critical Issues in Mathematics Education 2012: Teacher education in view of the Common Core

    Organizers: Dave Auckly, Hyman Bass, Amy Cohen-Corwin, and William McCallum

    The wide adoption of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM) offers a helpful curricular coherence to the environment of teacher education. And so the CCSSM present both an opportunity and a challenge to teacher education. An opportunity because of the greater focus made possible. A challenge because not only of the ambitious level of the CCSSM, but also of the prominent role in them of Mathematical Practices. While most mathematicians will find these congenial, much needs to be done to make them meaningfully understood by teachers and teacher educators, and, still more, how to enact them as an organic aspect of instruction. The CIME workshop aims to gather and stimulate ideas for how to meet this opportunity and challenge.

    Updated on May 06, 2017 01:18 AM PDT
  9. Critical Issues in Mathematics Education 2011: Mathematical Education of Teachers

    Organizers: Dave Auckly, Sybilla Beckmann (chair), Jim Lewis and William McCallum

    This workshop will showcase materials and successful teacher education programs, examine the Common Core State Standards and its implications, and explore how mathematics education research can improve practice.

    Updated on May 06, 2017 01:18 AM PDT
  10. Critical Issues in Mathematics Education 2010: Reasoning and Sense-Making in the Math Curriculum

    Organizers: Dave Auckly, Scott Baldridge, Deborah Loewenberg Ball, Aaron Bertram, Wade Ellis, Deborah Hughes Hallett, Gary Martin, and William McCallum (Chair)

    The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has just released a new document, Focus in High School Mathematics: Reasoning and Sense-Making. The Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governor’s Association have initiated a state led effort to produce Common Core State Standards, which they hope will move states toward national curricular coherence. The national scene is being transformed through stimulus money aimed at having states adopt common standards. This is a significant time for mathematicians to weigh in for coherence and a focus on thinking, understanding and sense-making. For this reason MSRI will host the seventh Critical Issues in Mathematics Education Workshop on this topic. Themes of the workshop will include international comparisons, the role of a coherent national curriculum in the teaching of mathematics, and the ways in which technology can be used to support reasoning and sense-making.

    Updated on May 06, 2017 01:18 AM PDT
  11. Critical Issues in Mathematics Education 2009: Teaching Undergraduates Mathematics

    Organizers: William McCallum (The University of Arizona), Deborah Loewenberg Ball (University of Michigan), Rikki Blair (Lakeland Comminity College, Ohio), David Bressoud (Macalester College), Amy Cohen-Corwin (Rutgers University), Don Goldberg (El Camino College), Jim Lewis (University of Nebraska), Robert Megginson (University of Michigan), Bob Moses (The Algebra Project), James Donaldson (Howard University),

    Teaching Undergraduates Mathematics will be the sixth in a series of Critical Issues in Education workshops hosted by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) in Berkeley, CA. Whereas previous workshops focused on K-12 education and teacher education, this workshop will focus on undergraduate education.

    Updated on May 06, 2017 01:18 AM PDT
  12. Critical Issues in Mathematics Education 2008: Teaching and Learning Algebra

    Organizers: Al Cuoco, chair, (Center for Mathematics Education), Deborah Ball, ex officio (University of Michigan), Hyman Bass (University of Michigan), Herb Clemens (Ohio State University), James Fey (University of Maryland), Megan Franke (UCLA), Roger Howe (Yale University), Alan Schoenfeld (UC Berkeley), and Ed Silver (University of Michigan).

    For over two decades, the teaching and learning of algebra has been a focus of mathematics education at the precollege level. This workshop will examine issues in algebra education at two critical points in the continuum from elementary school to undergraduate studies: at the transitions from arithmetic to algebra and from high school to university. In addition, the workshop will involve participants in discussions about various ways to structure an algebra curriculum across the entire K-12 curriculum.

    Updated on May 06, 2017 01:18 AM PDT
  13. Critical Issues in Mathematics Education 2007: Teaching Teachers Mathematics

    Organizers: Deborah Ball (Center for Proficiency in Education and the University of Michigan), Sybilla Beckmann (University of Georgia), Jim Lewis (University of Nebraska) Chair, Ruth Heaton (University of Nebraska), James Hiebert (University of Delaware), William McCallum (University of Arizona) and William Yslas Velez (University of Arizona).

    Building on the issues investigated in these previous workshops, this workshop will focus concretely on courses, programs and materials that aim to increase teachers’ mathematical knowledge for teaching. Both courses and programs that lead to initial certification and professional development of current teachers will be examined at the workshop. In addition, the workshop will examine efforts by colleges, universities, school districts, professional organizations and funding agencies to support people who teach these courses or lead these workshops.

    Updated on May 06, 2017 01:18 AM PDT
  14. Raising the floor: Progress and setbacks in the struggle for quality mathematics education for all

    Organizers: Deborah Ball, Herb Clemens, Carlos Cabana, Ruth Cossey, Bob Megginson, Bob Moses

    This conference will be held at MSRI in Berkeley, CA.

    Knowledge of mathematics in the technology and information age has been likened to reading literacy in the industrial age. In each case knowledge is the enabler, the ticket to full participation in society and to some measure of economic well-being. This conference will explore the historical and current challenges to quality and equity in the teaching and learning of mathematics, both in the U.S. and internationally. The exploration will feature case studies of successful and not-so-successful efforts, with the goal of learning together how to improve and refine that which works and correct that which doesn't.

    Updated on May 06, 2017 01:18 AM PDT
  15. The Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching (K-8): Why, What and How?

    Organizers: Deborah Ball, Chair, (University of Michigan), Herb Clemens (Ohio State University), David Eisenbud (MSRI), Jim Lewis (University of Nebraska)

    Using Math to Teach Math (PDF 5.5MB) Second conference in the MSRI series "Critical Issues in Mathematics Education" This workshop will be held at Asilomar in Pacific Grove, California. The conference takes as a premise that improving students’ mathematics learning depends on improving mathematics teaching, for which teachers’ knowledge of mathematics is a key factor. It will bring together different groups for whom issues of teachers’ mathematical knowledge are of critical concern, and explore current perspectives, evidence, and programs. Three questions structure its highly interactive design: 1. Why should K-8 teachers know mathematics? 2. What is the nature of the knowledge of mathematics needed for effective teaching? 3. What can mathematics departments and schools of education do to help teachers develop such knowledge? The conference will foster productive partnerships among research mathematicians, mathematics educators, educational researchers, teachers of school mathematics, and policymakers that will support them in their efforts. This conference is made possible by generous support from The National Science Foundation (www.nsf.gov)MfA Math for America(www.mathforamerica.org),Texas Instruments (www.ti.com)Noyce Foundation, and Center for Proficiency in Teaching Mathematics

    Updated on May 06, 2017 01:18 AM PDT
  16. Assessing Students’ Mathematics Learning: Issues, Costs and Benefits

    Organizers: Deborah Ball, Hyman Bass, Jim Lewis, Robert Megginson, Alan Schoenfeld

    This is the first in a series of workshops on K-12 mathematics education, the goal of which is to engage groups of people with diverse expertise relevant to the framing, investigation, and solution of critical problems in K-12 education. Schedule now available.

    Due to the tremendous response to the announcement of this workshop, the workshop is now fully booked, and we have had to close registration. For further information, please contact Bob Megginson at meggin@msri.org.

    Updated on May 06, 2017 01:18 AM PDT