Winding Down/Completed Projects

These are some of the completed projects of the MSU mathematics education faculty.


Project Descriptions

Algebra Teaching Study (ATS)

Principal Investigators: Bob Floden, Alan Schoenfeld (University of California, Berkeley)
Graduate Students: Currently: Adrienne Hu, Leonardo Medel; Former Graduate Assistants (GAs): Rachel Ayieko,  Durrell Jones, Jerilynn Lepak, Jamie Wernet
Funding: National Science Foundation; Currently PRIME support for GAs.
Dates: Funded by NSF: 8/16/09 –8/15/13

This project is focusing on the detailed description and analysis of mathematics classroom practices that result in students’ development of proficiency in word problems in algebra. The products of this research will be (a) an enhanced understanding of the mechanisms of “teaching for mathematical proficiency” in a centrally important area of the mathematics curriculum, (b) a set of research tools that supports deeper investigation into the mechanisms of teaching for robust mathematics learning, and (c) a set of practical tools that can be used on a large scale for benchmarking and improving teaching practice.

Specifically, we propose to explore the following two questions: (1) What instructional practices are frequently used by teachers judged to be doing an exceptional job of helping students to develop proficiency in solving word problems? and (2) What analytic procedures can be developed and used to characterize these promising teaching practices, with low enough cost so that connections between teaching and learning can be examined for a large number of classrooms?

Current project activities include preparation of training materials to help others use the tools developed by the project, preparing manuscripts for publication, and preparing a proposal for additional funding.


Cyberchase Project

Principal Investigators: Sandra Crespo, Shalom Fisch, Richard Lesh, Vince Melfi, & Sandra Sheppard
Funding: National Science Foundation
Dates: 2007-2009

Children’s Learning from Multiple Media in Informal Mathematics Education. This is a collaborative project among WNET/KidzMedia, Michigan State University, and University of Indiana. This project entails a naturalistic and experimental phase. In the Naturalistic phase of the study (3 months) – data was collected from 400 students (Grade 3) with various types of instruments – in order to develop a picture of the ways in which children of this age group use the electronic media involved (Cyberchase TV show and associated website). In the experimental phase of the study (2 months) – 200 students from the naturalistic study participate in one of four experimental groups (including a control group) in order to test the effects of media use on the students’ dispositions towards mathematics and their performance on various types of school mathematics tasks.


Center for Mathematics Education (CME) Project
Mathematical Practices Implementation (MPI) Study

Co-Principal Investigators: Michael Steele, Al Cuoco and Sarah Sword (Education Development Center)
Graduate Students: Jillian Cavanna, Frances Harper
Funding: National Science Foundation Discovery Research K-12 Program
Dates: 2010-2014

The Center for Mathematics Education (CME) at Education Development Center, in partnership with Michigan State University, is leading a four-year research project to study teachers’ implementation of the CME Project Algebra 1 curriculum. This project, the CME Project Mathematical Practices Implementation study, is funded by the National Science Foundation’s Discovery Research K-12 program. The study has two primary goals:

  • To understand the role of CME Project and specifically the mathematical habits of mind principles of the curriculum in supporting teacher learning and instructional practice.
  • To understand the factors that contribute to or detract from the faithful implementation of the goals intended by a curriculum, including teachers’ mathematical knowledge for teaching, teachers’ fidelity to the curriculum, and teachers’ school context.

The CME Project is a student-centered problem-based four-year high school curriculum organized around the ways of thinking that are indigenous to mathematics and used by mathematicians in their work. These mathematical habits of mind or mathematical practices are featured throughout CME Project and are central elements of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. The MPI study will examine teachers’ use of CME Project and its role in the mathematics classroom. It will be conducted with an estimated 80 ninth grade Algebra 1 teachers from across the country. Findings from this research will contribute evidence-based guidance on the conditions, learning supports, and capacities teachers and schools need to effectively implement curricular changes that have the potential for improving student achievement in mathematics.

Center for the Study of Mathematics Curriculum (CSMC)

Co-Principal Investigators: Glenda Lappan, Elizabeth Phillips and Jack Smith
Graduate Students: Funda Gonulates, Nic Gilbertson, Jennifer Nimtz, Kevin Lawrence, Eun Mi Kim, Joanne Philhower
Funding: National Science Foundation
Dates: 2004-2013

The Center for the Study of Mathematics Curriculum was originally funded by the National Science Foundation for a five year period January 2004 –2009, and has been extended through June 30, 2013. The Center for the Study of Mathematics Curriculum will expand the base of expertise and leadership for K-12 mathematics curriculum design, analysis, implementation, and evaluation.

Major areas of Center work include understanding the influence and potential of mathematics curriculum materials; enabling teacher learning through curriculum material investigation and implementation; and building capacity for developing, implementing, and studying the impact of mathematics curriculum materials. Over a five-year period, the Center will support 30 Doctoral Fellows in mathematics education, 30 Curriculum Interns, 100 K-12 school, district and/or state curriculum leaders, and 200 K-12 teachers in at least 6 partner school districts. It will also engage in systemic research efforts designed to illuminate the essential characteristics of curriculum materials and related teacher support that contribute to increased student learning.
Four goals will guide the work of the Center, namely: support leadership development related to K-12 mathematics curriculum design, analysis, implementation, and evaluation; enhance teachers’ mathematical and pedagogical knowledge through curriculum investigation and implementation; investigate the role and impact of curriculum materials on school mathematics; stimulate communication and productive collaboration and disseminate information related to curriculum design, analysis, implementation, and evaluation.

Three institutions of higher education (Michigan State University, University of Missouri, and Western Michigan University), the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project (UCSMP) group, Horizon Research, Inc., and a set of school partners associated with each institution will form the core partnership team for the Center. The three institutions of higher education each offer a doctorate with an emphasis in mathematics education. In addition, each institution has an active group of mathematics educators and mathematicians with experience in curriculum design, implementation, and/or research. The partner school districts will serve as curriculum implementation laboratories as well as sites for professional development focused on curriculum, for pre-service teacher learning, for leadership development, and for research. CSMC is directed by Barbara Reys, University of Missouri. Glenda Lappan, Elizabeth Phillips and Sandra Wilcox are the principal investigators of CSMC at Michigan State University.


Core-Plus Research Project

Curriculum Developer: Brin Keller
Funding: National Science Foundation

The Core-Plus Mathematics Project is a comprehensive four year secondary curriculum supported in part with funds from the National Science Foundation and is centered at Western Michigan University. Brin Keller is a senior curriculum developer for the project and has worked on developing a suite of mathematical software to accompany the text materials. The software includes dynamic geometry, symbolic algebra (CAS), statistical, discrete mathematics, and spreadsheet tools. The software is freely available at


Culture in the Mathematics Classroom

Principal Investigators: Jodie Novak (University of Northern Colorado), Tonya Bartell,  Freida Parker (University of Northern Colorado)
Funding: National Science Foundation (supplemental award to a previously funded MSP grant)
Dates: January 2013-June 2014

The Culture in the Mathematics Classroom (CIMC) project proposes to research and document a Culture in the Mathematics Classroom Course that seeks to help secondary mathematics teachers grapple with the interactions among mathematics, teaching, learning and culture and the huge role these interactions play in student access to and understanding of mathematics. The CIMC course emphasizes intercultural competence, the knowledge of how cultural differences operate in human interactions (Bennett, 2004), because culture plays a major role in the teaching and learning of mathematics. As Stigler and Hiebert (1999) note in their book The Teaching Gap, “teaching is a cultural activity [and] recognizing the cultural nature of teaching gives us new insights into what we need to do if we wish to improve it” (p. 12). In the education literature, applying intercultural competence in the classroom is sometimes referred to as culturally responsive teaching (Gay, 2000) or culturally relevant pedagogy (Ladson-Billings, 1995). Little published research exists, however, that focuses on the development of culturally competent secondary mathematics teachers (see for exception Leonard, 2008) and which considers the role of teachers’  lived experience with respect to their development. The essential question driving this project is: How does the CIMC course support the development of culturally competent mathematics teachers? In addition, the project aims to consider explicitly how teachers’ lived experiences frame their understandings of cultural competence in the classroom. By studying the impact of the CIMC course on secondary mathematics teachers’ understandings of the intersections of culture, mathematics, teaching, and learning, we aim to contribute to the knowledge base about teacher learning and inform revisions to teacher preparation and professional development programs for teachers.


Discourse Analysis: A Catalyst for Reflective Inquiry in Mathematics Classrooms (CAREER Grant)

Principal Investigator: Beth Herbel-Eisenmann
Graduate Students:  Alexandria Theakston
Funding: National Science Foundation

The objectives of the proposed project are to examine: the nature of mathematical discourse in middle school mathematics classrooms; the ways in which middle school mathematics teacher’s beliefs impact the discourse when working to enact reform-oriented instruction; and how this information can be used to incorporate practitioner research using concepts and tools of discourse analysis to improve mathematics instruction.

The significance of this work comes in understanding how classroom discourse can affect the learning environment and engage students in learning mathematics in the ways proposed by the Standards. The focus of those documents has been to promote conceptual understanding and sense making instead of the procedural emphasis that often takes precedence in more traditional mathematics teaching. The Standards vision can only be achieved if some of the discourse patterns in current mathematics instruction are changed from a transmission model of communication to one that supports inquiry. The research plan is to conduct six to nine case studies of the discourse in middle school mathematics classrooms. These case studies will highlight classroom discourse patterns -the form, function, and meaning. In addition, we will capture the process of teachers engaging in practitioner research projects in which they choose an aspect of their discourse to change and study the affects of that change on the classroom learning environment. The project will also examine how the combination of tools and concepts from discourse analysis and practitioner research projects affect teacher beliefs. Having teachers choose their focus of inquiry helps them invest and own the research process and enables them to understand, change and test out new ideas. It also allows them to gather evidence that can potentially change their beliefs.

The educational goal of this project is to design a long-term professional development program that will continue beyond this funding with other cohorts of teachers. The research case studies and other data will be used to write case studies for both undergraduate methods courses and to be used as part of a long-term professional development program. In addition, these cases will be made available to other teacher educators. The university-researchers and teacher- researchers will collaboratively develop the courses and workshops that comprise the professional development program. The work I propose moves beyond current work and offers a different approach to professional development (i.e., practitioner research) and different theoretical perspectives (i.e., tools and concepts of discourse analysis) for improving mathematics teaching and learning. The proposed work will focus on teachers who would like to examine their instructional practice (or ‘enacted beliefs’) at a fine-grained level. The research and educational activities proposed make use of current advances in the study of and development of mathematics teaching and teachers. In addition, these activities offer a new perspective to be brought to the mathematics classroom that of discourse tools and concepts as a mechanism of inquiry. As discussed above, the intellectual merits of the proposed work lie in its ability to: a) offer insight into changes in teacher beliefs and classroom practices, b) provide frameworks and methodologies for studying classroom discourse, and c) uncover ways of helping teachers focus more centrally on the role of mathematics in classroom discourse. The broader impacts include: a) graduate students and teacher researchers will do research in a collaborative environment, disseminate findings to broad audiences, and be involved in planning the professional development program and coursework; b) case studies will be written and made available to other mathematics teacher educators; c) a long-term professional development program will continue with other cohorts of mathematics teachers; and d) similar case studies and activities will be used in undergraduate methods courses.


Discourse in Secondary Classrooms (M-DISC)

DRK-12, Development of Resources and Tools: Instruction of K-12 Students and Teachers

M-DISC Team Meeting
Beth Herbel-Eisenmann, Heejoo Suh,
Kate Johnson, Mike Steele, Jill Cavanna

Principal Investigators: Beth Herbel-Eisenmann, Michael Steele and Michelle Cirillo (University of Delaware)
Graduate Students: Current: Frances Harper ; Former: Jill Cavanna, Kate Johnson, Faith Muirhead, Alexandria Theakston Musselman, Jen Nimtz, Samuel Otten, Heejoo Suh, Shannon Sweeney
Funding: National Science Foundation
Dates: 2009-2015


The purpose of the proposed project is to develop, design, and test innovative materials to assist professional development leaders to support secondary mathematics teachers in negotiating classroom norms that promote productive discourse practices. More specifically, the materials will help professional development leaders: a) increase mathematics teachers’ understanding of classroom discourse and its relationship to supporting student learning; b) raise teachers’ awareness of the discourse patterns at work in their own classrooms; c) assist secondary mathematics teachers in identifying discourse patterns that could be used more purposefully to support student learning; and d) support teachers in more purposefully negotiating classroom discourse patterns that can help students develop increasingly complex discourse practices involving high-level mathematical explanation, justification, and argumentation. The M-DISC instructional materials that will be developed and tested will center on narrative and video cases of teaching, in which teachers and students are observed engaging in these discourse practices, making the practices and their impact on student learning an object of inquiry for teacher learning. The materials will be comprised of an introductory module, 5 constellations of activities each built around a case, and a module to help professional developers support secondary mathematics teachers to do action research on their discourse practices. Each constellation (set of activities anchored around the five “talk moves” described by Chapin et al., 2003) will consist of professional learning tasks that engage teachers in: solving mathematical tasks of high cognitive demand featured in the case; analyzing the case with respect to the five talk moves and the ways in which the talk moves supported the learning of mathematics; reading and discussing relevant literature on classroom discourse; analyzing student work; and field-based assignments of small and large scale. Participating teachers will design action research cycles as a capstone in order to study their evolving discourse patterns and the impact of those changes on student learning.

The intellectual merit of the proposed M-DISC project lies in the creation of new materials that have the potential to help teachers develop new understandings of classroom discourse. Although we know that inquiry-based discourse practices are beneficial for student learning, mathematics teachers continue to engage students in forms of discourse that focus on the transmission of information because they have not learned about, considered, or been exposed to alternative interaction patterns. Hence, the M-DISC materials will assist professional developers in working with secondary mathematics teachers on alternative discourse patterns with the goal of helping them promote productive classroom discourse. The PIs of this project bring extensive experience in analyzing mathematics classroom discourse, doing PD with secondary teachers related to math classroom discourse, and developing PD materials.

The M-DISC project has the potential to have a broad impact on mathematics education because unless teachers become more purposeful about their classroom discourse, they will continue to undermine some of the intended goals they have for their students. By drawing on a range of expertise in the Advisory Board, we will develop and test the materials that will incorporate specific attention to mathematics and assistance for teachers teaching students for whom English is a second language, thereby broadening the participation of students in mathematics. Dissemination will take place at professional conferences and through university websites and communications offices (e.g., marketing materials that will be distributed widely).


Documentary Analysis of Assessments in Advanced Algebra (DA4)

Principal Investigator: Michael Weiss
Graduate Students: Current: Tim Wegner; Former: Kevin Lawrence, Michael Morissette

Assessments — the tests, quizzes, and other written instruments that teachers use to determine what their students have and have not learned — make possible a description of the didactical contract, in terms of what the teacher does (and does not) hold his students (and himself) accountable for. The presence or absence of particular kinds of tasks on an exam signals to the student what is and is not important to learn. Additionally, prior research has shown that assessments can function as a site for cultivating some of the elements of a mathematical sensibility; that is, for teaching students how to “be like” a mathematician. In this study, a collection of assessments used in secondary courses in advanced algebra (“Algebra 2” courses and equivalents) are being analyzed to uncover tacit assumptions about what students are, and are not, expected to know, understand, learn, and care about.

DA4 Team Meeting
Michael Weiss,Tim Wegner, Kevin Lawrence

Although the first-year Algebra course and the high school Geometry course have long received a great deal of scholarly attention, comparatively little research has investigated the secondary advanced algebra course.  This deficit in our understanding is in many respects  surprising.  Like Algebra 1 and Geometry, the Algebra 2 course functions as a gatekeeper to careers in STEM (science, technology, education and mathematics) fields; students cannot pass on to Calculus and more advanced courses without successfully mastering the material in an advanced algebra course.  Indeed, the importance of this course was brought into focus in 2006 when Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm signed into law the “Michigan Merit Standard”, requiring all students to complete Algebra 2 in order to graduate high school.

This pilot study addresses the teaching and learning of advanced algebra from the perspectives of the intended curriculum and the didactical contract. We ask:  What kind of mathematical work are students expected to carry out in the context of a course in advanced algebra, and what does such work count for in the symbolic economy of the classroom?  Towards answering these questions, a collection of 3,500 assessment items (written and used by seven teachers in different schools) in secondary courses in advanced algebra are coded and analyzed in order to describe and classify the types of academic tasks students are called upon to solve in advanced algebra.


Examining Prospective Teachers’ Learning of Three Mathematics Teaching Practices – Posing, Interpreting, and Responding – during Teacher Preparation

Principal Investigator: Sandra Crespo
Graduate Students: Aaron Brakoniecki
Funding: National Science Foundation
Dates: 2006–2011

This project is studying what teacher candidates learn during their professional preparation about three central mathematics teaching practices – posing mathematical problems, responding to students’ mathematical ideas, and interpreting students’ mathematical work – using cross-sectional and longitudinal research designs. The cross-sectional study aims to characterize these three practices at each of three stages in the elementary teacher preparation program at Michigan State University. The longitudinal study focuses on the development of the focal practices as prospective elementary school teachers move through the teacher preparation program and into their first and second year of teaching. Factors that afford and constrain the development of these practices will also be examined through in-depth case studies of ten participants. The educational goal of the project is to provide professional development for mathematics teacher education instructors.


Exploring the Role of Context in the Mathematical Learning of Young Children (CAREER Grant)

Principal Investigator: Amy Parks
Graduate Student: Kate Appenzeller
Funding: NSF
Dates the project is funded: 2009 - 2015

This project involved a longitudinal, ethnographic study of children’s mathematical performances from preschool to first grade in both formal classroom settings and informal settings at school and home. The site for the study was small, predominately African-American pk-12 school.

The study seeks to identify opportunities for mathematical learning by young children across multiple contexts, to map varied performances of mathematical competence by young children, to chart changes in young children’s mathematical performance over time, and to design and assess the impact of case studies for teacher education that explore young children’s mathematical competencies.

Parks Book Cover
Parks Book Cover

The study’s research questions focus on mathematical opportunities for learning in various contexts, children’s development of knowledge, skills, and dispositions over time, the characteristics of competent mathematical performances, and the role of case studies in helping beginning teachers to understand young minority children’s mathematical thinking. Data collected includes video tapes of classroom activities, written fieldnotes of formal and informal settings, student work, parent focus group transcripts, and children’s interview performances. Analysis involves both thematic coding and construction of case studies.

The overarching goal of this project is to transform the ways that researchers think about and study the mathematical learning of young minority children as well as the quality of schooling these children experience.


IEA Teacher Education Study in Mathematics (TEDS-M)

Principal Investigators: Jack Schwille, Maria Teresa Tatto, Sharon Senk
Other involved faculty: Joan Ferrini-Mundy, Bill Schmidt, Lynn Paine, David Plank and Lee Cogan
Funding: National Science Foundation, International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, and participating countries
Dates: 2005-2009

The first IEA Teacher Education Study in Mathematics (TEDS-M) is sponsored by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). It is a collaborative effort of worldwide institutions and experts in mathematics, mathematics education, teacher education and comparative research design. Michigan State University and the Australian Council for Educational Research have been selected as the international study centers for this project.

Jack Schwille and Maria Teresa Tatto are the international study directors for the project at MSU. Joan Ferrini-Mundy is responsible for development mutually beneficial ties between TEDS-M and other mathematics’ education projects at MSU. Bill Schmidt, Lynn Paine, David Plank and Lee Cogan are also playing key roles in TEDS-M. TEDS-M will use large-scale national surveys of future and beginning teachers to build on the results of TIMSS, P-TEDS and many other studies. More specifically, it will investigate how teachers acquire their capability to teach mathematics in primary and lower secondary school. It will also analyze the content and implementation of Teacher Education programs or approaches. And finally, it will examine the impact of teacher preparation programs’ learning opportunities on teachers’ knowledge of mathematics for teaching.

In contrast to P-TEDS (a cross-national study of mathematics middle school teacher preparation), developmental work with a group of (at least 15 and probably 20-30 countries) will participate in TEDS. National probability samples in each participating country will be designed for four closely related target populations: institutions of teacher education, students in these institutions, instructors in these institutions and beginning teachers of mathematics in grades 1-8 with five or less years of teaching experience. TEDS-M will develop policy and program level recommendations regarding factors that help provide aspiring teachers with the knowledge to teach a challenging mathematics curriculum according to worldwide standards.


Knowing of Algebra for Teaching (KAT)

Principal Investigators: Joan Ferrini-Mundy, Sharon Senk, Raven McCrory, and Robert Floden

This project is building directly on the work that has been undertaken in an earlier ROLE-funded project , A Study of Algebra Knowledge for Teaching at the Secondary Level, which produced a theoretically and empirically based framework that describes the construct of algebra knowledge for teaching. The current project has three main objectives:

  1. Instrument Design: To develop items and design reliable and valid instruments to measure mathematical knowledge for teaching algebra among preservice and in-service secondary school mathematics teachers in large-scale settings.
  2. Framework Validation: To produce an empirically validated and comprehensive framework for knowledge for teaching algebra.
  3. Status Study of Teacher Knowledge: To study the status and variation of knowledge for teaching algebra among preservice and in-service teachers drawn from across the nation.

An interdisciplinary MSU-based research team with collective expertise in mathematics, mathematics education, research design, psychometric analysis, and secondary school mathematics teaching and curriculum leads the project. Joan Ferrini-Mundy is the PI for the project and Sharon Senk, Raven McCrory, and Robert Floden are co-PIs.



Principal Investigators: Beth Herbel-Eisenmann, Janine Remillard (University of Pennsylvania), and Michael Steele
Post-doc: Lindsay Keazer
Funding: National Science Foundation
Dates:  2011 to 2015

This project is an empirical research project in the national educational research policy strand. The purpose is to investigate and report on how school districts are responding to the demand experienced across the U.S. for universal early algebra, the expectation that students will successfully complete Algebra 1 at or before grade 9. Specifically, the study examines 1) how districts are interpreting and framing the demand; 2) what strategies they have developed to respond to it; 3) how their strategies shape students’ opportunities to learn algebra.

Algebra has long served as a gatekeeper to educational and career opportunities. The current policy environment across the U.S. has increasingly emphasized the need for all students to take algebra early in their secondary schooling. Yet, the demands of universal access create serious challenges that schools are now struggling to address. The LANDSCAPE project is a mixed-methods study that examines both broadly and intensely, the challenges with which schools are struggling related to universal early algebra.

The study has two components. Component 1 involves a multi-state survey of curriculum leaders in about 1400 districts, aimed at uncovering trends in how early algebra pressures are perceived and acted upon. Component 2 allows particular landmarks within this algebra landscape to be probed through 12 case studies of purposefully selected districts. Both components are guided by two framing concepts: how district decisions structure opportunities to learn, which makes visible the kinds of learning possibilities created through the creating of structures and policies, and the mobilizations of human and material resources.


ME.ET: The Mathematical Education of Elementary Teachers

Principal Investigator: Raven McCrory
Graduate Students:
Rachel Ayieko, Andrea Ploucher Francis, Beste Gucler, Jessica Lui, Jungeun Park, Helen Seidel, Sarah Young, Changhui Zhang
Funding: National Science Foundation
Dates: 2005-2010

The ME.ET project is investigating the mathematics courses taken by prospective elementary teachers during their undergraduate education.  The focus is on mathematics courses, not on mathematics methods courses.  The project is addressing 3 major questions:

  1. What is the nature of the mathematics courses prospective elementary teachers are required to take in their undergraduate education? What courses are required, who teaches them, who designs them, what is the content?
  2. What mathematics do prospective elementary teachers have an aopportunity to learn in their required undergraduate mathematics classes?  How do their opportunities to learn relate to national and state standards for the matematical education of K-8 students, to high-stakes exams for teachers and students, and to current research on the mathematical knowledge elementary teachers need?
  3. What are prospective elementary teachers learning in their undergraduate mathematics classes? How does their learning relate to national and state standards, high stakes exams, and research on mathematical knowledge for teaching?

To investigate these questions, the project will survey mathematics departments in three states to identify mathematics classes for elementary teachers, followed by a survey of instructors of these classes and assessments of students from a sample of these classes.  The project will extend over five years, with surveys and assessments primarily in years 2 and 3.


Navigating Mathematical Transitions

Principal Investigator:Jack Smith
Funding: National Science Foundation

This project, funded by the National Science Foundation and directed by Jack Smith, focuses on understanding the mathematical transitions that are by-products of current reforms in mathematics curriculum and pedagogy. Students can face new expectations for knowing and learning mathematics when they move between curricula and teaching that are oriented by fundamentally different perspectives. Such changes in expectation are now more likely given the uneven implementation of the NCTM Standards. The project examines how students make sense of and adjust to fundamental changes in curriculum and teaching at two points, entry to high school and entry to college, and as they move either into or out of curricula oriented by the NCTM Standards. The project addresses 3 main questions:

  1. What are the characteristics of successful (and unsuccessful) mathematical transitions?
  2. How do students navigate them?
  3. What kinds of resources support more successful transitions?

The project will develop a working conceptualization of mathematical transitions (i.e., major factors and how they interact) and analyze students’ passage through them in both individual and collective terms. Data is collected on students’ career and educational goals, mathematics achievement, learning of specific concepts, beliefs about mathematics and learning, daily experience in mathematics, and strategies for adjusting to different expectations.

Preparing to Teach Algebra: A Study of Teacher Education

Principal Investigator: Sharon Senk
Co-PIs: Yukiko Maeda and Jill Newton, Purdue University
Graduate Students:  Leonardo Medel, Jia He, Eryn Stehr, Abe Edwards, Lynette Guzman, and Jeff Craig (MSU); Vivian Alexander, Hyunyi Jung, Tuyin An, Alexia Mintos and Kari Wortinger, (Purdue)
Current Undergraduates: Jules McGee, Adam Hakes
Funding:  National Science Foundation/REESE Program
Dates:  August 2011 – July 2015

Preparing to Teach Algebra: A Study of Teacher Education (PTA) is a collaborative Empirical Research study addressing two REESE research strands: (1) National STEM Education Policies and (2) Research on Implementation.

For more than a century high school algebra courses have served as the foundation for higher mathematics and as gatekeepers for entrance to college mathematics. In recent decades, desires for equity and for higher achievement have resulted in suggestions that algebra be required for all students. Many states currently mandate completion of Algebra I or Algebra II as a high school graduation requirement, and/or an algebra course in Grade 8. However, failure rates in algebra are high (Loveless, 2008).

 Recent research highlights the importance of both strong content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge for pre-service mathematics teachers, but little is known about programs of study in mathematics (NRC, 2010). PTA will study whether and how recommendations from mathematics professional societies, recently released standards for school algebra, and state-level policies related to algebra are addressed in secondary mathematics teacher preparation programs.

The research questions are:
 1)   What opportunities do secondary mathematics teacher preparation programs provide to learn about algebra, algebra teaching, and issues in achieving equity in algebra learning?
 2)    In what ways do secondary mathematics teacher preparation programs address the algebra, functions, and modeling standards and mathematical practices described in the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM)?

Mixed-methods will be used to gather and analyze data from three sources: (1) A national survey of a stratified random sample of at least 200 secondary teacher preparation programs, (2) Case studies of algebra-related learning in five purposefully chosen secondary mathematics teacher preparation programs, and (3) Focus groups with 6-8 pre-service teachers at each of the five case study programs.

For additional information please see:


Promoting Rigorous Outcomes in Mathematics and Science Education

Funding: National Science Foundation
Dates: 2003-2009

Promoting Rigorous Outcomes in Mathematics and Science Education ( PROM/SE) is a National Science Foundation Cooperative Partnership focused on research and development effort to improve the teaching and learning of science and mathematics in grades K-16 through the use of data and evidence, with commitment to high standards and expectations for all students.

PROM/SE is a five-year project to improve mathematics and science teaching and learning in nearly 70 school districts in Michigan and Ohio , and at Michigan State University . The partners include: Michigan State University; SMART Consortium (greater Cleveland, OH); High AIMS Consortium (greater Cincinnati, OH); Ingham County, MI Intermediate School District (greater Lansing, MI); Calhoun County, MI Intermediate School District; St. Clair County, MI Intermediate School District.

Goals of PROM/SE include:

  • Establishing the ability to collect, interpret, and disseminate district-specific assessment data that is useful in identifying and understanding the structural “gaps” in student performance relative to international, state, and local benchmarks for mathematics and science achievement.
  • Helping school districts and teachers to analyze and “unpack” the Michigan and Ohio grade-level content expectations (standards) and apply them through classroom instruction to address these “gaps” in student performance.
  • Creating professional development resource systems for teachers that build capacity to analyze data, implement high expectations, eliminate gaps, and raise assessment performance for all students. Develop “virtual” technologies that will play a significant role in accomplishing this goal.
  • Improving pre-service teacher education and preparation in four-year colleges and universities such as Michigan State University.


Research on Mathematics and Science Partnership Teacher Induction

Principal Investigator: Ralph Putnam
Funding: National Science Foundation
Dates: 2003-2008

This five-year NSF-funded project is studying the effects of induction programs for new teachers of mathematics and science. There has been considerable activity across the nation in recent years to develop programs to support new teachers in the transition for teacher certification programs to becoming accomplished professionals, with an emphasis on increasing retention of new teachers and supporting them in becoming better teachers. We are studying induction programs designed for secondary mathematics and science teachers, focusing in particular on the support they need and receive around content-specific aspects of teaching. Several of the induction programs we are studying are parts of the Mathematics Science Partnerships funded by NSF and one focus on online mentoring, connecting new and experienced teachers through electronic communication tools. The research is being done in partnership with researchers at WestEd.


Smarter Together Working Conference: Developing a Shared Curriculum of Complex Instruction for Elementary Mathematics Methods Courses

Principal Investigators: Amy Parks; Co-PI: Marcy Wood
Funding: NSF
Dates the project is funded: 2013-2015

This working conference will help university professors who teach elementary mathematics methods courses learn to use Complex Instruction, a research-proven pedagogy for building mathematical content knowledge and supporting the learning of diverse students. In Complex Instruction, educators design tasks that require multiple mathematical abilities to solve. For example, solving a particular task might require computational skills as well as the ability to visualize a 3-dimensional object and represent that object on paper. Through this mathematical complexity, the tasks demand that students engage deeply with mathematics and draw on each other’s mathematical strengths.

In addition, in Complex Instruction teachers use strategies to minimize status differences in the classroom that impact participation, ensuring that all students, regardless of their popularity, first-language, race, or income level participate equitably.

During the conference, 28 university instructors from across the country will design tasks to be used in mathematics methods courses for prospective elementary teachers. Mathematics educators from University of Georgia, University of Arizona, University of Michigan, and Michigan State will work together to design and host the conference. The conference is expected to produce a cohort of mathematics educators knowledgeable about Complex Instruction, who can then support colleagues at their home institutions in learning to use the pedagogy as well as promoting the use of Complex Instruction in mathematics classrooms in U.S. elementary schools.

After learning the essential elements of Complex Instruction, conference participants will design Complex Instruction curriculum modules to implement at their home institutions. All activities and tasks designed during the conference will be available to the public at the website,


Strengthening Measurement Curriculum, Teaching and Research (STEM II)

Principal Investigator: Jack Smith
Graduate Students: Dan Clark, Nic Gilbertson, Funda Gonulates, Jia He, Aaron Mosier, Eryn Stehr
Undergraduate Students: Danny Johns, Andrew League, Kelli Siebers, Ashley Taglauer
Funding: National Science Foundation, REESE program
Dates: August 2009 – August 2012

This project builds on the resources and results of the Strengthening Tomorrow’s Education in Measurement (STEM) project that has produced a fine-grained analysis of the character and limitations of the spatial measurement content (length, area, and volume) in three elementary mathematics curricula. Evidence from national and international assessments and smaller-scale research studies have repeatedly shown that U.S. students’ understanding of measurement is poor, but empirical research has not revealed the source of the problem. The STEM results have shown that fundamental deficits in written curricula are very likely one contributing factor (though not the sole factor). One aspect concerns content placement: Measurement appears late in primary grade texts, decreasing the likelihood of sufficient attention. The second concerns content: Curricular treatments of length and area have not sufficiently focused on the iteration of units (the core of measurement) and moved too quickly to the use of rulers and counting units. Weak attention to unit iteration makes it difficult for students to understand the process of measurement (how sweeping through space produces measure numbers) and limits students’ success to highly routine and practiced contexts. The costs of poor measurement learning severely limit latter learning in mathematics and science.

STEM team, 2012
Jack Smith, Funda Gonulates (and newest
Gonulates!), Eryn Stehr, Lorraine Males,
Jia He at Conference, 2012

This project will expand, deepen, and report STEM results for length, area, and volume, but will also centrally address the tasks of putting that knowledge to work to improve educational practice (curriculum and teaching). Measurement teaching and learning in the elementary grades can be very successful (e.g., Stephan, Bowers, Cobb, & Gravemeijer, 2003), though it remains unclear what ordinary teachers working with commercial curricula need to know to use those materials more effectively. This project will complete the primary grades analysis of length, area, and volume and explore with the authors of the three elementary curricula ways of strengthening their existing materials. It will analyze the highly-regarded Singapore mathematics curriculum and compare and contrast findings with the U.S. results. It will develop and test effective ways of enriching pre-service teachers’ knowledge of core measurement principles and work with practicing teachers to improve their measurement lessons, using both innovative activities and existing curricular content. Finally, it will implement a three-year measurement “mini-center” to bring together the major U.S. research and development scholars and projects for sustained interaction, innovation, and collaboration.


The STEM Project: Strengthening Tomorrow’s Education in Measurement

Principal Investigator: Jack Smith
Graduate Students: Leo Chang, Dan Clark, Leslie Dietiker, Hanna Figueras, Funda Gonulates, Jia He, KoSze Lee, Lorraine Males, Aaron Mosier
Funding: National Science Foundation

With funding from the National Science Foundation’s REESE Program, this project is assessing  the capacity of elementary and middle school curricula to support robust student learning of length, area, and volume measurement. Substantial empirical evidence has shown that U.S. students perform poorly on measurement tasks, weakly understand the process of measurement, and compare poorly to students from other nations. But no serious explanation has been advanced for why national learning and performance is so weak. The STEM project is a first step toward providing such an explanation. We begin with written curricula, but with the full acknowledgement that many factors may contribute to the problem. Jack Smith is the PI for the project.


Teachers for a New Era (TNE)

Faculty: Sharon Senk (TNE Mathematics Team Leader), Bob Floden (co-PI), Duncan Sibley (co-PI) and Joan Ferrini-Mundy
Graduate Students: Aaron Brakoniecki, Aaron Mosier, Junguen Park, and Mustafa Demir
Funding: Carnegie Corporation, Ford Foundation, Annenberg Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation
Dates: 2002-2008

The preparation of teachers has long been a key commitment at Michigan State University. In 2002, MSU took yet another major step forward when it became part of the Carnegie Corporation of New York’s groundbreaking reform initiative known as Teachers for a New Era (TNE).

Of the nearly 1,400 American universities that prepare teachers, only MSU, Bank Street College of Education in New York, California State University at Northridge, and the University of Virginia were asked to be part of the multimillion dollar project in its first year.

The philanthropy’s goal for TNE is to establish nationally recognized “exemplars” of outstanding teacher preparation. Carnegie expects that the success of MSU and the other institutions, their graduates and the research produced in the coming years will challenge other universities to follow these ideas.

In announcing the selection of the four institutions, Carnegie President Vartan Gregorian said, “Teaching reform is central to school reform, and these institutions are pioneers in the movement. If we really want to improve student achievement, we have no choice but to improve teaching.”

As part of the project, MSU will receive $5 million over five years to establish a model for preparing high-quality teachers for the myriad demands of the contemporary American classroom. In addition to the Carnegie Corporation, other funders include the Ford, Annenberg and Rockefeller foundations. The University is expected to raise an additional $5 million to further the project activities.


TEACH MATH: Teachers Empowered to Advance Change in Mathematics

Principal InvestigatorsCorey Drake,  Erin Turner (University of Arizona), Tonya Bartell, Julia Aguirre (University of Washington, Tacoma), Mary Foote (Queens College CUNY), Amy Roth McDuffie (Washington State University TriCities)
Project Manager: Jeannie Patrick
Graduate Students: Cassie Brownell, Justin Coles, Frances Harper, Eddie Najarro, Amanda Opperman Eryn Stehr
Funding: National Science Foundation, DRK-12 grant
Dates:  2010-2015

The central aim of the TEACH MATH project is to transform preK-8 mathematics teacher preparation so that new generations of teachers will be equipped with powerful tools and strategies to increase student learning and achievement in mathematics in our nation’s increasingly diverse public schools. We intend to accomplish this by studying the iterative refinement of instructional modules for preK-8 mathematics methods courses that explicitly develop teacher competencies related to mathematics, children’s mathematical thinking and community/cultural funds of knowledge.

TEACH MATH Project Team
The MSU TEACH MATH Project Team

The field of mathematics education lacks a deep understanding of how mathematics instruction might integrate children’s mathematical thinking with the cultural, linguistic, and community-based knowledge that children bring to classrooms in ways that support student learning. Other research documents that historically underrepresented groups benefit from instruction that draws upon their cultural, linguistic and community-based knowledge (Ladson-Billings, 1994; Lee, 2007; Silver & Stein, 1996; Turner, Celedón-Pattichis & Marshall, 2008). This research has argued that teachers need to understand how students’ home and community-based funds of knowledge – the knowledge, skills and experiences found in students’ homes and communities – can support their mathematical learning (Civil, 2002; González, Andrade, Civil, & Moll, 2001; González, Moll & Amanti, 2005; Moll, Amanti, Neff & Gonzalez, 1992). We contend that experiences that help preservice preK-8 teachers understand the mathematical knowledge and practices of students’ communities can enhance teachers’ ability to provide effective mathematics instruction for diverse learners (see also Gay, 2009; Ladson-Billings, 1994, 2001; Nieto, 2004; Rodriguez & Kitchen, 2005; Villegas & Lucas, 2002). However, research on how pre-service teacher (PST) preparation might integrate these multiple knowledge bases is limited (e.g., Aguirre, 2009; Leonard, 2007). The primary goal of TEACH MATH is to study ways to support pre-service teachers in developing the knowledge, beliefs, dispositions, and practices needed to effectively plan, adapt and implement mathematics instruction in culturally, linguistically, and socio-economically diverse schools.



Transforming Developmental Mathematics in Partnership with Teacher Preparation

MTH 1825 Project Photo

Principal Investigators: Kristen Bieda (PI), Raven McCrory (co-PI), Beth Herbel-Eisenmann (co-PI), Pavel Sikorskii (co-PI)
Graduate Students: Jennifer Nimtz, Durrell Jones, Kenneth Bradfield, Jamie Wernet, Joanne Philhower, Brittany Dillman
Post-Docs: Aditya Viswanathan (Mathematics), Steven Wolf (CREATE for STEM)
Funding: National Science Foundation, TUES Type 1 Award
Dates: September 2013-September 2015

Transforming Developmental Mathematics Education in Partnership with Teacher Preparation supports students in MTH 1825, a developmental mathematics course at MSU, while strengthening preparation of prospective secondary mathematics teachers enrolled in MSU’s teacher preparation program. The project investigates a hybrid model for MTH 1825, where students complete ALEKS online instructional modules and attend an on-campus support seminar twice per week that is taught by prospective teachers (PTs). The curriculum for the on-campus support seminar is inquiry-based, and aims to support developmental mathematics students in gaining a more robust mathematical proficiency (Kilpatrick et al., 2001).   A core feature of the model is that the PTs receive mentoring by experienced mathematics educators both on-the-spot as they teach and in planning and reflecting upon lessons.

Measures to assess the efficacy of this model include: pre- and post-assessments of MTH 1825 students’ mathematical proficiency; surveys and interviews soliciting MTH 1825 students’ interest and self-efficacy in mathematics; video records of PTs’ instruction, self-reflections about their teaching, and interviews about learning to teach through this experience. Results from implementations of the model in fall 2012 and fall 2013 show positive effects of the hybrid structure on MTH 1825 students’ course performance, at a statistically significant level.