Elizabeth Phillips

Ever since I joined the Department of Mathematics at Michigan State University in the 1970s, I have been interested in the teaching and learning of algebra. This was due in part to my observation and work with incoming freshmen, many of whom were placed into remedial mathematics courses even after having 11-12 years of school mathematics. This phenomenon prompted me and my colleagues to find a way to change the mathematical experiences of K-12 students. After many years of professional development activities with teachers to create rich mathematical experiences, we realized the need to identify key mathematical ideas, unpack what it means to understand these ideas, and develop strategies to implement these understandings in the classroom. My colleagues and I eventually focused our attention on the middle grades. The middle grades are a time when students’ attitudes and aptitudes about mathematics are still forming. We needed a curriculum that embodied our philosophy. This led to the development and implementation of five exemplary mathematics units called the Middle Grades Mathematics Project (MGMP). Each unit focused on developing deep understanding of one or two big mathematical ideas These efforts laid the foundation for the development of the Connected Mathematics Project (CMP).

I never tire of watching CMP students in their classes or reading about them from reports that teachers send us. It is truly amazing what mathematical understanding and reasoning these students are capable of achieving and I mean “all” students. While the curriculum is a critical part of their learning, it only comes alive under the guidance of the teacher. We are continually in their debt. When I am asked why am I still doing this, my response is first, I am still learning and second, creating meaningful and engaging mathematical experiences for all students is a “civil rights” issue. This is reflected in the CMP philosophy: All students can reason and communicate proficiently in mathematics. They will have the knowledge of and skill in the use of the vocabulary, forms of representation, materials, tools, techniques, and intellectual methods of the discipline of mathematics, including the ability to define and solve problems with reason, insight, inventiveness, and technical proficiency.


  • Keynote Talk - The Dilemma of Pacing: Teaching for Understanding