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CMP Staff in the Spotlight: Elizabeth Difanis Phillips

Release Date: December 12, 2014

Elizabeth Difanis 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 led to a search for a curriculum that would change the mathematical experiences for both students and teachers. My colleagues and I eventually focused our attention on the middle grades. For a long time middle grades mathematics was a review of elementary mathematics focusing on skills. The middle grades are also a time when students’ attitudes and aptitudes about mathematics are still forming. Our early work involved writing five exemplary mathematics units for the Middle Grades Mathematics Project (MGMP). These efforts laid the foundation for the development of 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 that it is a “civil rights” issue, which 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.

When I am not working, I enjoy time with my family and friends, particularly with my seven grandchildren. Gardening, yoga, Pilates, exercising, cooking, reading, going to the theater or concerts, and travelling are sandwiched into the remaining spare time. Most of all, I love being at my cottage where I recharge my soul, energy, and vision.

I wish you all a peaceful, healthy, and joyous holiday.