Math Master’s Offers Teachers a New Approach

Participants in the Master of Arts in Mathematics Teaching program

Say you are following step-by-step directions to drive somewhere. You will probably get to your destination, but you may not have a sense of where you are.

Similarly, children can learn to solve math problems by rote, but they may not understand the concepts behind their calculations.

Michael Flynn, director of Mount Holyoke’s Master of Arts in Mathematics Teaching (M.A.M.T.) program and a lecturer in MHC’s education department, uses this analogy to explain drawbacks in the way most adults learned math and the reason the M.A.M.T. takes a different approach.

“Kids today need to learn more than how to do rote computation. They need to be good problem solvers and to develop mathematical reasoning. Otherwise, subjects such as algebra and geometry become very hard,” says Flynn. “Math needs to make sense.”

To support this style of teaching and learning, the Mathematics Leadership Programs at Mount Holyoke last year launched the new M.A.M.T. program. It is designed for teachers, teacher-leaders, and math coaches of grades K–8.

M.A.M.T. involves three years of nonresidential summer programs (three weeks each) on campus and two academic years of online work completed at the applicant’s school. This summer’s sessions run from July 14 to August 1, and applications are still being accepted.

The program’s goal is to help teachers meet higher expectations that leaders in education reform advocated even before the Common Core published national standards in 2009.

Kaneka Turner, a math specialist for grades K–5 in North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools, says that after the program last summer, she brought back to her district ideas about encouraging children to talk about their thinking, to write about it, or to draw representations of it.

And Karen Schweitzer, a second-grade teacher in Williamsburg, Massachusetts, who was also in last year’s M.A.M.T. class, says, “We’re helping kids develop problem-solving skills that can be connected to all sorts of subjects.”

According to Flynn, the M.A.M.T. differs from other graduate programs in many ways, including:

  • “The core of our program is the Developing Mathematical Ideas curriculum. It is a nationally recognized professional development program that was created in partnership with Mount Holyoke College, the Educational Development Center, and TERC, and is heralded as one of the best forms of math professional development for educators. 
  • “Our courses are taught by experienced teacher-leaders including Virginia Bastable, director of the Mathematics Leadership Programs since their inception in 1983. She is also one of the authors of the Developing Mathematical Ideas materials.
  • “Our students progress through the program with the same group so they develop strong personal and professional connections.”
  • “Our students see how mathematical ideas develop as pupils move throughout the grades and how teachers can best support this learning.”
  • “The course work is integrated into our students’ work in schools, whether they are classroom teachers or math coaches.”

Bastable, codirector of the master’s program, gave these examples of the ways in which the courses encourage conceptual learning:

“In a course called Patterns, Functions, and Change, we use a case in first grade where these young students are working to show with drawings or cubes how many lunches they can buy if lunches cost $2.

“So a teacher might say to the class, ‘I would like you to use the cubes to show me how much one lunch costs, two lunches cost, three lunches, four lunches, five lunches, all the way up to ten lunches.’” Working from this example, the mathematics of functions is developed.

“Or consider this subtraction: 103 - 98. We want to develop students who would look at that and think, 98 is just 2 away from 100, so it’s 5 away from 103 instead of solving it in a more traditional manner. Picturing numbers on the number line provides a tool they will eventually use to make sense of integers.”

These examples show how the math of the M.A.M.T. is developed based on K-8 student experiences and how M.A.M.T. candidates can expand their own math knowledge by working with print and video cases of classroom practices.

More information is available online or from Michael Flynn at

—By Ronni Gordon