This year there was a pretty spectacular conference in the hills of Berkeley California that brought a number of people who are involved in Developmental Math including Deborah Ball, Bill McCallum, Hyman Bass, but mixed among them were some lesser known names including Gregory Larnell, and a scene stealing group of high school math teachers from NYC.

The Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) is a magical place in the hills above the University of Berkeley near the Lawrence Hall of Science.  It’s home to a group of academic researchers who work on their research from the inside of a beautiful complex, largely funded by MFA creator Jim Simons, which plays hosts to a number of national conferences with various focus on a yearly basis.  The annual Critical Issues in Math Education meeting was held in March and had the focus of “developmental mathematics at two- and four-year colleges and universities and the broader dynamic of mathematics remediation that occurs at all levels.”

The crowd was a very cordial who’s who of math education people, and it provided a very intriguing look at the academic approach to teaching lower level math classes on a college level.  Going in I thought that the talk would involve a lot of bashing on K-12 teaching by people who were desperately clinging to the status quo, but instead found people who were all really thoughtful and interested in having success with the staggeringly low success rates in developmental math.  At the same time, I was miles away from my students, as were everyone else, and it did feel like we were in an “Ivory Tower” and the view helped this.

The view of San Francisco Bay from the steps of MSRI.  The view of San Francisco Bay from the steps of MSRI.


All of the talks that happened at this event were shared by everyone in the main conference room on the MSRI campus.  Every minute of the talk and Q & A was recorded except for a few break out sessions, and it is all available online. Here were my favorites:

Viewing the problem from the K-12 perspective

  • Kate Belin (Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School)
  • Lauren Brady (Park East High School)
  • Philip Dituri (New Design High School)
  • Audrey Federman & Giselle George-Gilkes (East Side Community High School)
  •  Noah Heller (Math for America)
  • Nalo Lewis (Math for America)
  • Michael Moshos (Math for America) –


These talks included a gaggle of MFA teachers from New York City. This was arguably the most important talk of this whole weekend.  I say this because more people were quoting these talks than any others as the conference moved forward. The hour long session is really a set of shorter presentations, each of a teacher showcasing what is going on in their classroom.  After showcasing what is going on in their classroom they leave it to the audience to answer the question “Are my students college ready?” 

Non-cognitive issues affecting student performance in mathematics

  • Rachel Beattie & Ann Edwards (Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching),
  • April Go Forth (Resources for Indian Student Education)
  • Gregory Larnell (University of Illinois at Chicago)
  • Richard Sgarlotti (Bay College)

This was an interesting session about non-cognitive factors.  This included ideas like productive persistence.  The most resonant talk of the group for me was Gregory Larnell (~37:00), titled “What does it feel like to be a problem? Toward Unpacking Mathematics-Learning Experiences in Developmental Mathematics Courses” who details a study about racial minority students and their expereiences in Developmental Education classes.  He describes Stereotype Threat and the “Cooling Out” phenomenon, two very real ways that students may be prevented from having college success.  This  talk was particularly interesting after a conversation I was having on Twitter about the lack of diversity at the NCTM conference, and perhaps addressing these issues is a start.

There’s Something Happening Here: Lessons on Transformative Mathematics Education from Colorado’s Equity in Excellence Project

  • James Gray (Community College of Aurora)

This talk was a great example of a success story in this area.  He details the work that his college was able to achieve with the help of some consultants.  It is probably the best example of a success story that both passes the number test and made me say “That can work in my context too!”

And many more…

And of course there are lots of other obviously good talks there, but these are the ones that may slip under your radar.  All of the big name talks are certainly valuable. I hope this is useful for you