Focus on Mathematics (FoM) is a unique partnership between local public school districts, Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) and nonprofit organizations. It was initially funded by the National Science Foundation in 2003 to improve student achievement by providing mathematics teachers with the content knowledge and skills valuable in their profession. The partnership has evolved and grown over the past decade but still maintains the goals of the Mathematics Science Partnership Program.

The FoM Approach to Mathematics Teaching and Learning

  • Depth over breadth: Teachers experience sustained immersion in mathematics
  • Focus on mathematics: Everything we do revolves around mathematics
  • Capacity building: Teachers learn to drive professional development
  • Community building: Mathematicians, teachers, and educators work and learn together

Building on close to two decades of prior work, the Focus on Mathematics MSP has developed and refined a distinctive framework for a mathematics-centered approach to developing teachers’ Knowledge of Mathematics for Teaching and it has built a mathematical community based on that framework.

The FoM Approach to Improving Effective Mathematics Teaching:

FoM concentrates on what it takes for teachers at every grade level to be experts in the mathematics they teach, in how their students come to understand that mathematics, and in how that mathematics fits into the broader landscape of the discipline. The following unique features characterize this work. 

Emphasis on learning and doing mathematics: 

FoM’s mathematics-centered professional development program provides teachers with time and space to work on and discuss mathematics problems with colleagues, to explore and recognize different strategies for solving problems, and to think deeply, analytically, and critically about mathematics. These experiences enrich teachers’ understanding of the mathematics they teach and how it fits into the more general landscape of mathematics as a discipline. 

Development of mathematical habits of mind for teaching: 

A key component of knowledge of mathematics for teaching at the secondary level is teachers’ mathematical habits of mind (MHOM) that are enhanced or developed through participation in mathematical learning communities. We define mathematical habits of mind as the specialized ways of approaching mathematical problems and thinking about mathematical concepts that resemble the ways employed by mathematicians. 

Categories of MHOM include:

  • Applying mathematical reasoning
  • Performing purposeful experiments
  • Seeking underlying structure
  • Using precise mathematical language

Core involvement of mathematics in professional development:

Mathematicians are an important part of FoM activities, working directly with teachers to help deepen their mathematical understandings and understand mathematics in ways that are faithful to the ways in which professional mathematicians think about the discipline. 

Participation in a mathematical learning community:

Involvement in mathematics community of practice helps teachers connect their own learning experiences to their teaching practice and to develop strategies to helping their students develop mathematical habits of mind. In FoM, mathematicians are learning from teachers and teachers are learning from mathematicians.  

Assessing Secondary Teachers' Habits of Mind

Boston University, Education Development Center, Inc. and St. Olaf College are collaborating on an NSF grant funded research project, Assessing Secondary Teachers' Algebraic Habits of Mind (ASTAHM). For more information see  http://mhomresearch.edc.org/