Marilyn Burns

posted Jul 9, 2010, 3:54 PM by Glenna Buford

7th Louise Hay Award

AWM is pleased to present the Seventh Annual Louise Hay Award to Marilyn Burns, Marilyn Burns Education Associates.

Citation for Marilyn Burns

Marilyn Burns has been a seminal figure in the professional lives of elementary teachers for many years. As a classroom teacher, she developed a humane, child-centered, practical approach to teaching mathematics that honored children's native intelligence and also was rooted in a deep understanding of what mathematics is about. Her books, workshops, videos, and newsletter have reached many thousands of teachers across the country and are valuable introductions to teaching mathematics to children. She created the MATH SOLUTIONS inservice courses attended by more than 45,000 teachers and administrators; produced a series of replacement units, offering an alternative to traditional textbook instruction; brought her message directly to children as the author of 12 books for children, including the best-selling "The I Hate Mathematics! Book" (translated into German, Japanese and Hebrew); and has reached out to parents with her message.

Her work for children is based on her deep respect for their intelligence, with seriousness of purpose blending seamlessly into fun. Additionally, her work for teachers sets high standards for mathematical integrity, classroom friendliness, and teacher support. The narrative style she uses for much of her work for teachers, rich with anecdotes from actual classrooms, encourages teachers to identify with the responsive teaching style she champions, dramatizes that telling does not always impart ideas, and allows teachers to question their own effectiveness without feeling ideologically threatened. She has made teachers and other mathematics educators aware of the difference between "teaching mathematics" and "teaching children," and has been a major inspiration for change in the professional lives of individual teachers.

A mathematics educator of enormous scope and influence, Marilyn Burns is the worthy recipient of the 1997 Louise Hay Award for Contributions to Mathematics Education.

Response from Marilyn Burns

It is an extraordinary honor for me to receive the Louise Hay Award for Contributions to Mathematics Education from the Association for Women in Mathematics. My career path has kept me attached primarily to the K-8 educational community, and I am especially touched to be recognized by an organization within the university community that is committed to improving mathematics education at all levels.

After receiving my undergraduate degree, my first teaching assignment was in a junior high school teaching algebra to ninth graders. I thought I was truly branching out in my second year when I also taught several eighth grade classes. After six years, however, I became curious about how younger students thought about mathematics. I visited a friend's third-grade class and was hooked. The social turbulence of my junior high classes was missing, the eagerness of the children was wonderful, and their ideas about mathematics fascinated me.

I continued to teach occasional lessons, and was pushed by the students' responses to change much of my thinking. Dr. Robert B. Davis, my undergraduate advisor at Syracuse University to whom I'm deeply grateful for shaping the direction of my career, had opened my eyes to focus on students' thinking, not only on my teaching. Putting this into practice with elementary students grabbed my attention and has kept it for the past 30 years.

I broadened my focus and became interested in how elementary teachers think about mathematics and how to teach it. I then became convinced that we cannot teach what we don't understand, and that we cannot teach well what we don't love. Most elementary teachers, especially those at the younger grades, are women. A large part of them have not yet had the opportunity to develop an interest in or an appreciation of mathematics. However, they share the bulk of the responsibility for shaping children's formative understandings about and attitudes toward mathematics.

It's a challenge for the K-12 and university communities to work together to inspire all teachers responsible for teaching mathematics to understand it more deeply, recognize its beauty, and be inspired to engage their students' interest in learning mathematics. Receiving this award has renewed for me the importance of this challenge.

Thank to AWM for presenting me with this award, and thank to Judith Roitman [University of Kansas] and Diane Resek [San Francisco State University] for nominating me. I am very grateful.