The 2015 Mary P. Dolciani Award is presented to Sybilla Beckmann, Josiah Meigs Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at the University of Georgia, in recognition of her unique career as a mathematician whose contributions to mathematics education, particularly in the elementary grades, have been extensive and ground-breaking.
Dr. Beckmann earned an undergraduate degree in Mathematics from Brown University and a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Pennsylvania. She began her remarkable career as a J.W. Gibbs Instructor at Yale University, publishing several papers in Arithmetic Geometry before moving to the University of Georgia, where her interest turned increasingly to the challenges of mathematics education, especially in the preparation of mathematically capable teachers in the elementary and middle grades. Her work has been recognized with the Regents’ Teaching Award from the Georgia University System and the Association for Women in Mathematics’ Louise Hay Award for Contributions to Mathematics Education.
Teaching a full-year mathematics class to 6th graders, while teaching at UGA, gave Dr. Beckmann a unique first-hand view of the issues facing practicing teachers. The insight she gained has led to an extraordinary array of effective programs, papers, textbooks, and service to the mathematics education community. Among her accomplishments, Dr. Beckmann developed new content courses for early childhood education majors at the University of Georgia and wrote the widely acclaimed textbook Mathematics for Elementary Teachers, now in its 4th edition. She also created the Mathematicians Educating Future Teachers program in the Graduate Program in Mathematics at Georgia, a program which develops the teachers of our future teachers. She has served on writing teams for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Curriculum Focal Points series, was the lead writer for the elementary grades chapter in The Mathematical Education of Teachers II for CBMS, co-authored the report Mathematics Learning in Early Childhood: Paths Toward Excellence and Equity for the National Research Council, and most recently, was a member of the mathematics writing team for the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. In addition to her work on the Common Core, she has been an expert reviewer for several states’ mathematics standards, served as a mathematics adviser for several children's TV shows, and has been on the MSRI Education Advisory Committee for the last seven years.
In recommending Dr. Beckmann for the Mary P. Dolciani Award, one of her colleagues commented, “I knew Mary Dolciani. Sybilla has the same mastery of mathematics content coupled with ability to adopt the learner’s perspective that Mary had. She understands where and why learners struggle with mathematics, and through her teaching, presentations and publications, she helps them in their struggles. The Dolciani Award honors Sybilla’s unique combination of grass-roots experience and a mathematician’s insight that enable her to make exceptional contributions to education.
Response from Sybilla Beckmann
I am deeply honored to receive the Mary P. Dolciani award and I thank the selection committee and those who wrote on my behalf. Many people have helped me along the path to the work I do today. I am so grateful to my family and to my Department of Mathematics at the University of Georgia for encouraging me to pursue work that I am passionate about. I am so grateful to my colleagues in mathematics education who have welcomed me and taught me more than I even knew there was to know.
It is a privilege to work in mathematics and mathematics education because of the exciting frontiers and the fascinating knowledge in both fields. I think that all of us who teach mathematics, from the university level to the elementary grades, are connected and should see ourselves as collectively responsible for mathematics teaching. We should own our profession—the mathematics teaching profession—and work together to make it strong. For me, the Mary P. Dolciani award puts a spotlight on the bridge between the mathematics research and education communities, two communities that care deeply about the future of mathematics and have much work to do together.
Sybilla Beckmann is Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor of Mathematics at the University of Georgia. She has a PhD in mathematics from the University of Pennsylvania and taught at Yale University as a J. W. Gibbs Instructor of Mathematics. Beckmann has done research in Arithmetic Geometry, but her current main interests are mathematical cognition, the mathematical education of teachers, and mathematics content for PreK through Grade 8. Beckmann developed several mathematics content courses for prospective elementary school teachers at the University of Georgia and wrote a book for such courses. She has been a member of national committees and writing teams including for NCTM’s Curriculum Focal Points for Prekindergarten through Grade 8 Mathematics, the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, the Mathematical Education of Teachers II, and the Committee on Early Childhood Mathematics of the National Research Council. Several years ago Beckmann taught an average 6th grade mathematics class every day at a local public school in order to better understand school mathematics teaching. Beckmann has won the Regents’ Teaching Award from the University System of Georgia and the Louise Hay Award for Contributions to Mathematics Education from the Association for Women in Mathematics. Jointly with colleague Andrew Izsák, Beckmann is currently studying future teachers’ reasoning about topics that include multiplication, division, fractions, ratio and proportional relationships, and linear functions.