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Welcome to the
Visual Access to Mathematics Project

Professional Development Course for Teachers of Math to English Learners in Grades 6-8

For information related to this video see the
VAM 2016 NSF Video Showcase entry.

“I’ve taken so much professional development that’s just so generalized, and I like things that I can bring right in and then adapt for other lessons, which we’ve seen a lot in this class, which is great.”

—Course participant talking about course content

“I’ve had a lot of trainings over the years. And I feel like I’ve heard a lot of it, I’ve seen a lot of it, but I really appreciate how other teachers implement [mathematics instruction with students who are ELs]. And for me that’s the most powerful thing. . . to get that fresh look at things and to see it through someone else’s eyes, and how they implement it, and what is useful for them in their classrooms. Because then I can turn around and try something like that in my classroom.”

—Course participant talking about the value of course participation


4-day in-person workshop



On-Line Course

(8) 2-week online sessions

school year

Oct. to May



(2) 1-day in-person

Jan. & May

Who participates?

  • Grades 6-8 teachers with math responsibility for students who are English learners, including math teachers, math coaches, ELL teachers
  • Teachers wanting to improve math learning & teaching for students who are English learners

Why participate?

  • Explore & implement instructional strategies that support English learners during math instruction.
  • Deepen your understanding of visual representations, such as double number lines, for rational number and ratio and proportion tasks aligned with the Common Core State Standards.
  • Build skills related to analyzing the work of students who are English learners.
  • Learn with a team of experts from Education Development Center (a MA non-profit) including lead instructors Pam Buffington, Mark Driscoll, and Johannah Nikula.

Course Details

  • A comprehensive PD program developed and available without a fee to current participants through funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF)
  • Current participants can earn 4 graduate credits at Fitchburg State with a course fee
  • During the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years, participation was determined by random assignment as required for the NSF study

Course Leads

Pam Buffington is a leader in the development and management of multiple teacher professional development initiatives. She is an expert in technology integration in education with extensive work in the areas of mathematics and science, and has designed and implemented online and face-to-face professional development materials. As Co-Director of the Science and Mathematics Programs Unit at EDC, she leads a team of researchers, instructional designers, and professional developers in investigating and implementing strategies to improve students' learning outcomes.

Buffington has extensive experience working with educators in Maine and Massachusetts. In addition to her work co-leading this Visual Access to Mathematics project, Buffington is a co-lead of the National Science Foundation-funded Research and Practice Collaboratory, an initiative focused on equity-oriented STEM education improvement. In this work, she leads a partnership with the Auburn, Maine School Department to improve student learning of mathematics in the early grades through the integration of interactive technologies such as tablets. She previously led Eliciting Mathematics Misconceptions: A Cognitive Diagnostic Assessment System, an initiative that developed and validated diagnostic formative assessments in the content area of rational numbers, as well as several other initiatives, including the Maine Impact Study of Technology in Mathematics Intervention.

Buffington has experience working in schools both as both a mathematics teacher and as a technology coordinator. Buffington received a BS in secondary education and mathematics with a minor in Physics from University of Maine at Farmington, an MA in curriculum and instruction from Lesley College, and a PhD in education (integrating multicultural education, technology, and educational practice) from the Union Institute. More information about Pam.

Mark Driscoll, a nationally recognized leader in mathematics education, designs instructional resources and professional development materials that build mathematics teacher's capacity to enhance students' understanding and improve their learning outcomes. For the past decade, his work has centered on professional development for algebraic thinking and geometric thinking, with a particular eye on teachers of English learners. Driscoll is responsible for a portfolio of work across projects aimed at improving mathematics instruction through teacher professional development.

He and his team have worked with several hundred teachers and teacher leaders across the United States. He led a team that launched a free website that offers middle school mathematics teachers proven strategies to support English learners’ success: Mathematical Thinking: Supports for English Language Learners. He is the author and coauthor of numerous publications on teacher professional development, including: Mathematical Thinking and Communication: Access for English Learners, Fostering Algebraic Thinking, Fostering Geometric Thinking, and accompanying toolkits all published by Heinemann.

He is recipient of the 2010 Ross Taylor/Glenn Gilbert National Leadership Award from the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics. Before joining EDC, Driscoll helped start and taught at an alternative high school in St. Louis, Missouri, Logos School. Driscoll received his BA from Boston College and his MA and PhD in mathematics from Washington University in St. Louis, with a specialization in differential geometry. More information about Mark.

Johannah Nikula helps teachers make engaging and intellectually stimulating mathematical learning experiences available and accessible to all learners. She specializes in designing and studying models of professional development for mathematics teachers, with a particular focus on working with students from diverse backgrounds and those who possess varying degrees of proficiency in English. She has led engaging professional development workshops for several hundred teachers around the United States, and in particular in Massachusetts.

Nikula's work involves strong collaboration with teachers and other school- and district-based practitioners. In addition to co-leading this Visual Access to Mathematics project, she is also a key contributor to the NSF-funded Implementing the Mathematical Practice Standards initiative, which is developing online resources and professional development materials that support teachers’ understanding and use of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Standards for Mathematical Practice. She has also been a leader on several other projects focused on understanding supports for mathematics teachers of English learners. Nikula has also served as an instructional coach for mathematics teachers of ELs. Nikula received a BA in psychology with a minor in mathematics from Middlebury College and an EdM from Harvard University Graduate School of Education with a focus on Technology in Education. More information about Johannah.

Course Lead Publications & Articles

The Visual Access to Mathematics (VAM) course developers and facilitators have decades of experience designing and leading teacher professional development related to mathematics teaching and learning including support for students who are English learners. They draw on that experience while also collaborating with current district-based teachers and coaches to design and lead the course.

Below is a sampling of the books, professional development programs, articles, and blog posts from VAM course staff.

Published Professional Books and Professional Development (PD) Programs from Project Leads

  • Mathematical Thinking and Communication: Access for English Learners (2016). This recently-published book by project staff Mark Driscoll, Johannah Nikula, and Jill Neumayer DePiper is available through Heinemann, Inc. and it is used as a reference throughout the Visual Access to Mathematics course.
  • Mathematics Lesson Study in Practice (2010). Course lead Nikula is a co-author of a published teacher professional book and a PD program, both focused on supporting lesson study in mathematics.
  • Fostering Geometric Thinking (2007-2008) and Fostering Algebraic Thinking (1999, 2001). These popular teacher professional books and professional development programs were written and created by Mark Driscoll, Johannah Nikula, and others at EDC.

Example Articles, Book Chapters, and Blog Posts by VAM Staff

Focused on supporting students who are English learners:

  • Supporting English Learners in the Mathematics Classroom (2016). This is a blog post by Johannah Nikula.
  • Supporting English Learners—Lesson from Research (2014). Johannah Nikula is lead author on this article for teachers in the NCTM Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School journal. Volume 20(1), 30-37.
  • Multimodal communication: Promoting and revealing students’ mathematical thinking (2014). Mark Driscoll is a co-author for this chapter in Annual Perspectives in Mathematics Education (APME) 2014: Using Research to Improve Instruction. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
  • Knowledge for teaching English language learners mathematics (2012). Mark Driscoll is the lead author of this chapter in S. Celedon-Pattichis and N. Ramirez (Eds) Beyond good teaching: Advancing mathematics education for ELLs. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Focused on best practices in professional learning and professional development:

  • Partnership-Based Research Approaches (2016). Pam Buffington is co-author of this chapter in Rural Education Research: State of the Science and Emerging Directions.
  • Enhancing Use of Learning Sciences Research in Planning for and Supporting Educational Change: Leveraging and Building Social Networks (2016). Pam Buffington is co-author of this article in the Journal of Educational Change. Volume 17(2), 251-278.
  • Developing teachers’ knowledge of a transformations-based approach to geometric similarity (2013). Driscoll and Nikula are co-authors of this article in the Mathematics Teacher Educator. Volume 2(1). 74-85.
  • Transforming middle school geometry: Designing professional development materials that support the teaching and learning of similarity (2010). Driscoll is a co-author of this article in the Middle Grades Research Journal. Volume 5(4), 199-211.
  • A Framework for the Strategic Use of Classroom Artifacts in Mathematics Professional Development (2006). Nikula is lead author of this article in the NCSM Journal of Mathematics Education Leadership. Volume 9(1), 57-64.

Focused on other topics in mathematics teaching and learning:

  • What’s MP8, “Repeated reasoning,” in algebra? (2017). Nikula is a co-author on this article in the NCTM journal Mathematics Teacher.
  • Improving mathematical problem solving in grades 4 through 8: A practice guide (NCEE 2012-4055) (2012). Driscoll is a co-author on this practice guide developed by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.
  • Secondary School Students’ Proportional Reasoning and Learning and Teaching Algebra in Secondary School Classrooms (2010). Nikula and Driscoll are the authors of these two chapters in Lobato, J. & Lester, F.K. Eds. Teaching and Learning Mathematics: Translating Research for Secondary Teachers. NCTM. Reston, VA.