Discovering the Art of Mathematics

By Erin Moss, Co-editor of DUE Point

Students participating in DAoM

Students participating in DAoM

Mathematics for Liberal Arts (MLA) is one of the largest undergraduate mathematics cohorts.  Unfortunately, MLA coursework is largely disconnected from students’ academic interests and frequently fails to engage them in research-recommended active learning approaches.  Discovering the Art of Mathematics (DAoM) curriculum materials provide unique and inexpensive alternatives to traditional methods and texts.  Read on to find out more about this important project, described by co-PI Philip Hotchkiss of Westfield State University.

Q:  What issues did you seek to address at the outset of your project?

Many liberal arts and humanities students are served by single-semester courses generally known as Mathematics for Liberal Arts (MLA) courses.  Because many MLA students’ negative prior experiences in mathematics have left them with unhealthy perceptions of the subject and their own abilities, it is incumbent on faculty to provide our students with positive experiences that challenge these perceptions.  This can seem like an enormous task to many faculty. Our project was designed to address these challenges by creating an active learning environment that supported MLA students in connecting mathematics to their disciplinary interests.

Q:  Briefly describe your project.

The guided-discovery curriculum materials that make up DAoM meet the need for more active involvement of mathematics students in the learning process.  We provide a library of 10 inquiry-based learning (IBL) guides that involve students in authentic mathematical experiences that are both challenging and intellectually stimulating.  These experiences nurture healthy and informed perceptions of mathematics, mathematical ways of thinking, and the ongoing impact of mathematics not only on STEM fields but also on the liberal arts and humanities.

We also have extensive teacher resources, as well as many professional development opportunities for mathematics faculty who wish to transform their classrooms in response to current research on learning and meet the needs and interests of MLA students.

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As this project has progressed, we have come to understand how fundamental this vision is for many other audiences beyond MLA students. Central aspects of this project provide for teaching and learning in courses at all levels, as well as for homeschoolers, for Math Circles, and for mathematical enrichment programs.

Q:  How do you hope your work will positively influence students and the mathematics community?

After graduation, we hope that our students will help change the negative stereotypes of mathematics in their communities and families. We also hope that our materials will inspire and support faculty to change the way they teach and interact with their mathematics students.

Q:  What unanticipated challenges did you face during the implementation of your project?

One of the unanticipated challenges we encountered was the need for workshops on using IBL and support for our books.  We assumed faculty would download our materials and then easily use them in their classrooms. This misconception required us to provide additional workshops and resources on our web page, such as the e-book, Discovering the Art of Teaching and Learning Mathematics Using Inquiry.

Q:  Tell us about someone impacted by the project.

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After Steven Strogatz saw our materials at JMM in 2014, he invited us to Cornell to do a workshop and then started using our materials. In a blog post on our website about our workshop, he wrote, “This experience gave me powerful insight into what it must be like for students in an IBL classroom. It made me realize the importance of providing a safe and nurturing space for the math explorers I was about to start working with in just a few days.”

In an interview with Jessica Lahey that appeared in The Atlantic, Strogatz said, “I have to say that teaching this class has been a joyful experience in a way that no other class I've ever taught has been. I love teaching, and I certainly love teaching students who already enjoy math – don't get me wrong. But there's something remarkable about working with a group of students who think they hate math or find it boring, and then turning them around, even just a little bit … I was so proud of them. They were having a true mathematical moment. That is, they were deeply engaged with a puzzle that made sense to them, and they were enjoying the struggle, and no, they did not want a hint! They were feeling what anyone who loves math feels, the pleasure of thinking. The pleasure of wrestling with a problem that fascinates you. No one in the class was asking, ‘What is this good for?’ Or ‘Where will I ever use this?’ Those are questions that students ask only when they are not engaged.”

Editor’s note: Q&A responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Learn more about NSF DUE 1225915

Links to the guest blogs from Steven Strogatz can be found at, and a link to Jessica Lahey’s entire interview with him can be found at:

Full Project Name: Discovering the Art of Mathematics: Mathematical Inquiry in the Liberal Arts


Project Website:

Project Contact: Julian Fleron, PI

For more information on any of these programs, follow the links, and follow these blog posts! This blog is a project of the Mathematical Association of America, produced with financial support of NSF DUE Grant #1626337.


Erin Moss is a co-editor of DUE Point and an Associate Professor of Mathematics Education at Millersville University, where she works with undergraduates from all majors as well as graduate students in the M.Ed. in Mathematics program.