Hall of Fame Portrait: Marilyn Burns Part 1

On December 2, 2010, AEP will induct Marilyn Burns, Math Solutions; Diane Trister Dodge, Teaching Strategies, Inc.; and Rachelle Cracchiolo, Teacher Created Materials into the Educational Publishing Hall of Fame. Here in her first installment, Marilyn Burns, Founder,  Math Solutions, discusses the person who had the greatest influence on her and the advice she would give to those choosing educational publishing as a career.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career and why?

When I went to college, my career options were clear and limited—teacher or nurse. I opted for teaching, choosing to become a secondary math teacher. I credit my undergraduate advisor, Robert Davis, for influencing my entire career. I met him in 1960. His creation of the Madison Project and subsequent influence on the Miller Math program in California were huge influences in my career. And while he didn’t have a direct influence on my later founding a company that would be involved in educational publishing, it was his approach to teaching and learning that continues to impact my work to this day.

Bob taught the first education course I took in the teacher preparation program. On the first day, he assigned the two books we would be studying—The Process of Education by Jerome Bruner, and Summerhillby A.S. Neill—explaining that he was reading these books and finding them extremely interesting and provocative. “Please read them and then we’ll talk,” he told us.

The books didn’t offer a comprehensive view of what I needed, or thought I needed, to become a math teacher, but they certainly expanded my view of what learning and schooling could be. More importantly, they represented what was guiding Bob Davis’s thinking and teaching at the time. The lessons I learned: Share what you’re interested in. Open up to new ideas. Anything is possible.

Bob once gave us the assignment of looking at the full moon and seeing if we could discern the shape of a rabbit, as well as the usual man in the moon. I looked and looked, and finally saw it—the image of two ears up to the right and the rabbit’s body filling the rest of the moon. Bob said, “Ah, if you can open up to seeing one other possibility, then there are probably an infinite number of things you can see in that same moon.”

I’m still looking.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in educational publishing?

Stay in touch with students, teachers, and schools. Strive to help teachers be as effective as possible.


Marilyn Burns is an educator, an author, and the founder of Math Solutions. Dedicated to improving students’ learning of mathematics and guided by the belief that teachers are the key to students’ success, Math Solutions has been providing K-8 mathematics professional development for more than 25 years. Math Solutions courses have been attended by thousands of teachers and administrators nationwide. Math Solutions publications include more than 80 professional development books and DVDs.

Read more about Marilyn Burns and the Hall of Fame.

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