Kristy Kennedy
Getting it right from the start. See the impact of Primarily Math

Primarily Math is the story of outstanding Nebraska elementary teachers who have accepted the challenge to return to graduate school to study mathematics and the teaching of mathematics. It is also a story of the faculty and graduate students at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln who are engaging in research to help us learn more about the potential of programs such as Primarily Math to impact the achievement of young children as they begin their journey from the first day of kindergarten to high school graduation.

Application Open until March 15 for ESU 3 Teachers

Read through the application requirements for the K-3 Math Specialist Certificate. When you are ready to apply, scroll down and click on the "START THE APPLICATION PROCESS AT GRADUATE STUDIES" button. Once on the Graduate Studies page, click on the yellow Apply Now button or scroll down to the red "Application for Graduate Admission" to complete the first step of the application process, being admitted to UNL as a "Non-Degree, Graduate Certificate Objective" student. Choose "Graduate Certificate in K-3 Mathematics Specialist" from the drop-down menu. As a current Nebraska teacher, you do not have to pay the $50 application fee. Enter the code: K3GCER to waive the fee. Once admitted, you will be sent a link to the GAMES system to upload your application materials. Applications are due by March 15, 2016.

Strengthening Math Education in K-3

Primarily Math began as one component of NebraskaMATH, a $9.2 million Math Science Partnership to UNL from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The goal of Primarily Math is to strengthen kindergarten to third-grade teachers’ mathematical and pedagogical knowledge for teaching and their professional interactions with other teachers in their schools, while improving attitudes toward the teaching and learning of mathematics. Teachers earn a K-3 Mathematics Specialist Certificate from UNL upon completion of the 18-hour graduate program. To date, 363 teachers have completed the program and 42 are taking coursework in 2015/16.

The original proposal to NSF only anticipated serving 120 teachers but because of substantial demand for the Primarily Math program, NebraskaMATH leadership worked to reallocate resources and extended the opportunity to more teachers. In 2012, districts such as Blair and Papillion-La Vista requested the program be opened to more teachers.

In 2013, thanks to the generous support of The Sherwood Foundation® and the Lozier Foundation in Omaha, we will be able to offer up to 140 Omaha Public Schools K-3 teachers the opportunity to participate in this outstanding program at no cost to the teacher for tuition or fees through the OPS Teacher Leader Academy. Most recently, Lincoln Public Schools decided to use its Title I funds to allow 40 more teachers to complete Primarily Math in 2014-2015, adding to its 80 teachers who have completed the program, and districts in Educational Service Unit 3 helped support 20 teachers to complete the program in 2014-2015.

To discuss starting a cohort of Primarily Math in your district, please contact us at

Primarily Math wins grant award from Women Investing in Nebraska

Primarily Math, a program of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with objectives to transform K–3 mathematics education in Nebraska, received a $53,700 grant award from Women Investing in Nebraska on Oct. 1, 2015. The program is an initiative of the Center for Science, Mathematics and Computer Education, the Department of Mathematics and the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Teacher Education. The university will use the funding to offer the Primarily Math program, which started with the National Science Foundation grant NebraskaMATH in 2009, to even more high-need school districts across the state. It helps teachers with their own knowledge of mathematics and improves the teaching of mathematics in primary school grades.

“Receiving this award is an honor because it provides us with the opportunity to continue to work with a group of outstanding individuals: the teachers charged with educating Nebraska’s children,” said Michelle Homp, research assistant professor with the UNL Center for Science, Mathematics and Computer Education. “We believe that no endeavor is more worthy, and we’re very grateful to Women Investing in Nebraska.”

“Women Investing in Nebraska’s investment in Primarily Math means more elementary school students will receive great mathematics education in their classrooms,” said Lisa Smith, chair of the Women Investing in Nebraska executive committee. “It’s incredible to know how important this will be for Nebraska’s teachers and their students.”

Primarily Math will begin assembling a cohort in 2016. The WIN grant will be used to partially fund tuition for accepted teachers. To discuss bringing Primarily Math to your ESU, please contact us at

K-3 Math Specialist Certificate Program

As Primarily Math courses are offered across Nebraska, in some locations they are offered as two courses each summer across three summers, and in other locations are offered as two courses each of two summers, with one course each in the intervening fall and spring semesters. Course schedules are determined in cooperation with hosting districts.

Each Primarily Math summer institute uses the concentrated immersion approach developed by the Math in the Middle program. During summers, paired classes meet 8-5 daily (Monday-Friday) for two weeks with nightly homework. At the end of a course, teachers complete an End-of-Course assignment designed to support the long-term retention of material studied in the course. Thus, teachers are able to earn 6 graduate credits each summer while being in class for only two weeks. While this approach is intense, support for participants is substantial. This approach has proved to be quite popular with teachers because it protects most of the summer for other activities.

During academic year courses, each semester participants take a 3-credit graduate course, using a "blended distance education" format. Teachers will attend some in-person course meetings on Saturdays, and will complete other assignments via UNL's Blackboard website.

Course Number Title
1 Math 800P Number and Operation Part I
2 Math 801P Number and Operation Part II
3 TEAC 808A Teaching Math K-3: Planning Lessons for Diverse Learners
4 TEAC 808J Helping Young Children Become Mathematical Thinkers
5 Math 802P Geometry and Algebraic Thinking
6 TEAC 907 Communities of Practice and Mathematics

Primarily Math: Success Stories

The publication "Primarily Math: Success Stories" tells the story of Primarily Math, a teaching, research and development program for K-3 teachers through 2013, as part of the NSF-funded NebraskaMATH grant. NebraskaMATH is immensely proud of the teachers in Primarily Math. They are a wonderful resource for improving the teaching and learning of mathematics in the primary grades. Enjoy this magazine’s stories and classroom photos, more of which can be seen in the slideshow on the Photo Gallery web page.

Primarily Math: Success Stories PDF

Products and Publications

Success Stories Cover

Springboard to a Master's Degree

More than 80 Primarily Math participants are building on their Primarily Math graduate education to pursue a master's degree. The 18 graduate credit hours earned through Primarily Math mean that participants are halfway to a master's degree. For more information about applying and using Primarily Math credits toward a master's degree from UNL's Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education, please visit the Master's Degree Possibilities page. The typical Primarily Math participant completes a master's degree by taking TEAC 800 Inquiry into Teaching and Learning (required), TEAC 801 Curriculum Inquiry (required), Math 803P Algebraic Thinking in the K-4 Classroom, Math 804P Problem Solving in the Elementary Classroom, TEAC 890 Responsive Instruction in the Elementary Classroom, and TEAC 889 Master's Seminar (required). The elective courses may include those listed or may be related to teaching ELL students, assessment, diverse learners, or other issues of teaching and learning. Teachers plan and carry out a summative classroom research project to study their own teaching as part of the requirements of the master's degree.

NebraskaMATH Final Report 2015

Over the past six years, the $9.3 million NSF-funded NebraskaMATH grant has impacted more than 700 teacher leaders across the state. The "NebraskaMATH Final Report,” published in 2015, showcases the scope of the grant’s three core programs, Primarily Math, New Teacher Network and Nebraska Algebra, as well as the programs that grew from them. Funded by the National Science Foundation, NebraskaMATH thanks not only the NSF for its support, but also the many teachers who have taken our courses and have gone back into their classrooms dedicated to the young people of Nebraska. It’s been an inspiration to collaborate with all of you. Download a copy of the final report by clicking on the image of the report.