Marta Civil

The University of Arizona


Marta Civil grew up in Barcelona, Spain, where she obtained her undergraduate degree in mathematics from Universitat de Barcelona. She moved to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign originally to pursue her interests in logic, but discovered the field of mathematics education when she became a teaching assistant for a mathematics content course for prospective elementary teachers. She obtained her Ph.D. in Mathematics Education and moved to Tucson, AZ, where she currently is a Professor of Mathematics Education and the Roy F. Graesser Endowed Chair in the Department of Mathematics at The University of Arizona. Her move to Tucson marked her professional career, as she became involved right away in projects working with schools in primarily Mexican-American neighborhoods. She has over 25 years of experience engaging teachers, children, and families in mathematics, primarily in working-class, Latinx communities. Her work focuses on cultural, social, and language aspects in the teaching and learning of mathematics, linking in-school and out-of-school mathematics, and parental engagement in mathematics. She has led several externally funded initiatives that combine research and outreach aimed at developing culturally responsive learning environments. She usually teaches mathematics and mathematics education courses for preservice and practicing teachers and graduate courses on research in mathematics education. In 2013, she received the Iris M. Carl Equity and Leadership Award from TODOS: Mathematics for All, a professional organization that has as its mission to “advocate for equity and high quality mathematics education for all students—in particular, Latina/o students.” She was the Principal Investigator for NSF-funded CEMELA (Center for the Mathematics Education of Latinos/as), an interdisciplinary, multi-university consortium focused on research and practice on the connections between the teaching and learning of mathematics and the cultural, social, and linguistic contexts of Latina/o students.

Civil’s research seeks to bring together cognitive and sociocultural approaches with a focus on issues of equity in mathematics education. Her work combines an interest in teachers’ and students’ attitudes and understandings of mathematics (a cognitive view), with a well-established program of research that focuses on the experiences of families (mostly of Mexican origin) with mathematics in school and in out-of-school settings (a sociocultural view). Her research agenda is marked by an assets perspective of the communities with whom she works. Ultimately, Civil’s research is about turning language and cultural diversity into educational assets for the mathematics education of all students. Her focus is on developing in-school mathematics learning experiences that build on the participants’ active participation in their out-of-school experiences. Her projects with Mexican-American mothers emphasize learning from them and engaging in collaborations with them. She is particularly interested in immigrant parents’ views about the teaching and learning of mathematics. A key concept in Civil’s research is that of parents as intellectual resources for their children’s (and their own) mathematics education.

Civil has led several externally funded initiatives that combine research and outreach and are aimed at developing culturally responsive learning environments. Some of these initiatives include, a gender equity project that engaged low-income, culturally diverse children in hands-on mathematics and science explorations in informal and after-school settings; a parental engagement project in mathematics Latinx communities; and CEMELA (Center for the Mathematics Education of Latinos/as), which focused on research and practice on the connections between the teaching and learning of mathematics and the cultural, social, and linguistic contexts of Latina/o students. Her most recent project aims at developing a two-way dialogue about mathematics between home and school in a largely Mexican-American school.

For Civil, research, teaching, mentoring, and service go hand in hand. Her concern for issues of equity in mathematics education guides her work in all domains. She likes to spend time in the local community, with teachers, students, and parents. The development of rapport and “confianza” (trust) are key to her work. She is particularly sensitive to participation issues (whose voices are being heard?), and this applies to her research, teaching, mentoring, and service. Currently, she is starting an initiative to engage university instructors to work on issues related to active learning and participation in entry level mathematics courses.

Her teaching and mentoring philosophy is based on respect for the students/mentees and the beliefs that they have a lot to contribute to their learning process and that her responsibility is to reach out for their ideas and help them build on those. She has mentored many beginning researchers through her multiple projects (most notably CEMELA). This has included mentoring postdoctoral Fellows with a Ph.D. in mathematics who were interested in learning about doing research in mathematics education. For Civil, the biggest reward of mentoring is to see teachers, parents, and students pursue options (e.g., further education, work/career opportunities) that they say they discovered as the result of being involved in her projects.

“To me, Hispanic Heritage Month is about all the Latinx families that I have worked with over the years. It is about their dedication to their children’s education, their love and respect for each other, their resilience and hard work, their enjoyment and laughter when they are doing mathematics together. It is about how much knowledge and expertise they have to contribute … and it is not a month, it is always.”