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EMPower moves away from having students memorize formulas and follow procedures. Instead students:

  • engage in activities that relate to their lives,
  • investigate concepts,
  • work collaboratively, share ideas orally and in writing,
  • discover multiple ways to solve problems,
  • apply mathematics to everyday situations, and
  • see relationships between situations, graphs, tables, and equations

History of EMPower

Extending Mathematical Power (EMPower) was created to integrate the best of K-12 mathematics education reform into the field of education for adults and out-of-school youth. EMPower was designed especially for those students who return for a second chance at education. Over the course of four years (2000-2004), a collaboration of teachers and researchers with expertise in adult numeracy education and K-12 mathematics reform developed the EMPower curriculum units. Teachers from Arizona, Maine, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Tennessee piloted lessons. From 2012-2013, teachers in New York piloted revised EMPower lessons.

The EMPower book series were first published in 2005 - 2006. In 2016, three of the EMPower titles (Using Benchmarks, Split It Up, and Everyday Number Sense) were updated and enhanced. All titles in the series align with the College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education.

Mary Jane Schmitt, MEd, was the founder and first director of the Adult Numeracy Center at TERC. She was involved with adult numeracy—the intersection of the fields of adult education and mathematics education—for over thirty years. She taught and developed mathematics programs in Massachusetts and nationally. Both her doctoral work at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and curriculum development work focused on inquiry into the nature of adults' mathematical thinking.

She was active in helping to establish the Adult Numeracy Network, an at-large affiliate of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. She believed ABE/GED programs can be sites for communities of learners (teachers and students) to more effectively engage with the mathematical demands of society. She was the recipient of the 2004 COABE Kenneth J. Mattran Award, given to individuals who has a distinguished record of achievement in promoting literacy at the national or international level.

Myriam Steinback, PhD, has taught mathematics at the community college and college levels and worked with teachers and prospective teachers on mathematics content and pedagogy.

At TERC, she was codirector of the EMPower Project. She directs the Investigations Workshops for Transforming Mathematics, a professional development project for K-5 teachers, leaders, math specialists; and administrators implementing the Investigations in Number, Data and Space curriculum developed at TERC. Her work with schools includes parents who want and need to know the math their children are learning so they can support them at home. She sees the same issues and challenges that other out-of-school youth and adult learners of math face: lack of confidence in their ability to do math, reluctance about being able to understand enough to help their children, and ideas about 'not having a math brain'. She believes that learning is a lifelong process.

Tricia Donovan became a GED instructor in 1988, and worked for World Education as a Training and Development Specialist. Over the years, she had participated and led work in practitioner research projects and coordinated numerous mathematics training sessions and study groups for teachers from Massachusetts and elsewhere. She also served as the editor of The Problem Solver, a mathematics newsletter, for many years. Tricia received her doctorate in teacher education and curriculum studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her research focus was on epistemological change resulting from curriculum influences.

Martha Merson has worked in adult basic education since 1988. She was the co-PI and project director of the Statistics for Action project at TERC. With Marlene Kliman, she contributed to the development of Mixing in Math activities and training resources for afterschool leaders and librarians serving elementary school aged children. Prior to her time at TERC, Merson taught all levels of adult basic education learners and trained volunteers for the Center for Literacy in Philadelphia and then provided staff development on math, social studies, and science and writing through the Adult Literacy Resource Institute, Boston Regional System for Adult Basic Education Support Center. Martha holds an MS in organizational leadership and curriculum instruction from the University of Pennsylvania.

Donna Curry is an educator, curriculum developer and professional development specialist with over 30 years of experience in adult education.  For many years, she has focused on math standards development at the national level (Equipped for the Future National Standards and Standards-in-Action projects) and at the state level (including states such as Rhode Island, Washington, Oregon, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Ohio).  She has also worked on the National Science Foundation EMPower project and served as co-director for the NSF Teachers Investigating Adult Numeracy (TIAN) project. She co-developed and implemented the Adult Numeracy Initiative (ANI) project along with Mary Jane Schmitt. Donna is also the Director of the SABES PD Center for Mathematics and Adult Numeracy, which provides professional development to adult education teachers in Massachusetts.



Mary Jane Schmitt

Promoted numeracy. She wrote, "We need to view this term numeracy not as a synonym for mathematics but as a new discipline defined as the bridge that links mathematics and the real world" (Schmitt, 2000). Unlike mathematics, numeracy does not so much lead upward in an ascending pursuit of abstraction as it moves outward toward an ever-richer engagement with life’s diverse contexts and situations (Orrill, R. (2001). Mathematics, numeracy, and democracy. In L.A. Steen (Ed.). Mathematics and Democracy (pp xiii–xix). Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.


Donna Curry

Has a strong workplace background. She intuitively connects number, data, algebra, and measurement and helps others see connections as well. Donna gets math off the page. Numeracy is the knowledge and skills required to manage and respond to the mathematical demands of diverse situations. She prompts teachers and students to solve problems that appear in everyday life (International Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey-

Tricia Donovan

As a teacher and curriculum developer, Tricia was creative, critical, and always reflecting. She built in opportunities for students and teachers to reflect and write. Tricia believed that to be numerate is more than being able to manipulate numbers, or even being able to succeed in school or university mathematics. Numeracy is a critical awareness which builds bridges between mathematics and the real-world, with all its diversity (Australian educator, Betty Johnston, 1994)




Martha Merson


Gathered teachers’ and students’ reactions, work, and words that feature prominently in the books. Martha believes learning happens in- and out-of-school and that the power is in leveraging experiences and prior knowledge to apply in new situations.