MSM Resources and FAQ


I would like to teach mathematics. Does this program certify me to teach mathematics?

No, the Master of School Mathematics program does not enable someone to meet the requirements for someone to teach mathematics in grades 5 -12. To be admitted to the program, in most cases, one must already have a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, must be certified to teach at the secondary level, and must have taught for at least two years. A few exceptions are made but are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. To gain certification to teach mathematics in grades 5 -12 in Iowa, one must meet the requirements set by the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners for the mathematics endorsement. If you already have a bachelor’s degree and have previously taken several undergraduate mathematics courses or you have received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, Iowa State offers the Graduate Licensure Program in Mathematics Education through which you can fulfill the remaining requirements needed to teach grades 5-12.

The website describes the MSM Program as being a distance learning program. Is the MSM program available online? Can I complete this degree entirely off campus? How will I know where I can take these courses?

At this time, the MSM program is not available online. The distance learning component of this program occurs through a blend of online learning and live two-way audio and video interaction through Adobe Connect software.In many cases, one is able to complete most of the MSM degree off campus. The core mathematics courses are offered on a three-year cycle on campus and via Adobe Connect software. In addition, some classes during the summer will be held on ISU’s campus on order to build community among the MSM students and faculty members. You may need to take electives on campus or from another institution. To complete your creative component, your major professor may require that you come to the ISU campus a few times to provide you with additional resources for your creative component. The comprehensive oral exam is held on campus at the conclusion of your degree.

How do I register for classes?

Once you have been accepted into the program you may register for classes using AccessPlus. You may login using your ISU ID number or social security number and your password for your ISU account. Your first password should be your birthmonth and date in two digit numbers (April 1 would be 0401). If you are a new student, you may need to phone 515.294.4000 and ask to have your password reset over the phone. If you have forgotten your password, you will find a link that can help. To register using AccessPlus, you need your start date. Your registration start dates can be found in your AccessPlus. If you haven’t registered for one semester (i.e. you did not take classes in the fall or spring and you now want to register for summer classes), you need to contact 515.294.1889 and ask to have your information activated for the semester you want. This only takes a minute.The course numbers needed to register are given at’s very important that you register early for the classes you want. If we don’t have a large enough enrollment, the class will be cancelled. Please try to register for the MSM summer courses by April 10.Graduate students need to register for credits during the semester they plan to defend and have their final oral examination. If you have finished all your courses, and just need to finish your creative component and take the final examination, you can register for Math 599, Creative Component, for your last semester. You can register using AccessPlus but registration for Math 599 requires a registration number unique to each professor. Please contact Melanie Erickson for this number. If you don’t have AccessPlus, you will need to complete an Add/Drop Slip which is taken to the Enrollment Services Building after signatures have been obtained.

How much does it cost to take classes? Are teaching assistantships available?

The cost of taking a course depends on the course and where you take the course. The base fee for 1 credit of a graduate level course is provided on the ISU Registrar’s Tuition and Fees Page. Costs change if you are not a resident of Iowa. If you take a course on campus, you are required to pay other fees including an activity and service fee, health facility fee, health fee, and computer fee. If you take the course via distance learning, you are responsible to pay the tuition costs as well as an additional delivery fee. Please see the Distance Education Tuition and Fees site for more information. This delivery fee is typically set by the department offering the course and varies with the course. For example, Stat 410 may have a different delivery fee than Math 540 since the courses are housed in different departments. During Summer 2011, the delivery fee was $75 per credit for courses in the MSM program.When you enroll in Math 599 to complete work for your creative component, the Graduate College considers that you are an on-campus student, whether you actually are on campus the semester you take the course or not. As a result, at the time you register for Math 599, realize that additional fees associated with being an on-campus student (activity and service fee, health facility fee, health fee, and computer fee) apply.The semester you graduate, there will be a graduation fee. Please see the Registrar’s Other Fees page for the current rates.During the summer, few teaching assistantships in the Department of Mathematics may be available for MSM students. Typically, these assignments require one to teach, grade, or tutor. Should you request and receive an assistantship, you are required to fulfill all the responsibilities of the 8-week assistantship which includes being on campus for the 8-week Summer II session. The Summer II session begins at the same time as the MSM courses with grades due 10 days after the MSM courses end (usually, by August 10).

What courses should I take for my electives?

Depending on your creative component and your goals, you and your committee will decide what electives you should take. If you are interested in teaching at a community college, you may consider taking Higher Education 561 (College Teaching, 3 credits), Higher Education 562 (Curriculum Development in Colleges, 3 credits), and Higher Education 582 (Comprehensive Community College, 3 credits). Other courses that may be of interest include Mathematics 533 (Cryptography, 3 credits), and courses in Professional Studies (Research and Evaluation), Statistics, Computer Science, or Physics.

May I take courses from another institution?

The core courses for the program (Math 540, 545, 546, 547, 549, and Stat 410) must be taken at ISU. Some of the electives may be taken at other institutions if the institution is recognized as accredited by Iowa State University. In addition, the courses taken at another university must be taught by a member of the graduate faculty member at that institution and a grade of B or better is achieved. Any transfer credits must meet the approval of the POS Committee and Graduate College.

How long should the MSM program take to finish?

The MSM may be completed through summer-only study. We have attempted to structure the program so that all or most course work can be completed in three summers. Please see the answer to the next question for a possible scenario to complete the degree.

If you skip a summer, realize that those core courses will not be offered again for another 3 years.The university states in the Graduate College Handbook (chapter 4) that those seeking a master’s degree are expected to complete the degree within 5 years. Any courses in your program of study that were taken more than 5 years prior to the completion of the degree cannot be counted towards the degree. If warranted, a letter may be written to the Dean of the Graduate College to accompany your Program of Study asking that the time limits be extended for you. This requires the approval of your committee and the DOGE of the MSM program.

What is the general timeline I should follow in the program?

First you must apply to the program. Once accepted, during the first summer, take courses that count toward the MSM degree. You may also want to consider taking an elective such as one of the courses for those who plan to teach at a community college. During the fall and spring of the school year, take elective courses as desired. Begin considering topics for a creative component.During the second summer, take the summer courses and choose a major professor and select a topic for your creative component. Complete the Committee Appointment Form. You must select 2 MSM faculty members, one of whom is your major professor, and one member who is outside the MSM program. Complete the Program of Study Form.Throughout the school year take elective courses and complete a draft of your creative component. Be aware of the Deadline Schedule for Graduate Students. Download, sign, and submit the Application for Graduation (Diploma Slip) by the end of the first week in May for summer graduation.During the third summer, take the remaining courses and recheck the deadlines (as well as the final oral exam FAQ) and be sure all necessary forms have been submitted. Schedule your final oral exam by first contacting all members of your Program of Study Committee early in the spring. Some faculty members are gone for weeks at a time during the summer, so it is important to schedule a time well in advance. Once a day and time has been established, contact Melanie Erickson to complete a Request for Final Oral Examination. This form is not available online but must be filed with the Graduate College at least three weeks prior to your final oral examination. Each member of your committee should receive the final copy of your creative component at least two weeks before the final oral examination.Take the oral examination. Make sure all necessary paperwork has been signed and submitted, and you have checked out of the Mathematics Department. Please complete the AMS Survey and the Math Checkout for Graduation.

You must complete all requirements of the MSM program within 5 years of acceptance into the program.

Who should serve on my committee?

You must have at least 3 graduate faculty members on your committee. Of the 3, two of them must be MSM Faculty, with one of the two serving as your major professor. The third committee member must be outside the MSM faculty. The Committee Appointment Form must be completed and submitted to the Graduate College prior to submitting your Program of Study (POS). You should have some ideas of topics that interest you for your creative component before selecting your major professor and other committee members.

How do I select a topic for my creative component?

The goal of a creative component is provide you with an opportunity to learn and investigate something new mathematically. You can then relate this topic, content, or problem, to instruction in a secondary classroom. Selecting a topic for your creative component is a process. To determine a topic, consider your answers to the following questions. What is a mathematical topic or problem in which you have always been interested? Is there a topic that was covered in one of your courses or in a class you currently teach in which you would like to delve deeper? Is there a problem or topic that has, frankly, always irritated or frustrated you, and you would like to get to the root of the problem? Is there a question one of your students asked of you that you didn’t know how to answer, and you would like to know more about it? Reading various mathematical books and articles may also help to spark some ideas.As early in the program as possible (begin the first summer), begin communicating with the faculty about their interests and the topics they research. Since this is a distance education program, you will be required to take greater initiative to make contact and communicate with the faculty. Identify a match between your interests and a faculty member’s interests. Ask if they have time to work and advise you or if they recommend another faculty member that might be better suited to advising you. He or she may recommend that you read a particular paper or book regarding the topic. Communication is key throughout this whole process. The more conversations you can have (email, phone, or face-to-face), the greater the opportunity to unearth a topic fit for you.The creative components of the recent graduates of the MSM program may be found on the Graduates and Creative Components page.

What is the format of the creative component?

The creative component generally has 3 parts (chapters) plus a reference page:

  1. an introduction chapter that establishes the nature of the problem you are doing, why you are pursuing this topic/problem, and what literature or research establishes the understanding that it’s reasonable to do these kinds of problems (in education/teaching);
  2. the mathematical portion – this is the meat of your creative component. You will investigate an area of mathematics that, though not “new,” it is “new to you.” Explain the mathematics that you explored and investigated. You will direct most of your attention to this portion, and this portion should be the longest of the three parts. While all three parts are completed under the advising of your major professor, you will communicate back and forth with him or her to understand what sufficiently meets the requirements of the MSM program as you investigate a topic.
  3. the connection of the problem you pursued to the secondary curriculum. This could take the form of a lesson plan or activity sheet(s) of a problem related to the problem you have explored.
  4. You will have a bibliography or reference page, and you may have appendices.

The creative component does not have a minimum page requirement, though dialogue with your major professor and committee members will offer direction as to what length is appropriate. Strive to use Microsoft Word with Times New Roman font, size 12, and double spaced. Use one-inch margins. Variables and function notation should be italicized. Depending on their use, graphs and tables should be incorporated throughout the document. Paraphrasing or quotations made throughout the document should have citations acknowledged at the time the statements are written. Please see Sample Creative Components by following the link for Graduates and Creative Components.

What should I expect for the Final Oral Examination and how should I prepare?

Except possibly for your Creative Component, no other MSM requirement induces you to look over your prior work across all course boundaries. We think that preparing for your oral exam can be among the most valuable work you do for us. For many students the prospect of the oral exam is unsettling. We have prepared these remarks to help you prepare and to let you know what to expect.

A) What to Prepare

You should review the content of the six required MSM courses (see Program of Study). For all these courses recall what kinds of problems they attempted to solve and what were the techniques they developed to solve them. Try to see the big picture and synthesize material across courses. Consult your major professor for advice.

B) What Not to Prepare

Don’t let your preparation get bogged down with too much detail. Total recall of formulas and algorithms surely isn’t expected.

C) The Role of the Creative Component

We want you to prepare to talk for about 30 minutes on your Creative Component project. You might describe the project, what mathematics you needed, how you developed in doing it, and what more you would do to further the work.

Your remarks might cause us to ask questions because we are interested or because we are reminded of related material from your courses. Expect to be brief and coherent about what you have done.

D) The Oral Exam

Usually we will start with your talk about the Creative Component. Then each committee member will take a turn asking you questions, and maybe we will return for second questions. We would like the atmosphere to be relaxed and friendly. Remember that we have spent a lot of time with you and we have all had oral exams too.

Allow two hours for the exam. We aren’t likely to use more time than this, but we may use less. When we are finished asking questions, we’ll ask you to leave and wait outside while we talk about you. Don’t presume that the longer we talk the worse the news will be.

We are counting on your preparation for the oral exam to make this requirement worthwhile for us and you.