IMPressive math program IMPlemented at Re-1 schools | PostIndependent.com
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IMPressive math program IMPlemented at Re-1 schools

A reader thumbing through the new freshman math textbooks at Basalt High School might wonder what “The Pit and the Pendulum,” the Overland Trail, shadows, patterns and the game of Pig have to do with math.

Students in the Roaring Fork Re-1 School District are discovering that they have plenty to do with math.

At the start of the school year, Basalt High School and Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale introduced a different type of math curriculum to first-year math students.



Interactive Mathematics Program (IMP) is just what its name implies: an interactive way for students to learn math.

Glenwood Springs High School wanted to implement the program but was unable to due to staffing.



BHS freshman Ashley Engle points her eyes upward when describing the class, as if the answer is on the ceiling.

“In algebra in eighth grade,” she says, “they would give you an equation and you’d have to figure out the answer. In this class, you have to find the equation.”

Math classes traditionally put students to work individually to solve problems.

In IMP, students work in groups to actively explore open-ended problems or situations and to come up with their own methods of reaching conclusions. The class is structured so students work together and consult each other while seeking solutions, rather than looking to a teacher for the answers.

“It’s a big change,” said Blake Miller, one of three IMP teachers at BHS. The textbook is the first sign that the class is different. It isn’t filled with thousands of problems and an answer section. It looks more like a social studies textbook.

“People look at it and ask, `Where’s the math?’ You have to really examine it closely,” said Miller.

The math lies in figuring out the problems, said Miller. In the process, students learn the crux of math: problem-solving.

“They become the real owners of the mathematics,” and that’s very powerful, Miller said.

Besides, he added, life is about solving problems, not figuring out equations.

Miller gave an example of where the math is.

The goal of the chapter “The Pit and the Pendulum” is for students to build a working pendulum. While studying, they read Edgar Allen Poe’s short story of the same title, and try to calculate whether the hero has time to escape before the pendulum’s blade slices through his torso.

“Does he really have time for rats to eat through the ropes?” Miller asks. “It takes complicated equations to predict a pendulum.”

Students take a written test at the end of each chapter and solve the Problem of the Week (POW).

These open-ended problems test a wide range of abilities. Once students solve the problem, they present their solution to the class for discussion. Miller sits quietly in the background while students work out problems, but he is still available to answer questions and guide discussions.

“After seven years of teaching traditional math, there were connections that weren’t being made, and it wasn’t working out for most students,” said Miller. All of the problems had no meaning for them.

Miller took a look at IMP and said, “This is what we should be doing.”

BHS Principal Jim Waddick is confident that the program will work in spite of criticism. (See related story, page 9.)

IMP is backed by data that says it works. “Today we’d better be data driven, we’d better be,” Waddick said. “The stakes are that high.”

Waddick cited several sources that show that IMP students score as well as, if not better than, non-IMP students on SAT college entrance exams.

Hundreds of schools of higher education, from community colleges to Harvard University, accept IMP students. Test scores also show that IMP students score either equally or higher than other math students on high school achievement tests.

In problem solving, students are required to complete a lot of writing, in some cases more than in their English classes. “I think that kids are better writers and better readers as a result of the course,” Waddick said.

Parents have expressed some concern over the change, he said. Some were worried that the program was experimental.

“Our kids are not guinea pigs,” he said. “Change is hard, but this change is based in a lot of thought and research.”

IMP curriculum has been used in schools since 1989, according to Cathy Martin of the Rocky Mountain Mathematics Leadership Collaborative, which provides support to IMP teachers in Colorado and other states. It was first proposed in 1981 at the beginning of math education reform. National math test scores had been declining for decades. The National Council of Teachers released a new set of math standards and a vision of what math education should be, said Martin.

None of the existing curriculum met the standards and visions they sought. IMP curriculum was written in direct response to those needs.

In 1989, IMP received funding by the National Science Foundation in the state of California. Through additional funding from the NSF, the curriculum eventually reached across the United States and into Canada.

Sixty schools in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Kansas offer IMP courses, according to Martin.

The Re-1 School District sought major changes in its curriculum after only 10 percent of fifth-, eighth- and 10th-grade students scored at or above proficiency level in math in statewide Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) tests given in spring 2001.

Those tests, given as part of Gov. Bill Owens’ education reform, focused heavily on geometry and algebra, courses many students opt not to study. Statewide, only 14 percent of students tested at or above proficiency level.

According to Judy Haptonstall, assistant superintendent for the Roaring Fork District, almost every district in the state is seeking other math programs, since curriculum is largely not in line with state assessment requirements.

Re-1 chose IMP because it is backed by more than a decade of positive data, including impressive student math test scores, she said.

The district will look to those same measures as it tracks IMP’s success, said Haptonstall. Re-1 students just finished taking CSAP tests, and those scores will be released in mid-July.

IMP curriculum will be phased into district schools over the next few years. Once the program is fully integrated, schools will still offer other advanced math courses, such as calculus, trigonometry and statistics.

With more and more state and federal education funding tied to student achievement, Waddick wants to give the program time.

“The world is a vastly different place than when you or I went to high school,” said Waddick. “Why should our curriculum look the same?”


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