Dear ARHS Parents and Guardians,
In January, we convened a meeting to update the community on the math department’s progress with implementing the IMP (Interactive Mathematics Program) curriculum and to solicit feedback from parents and guardians about their concerns. As a result of this meeting, we committed to surveying ARHS students about their IMP experience. Our interest was to move beyond anecdotal accounts and, instead, capture more systematically ARHS students’ IMP experience.
The survey was developed in conjunction with a UMass researcher and administered in all math classes in June. Over the summer, we analyzed the results.
The survey was not intended as a referendum on IMP. We continue to believe that IMP, as a curriculum, strikes the right balance between offering students the opportunity to learn important math content while, at the same time, ensuring that students develop the problem solving habits and dispositions that the professional math community has identified as essential for the 21st century.
The nationally-developed Common Core State Standards for Mathematical Practice capture this interest in problem-solving. If you haven’t yet, I encourage everyone to familiarize themselves with these standards.
At the same time, we realize that taking the community’s feedback is important to ensure our implementation of IMP is Amherst-specific. There is no pure form of curricular implementation. We, like all districts, are obliged to listen carefully and make adjustments that address community concerns. My hope is that, as a result of the meeting and the survey results, we find ourselves in this position.
Both the survey and the results are attached to this email.. The results, along with students’ comments, revealed several important concerns which I’ve itemized below. Also included is a brief statement of how, this year, we we are responding to each concern.
A cornerstone of the IMP framework is to position students to develop a deep conceptual understanding of math concepts. This requires students to engage in a process of inquiry to uncover not just that a particular math concept is true, but, also, why. While students acknowledge the value of this inquiry, they also report that it can be a source of frustration. They sometimes find themselves in need of greater teacher direction.
Response: As part of its on-going professional development work, the math department has prioritized continuing to develop teachers’ capacity to support the inquiry process by providing students with greater structure and direction. This also includes providing more direct instruction when appropriate.
The survey results indicate that, for many students, the problems of the week POWs are a source of frustration. That the POWs are intentionally not aligned with the unit currently under study seems the issue.
Context: POWs are an essential feature of the IMP framework. They are an important way that IMP helps students develop their problem-solving skills. This is accomplished by limiting the problem’s familiarity to students. In class, teachers introduce and explain the POW so that students get some initial traction. This is followed by students engaging with the problem, individually and collaboratively, applying prior knowledge, working with the uncertainty, and developing and implementing problem-solving strategies.
Response: In all classes, the ARHS math teachers will thoroughly explain the purpose of POWs, emphasizing their importance and the role they play in developing problem-solving skills. It is also important to note that, given the unfamiliarity of the POW’s, they count only for 15 % of student’s grade.
Students indicate that the IMP textbooks lack both explanations of math concepts and opportunities for practice.
Response: ARHS math teachers are writing and implementing additional practice problems to supplement the textbook work students are already doing. Teachers will continue to provide students with end-of-unit reviews, including the central concepts and skills of each unit and practice problems. In addition, teachers will continue to provide notes and note templates for important concepts and skills as they are developed throughout each unit. All of these materials will all be available on the teachers’ Google Classroom sites.
Students expressed a desire for more direct preparation for standardized tests.
Response: The ARHS math department is having students regularly work with PSAT, SAT and MCAS questions as either classwork or homework. Teachers will highlight this content as it exists within the IMP curriculum as well as assign other supplementary problems. These problems will be analyzed and discussed in class. Though the approach may vary from teacher to teacher, the central commitment is to ensure students are prepared to take standardized tests.
I know there is plenty here to talk about. But, for now, with your feedback, the survey results and our responses, I hope we have moved the larger math discussion in a productive direction. On Thursday, at Open House, the math teachers will have the task of introducing their courses to ARHS parents and guardians. As part of this, they will reiterate the points made here. If there are larger, IMP-related questions, please let me know.