Posted by: Magistra | June 8, 2006

Back to High School

I finally found out today where I’ll be doing the classroom work required for my summer class. I’ll be at a fairly local high school (just a half hour away) working in a math classroom. Basically, it’ll be the students who didn’t pass Algebra I during the school year. It’s a small district and a small school, so apparently it’ll just be a class of 16. 16 students, one teacher, me, and another classroom volunteer. Talk about some nice small group work.

The ironic part is I was told that this school has recently started using an integrated math curriculum, College Preparatory Mathematics (aka CPM). This is the same program my high school used, and then stopped using the year after I graduated (there was also a new principal and a new chair for the Board of Trustees, but that’s another story). I already feel for these kids.

Anyone with a passing interest in math education must have some familiarity with the debate between what I summarize as “traditional” and “integrated” approaches. As CPM itself puts it:

Mathematics education has been in the headlines for several years. Much of the coverage of math curriculum debates has been reduced to an either/or shouting match between proponents of basic skills and those who emphasize understanding concepts. Advocates of basics emphasize learning rules and procedures. Those who stress understanding are characterized as more interested in the process of mathematics than its content. These descriptions are distorted simplifications of both positions. Even if true, neither approach, by itself, would prepare American mathematics students to be successful in a global economy that requires mathematical literacy.

Of course they sell themselves as a middle approach, incorporating the best of both. I see the value to parts of the CPM approach. For instance, each chapter would have review problems from things covered last year or in earlier chapters. I found this constant review more useful than handing out a worksheet of old concepts as my traditional classes did for review.

Overall though, I was very frustrated with CPM. And I wasn’t alone – one of the reasons people chose to go into Honors Trig/Pre-Calc was to get out of CPM. I didn’t always want to “discover” what Descartes and all those old dead Greek dudes had already discovered. And even if I did “discover” the concept, often it would have saved a great deal of time and frustration if there’d been an appendix or something where key formulas were listed, either to check my work or to refer to later on.

It’s been eight years since my last CPM class, so maybe it’s improved. If my high school math friends knew I was going back…It’s one of those things, like our uniform skirts, that was tossed in the celebratory end of high school fire, supposedly never to be seen again.

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