The BHS Mathematics Department is concerned with students understanding and internalizing Mathematics in a way which allows them to apply the Math to new situations. We are not interested in students regurgitating the formulae in cookbook problems which they don't understand.
The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Research and Improvement appointed a panel of 15 mathematicians, scientists, educators, and policy makers to look at new math programs. They recently nominated 10 programs as promising and 5 of those as "exemplary." Among the 5 are IMP (Interactive Mathematics Project) and CPM (College Preparatory Mathematics). These programs are both currently in use at BHS and around the country. We use the CPM for Algebra I and Geometry ONLY. All three Berkeley middle schools use the CPM Algebra.
Both programs use more of a guided instruction method. Teachers do not just expect kids to "figure it out" but they do want the students to attempt problems in groups and discover patterns and learn from that discovery. The teacher reviews progress through warmups, does sample problems and gives brief "lectures", walks around the room assisting groups on their discoveries, etc. Students are encouraged to work in teams and to ask group members for help. This doesn't mean the teacher won't help. It means the teacher and students time is more productive when the teacher is helping a group or team of four students who are working together. Many studies have shown that we learn the best when we explain it to someone else. Students can often explain something BETTER because they speak that same language (teenagerese). This is NOT meant to replace the teacher, it is a supplement.
The decisions about WHAT is taught in Math is made by the State Mathematics Framework, which the district (School Board) has adopted. HOW it is taught is decided by the BHS Mathematics department, although textbooks must be approved by the School Board. We have yet to find the perfect textbook for any course. Even the Math Analysis textbook which I spent hundreds of hours selecting using student and teacher input (for my Master's thesis), isn't loved by all. Each course (Algebra, Geometry, etc.) has meetings at least once a chapter so that teachers can discuss strategies, pacing, etc.
A summary of the programs at BHS: IMP is a non-traditionalcurriculum which is more problem-based. Units revolve around learning the Math necessary to solve a particular problem. Students take IMP1a,b - IMP 2a,b - IMP3a,b - IMP 4a,b. They may take A.P. Statistics after IMP 3b or 4b, or A.P. Calculus AB or BC after IMP 4b. The more traditional layout is Algebra 1a,b - Geometry a,b or Honors Geometry a,b - Algebra IIa,b or Honors Algebra IIa,b - Math Analyis a,b - A.P. Calculus AB or BC. Students may also elect to take A.P. Statistics after Algebra IIb, Honors Alg IIb, or Math Analysis b. Algebra Ia,b and Geometry a,b are taught using CPM textbooks, which are discovery based but are not exclusively so. Students cannot switch from IMP to "traditional" or vice-versa because the curricula do not match up. Students who do not pass Algebra 1b, Geometry b, or Algebra IIb in the spring may take them over in BHS summer school (provided we have enough students sign up for a full section). Both IMP and traditionally ordered courses are accepted by UC and CSU systems as college prep classes. SAT results are similar.
No curriculum is going to work for every child. The teachers at BHS work together extensively, making suggestions for methods of presentation, altering the assignments this way and that, all in order to have successful students. We are constantly improving and reassessing what we do. With the new High School exit exam and Algebra for all in eighth grade, it is crucial that we have a curriculum which helps as many students as possible. This is our goal.
-Laura Leventer, BHS Mathematics Department Chairperson
Responses to the Math Chair
re: Math bashing?
I'm a parent who likes math. I am an engineer, so I have a math background. I remember a lot of math I learned in school the "old-fashioned way". I bet most of us can remember what 5 times 6 is because we had to memorize it. I am not complaining about math instruction out of a dislike for math. I am complaining because my children cannot learn math using CPM. Since there is no other alternative, they are not learning math. Engineering will probably not be an option for them, because they will not have the math background for it.
re: kids learn better from each other
I asked my kid "how's it going with CPM so far this year?" (he hated it last year). He replied "It's a lot better this year because two of the kids in my group have tutors, so they can explain the hard stuff."
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