Welcome to a teaching adventure. By choosing to teach this curriculum developed by the Interactive Mathematics Program (IMP)®, you are making a commitment to hard work for the sake of young people's mathematics education. Bringing about change will not be easy, but you will have the reward of seeing your students grow as thinkers and communicators as well as mathematicians!
Since 1989, I have been teaching this curriculum and visiting IMP® classrooms. My experiences watching colleagues at work have confirmed my belief that all students can learn mathematics. I've had the good fortune to travel throughout the country, from Hawaii to Washington, DC, and many places in between. Along the way, many Meaningful Math classroom teachers have shared their practical tips for making this program achieve the maximum benefit, and this handbook includes many of those tips. Since it's impossible for me to trace specific ideas to individual teachers, I will simply say a hearty :Thank you" to all who welcomed me into their classrooms, participated with me at workshops, and shared their insights with me. I have included some anecdotesin the voices of some of the pioneer Meaningful Math teachers, and I want to thank them for their contributions to this document.
The Meaningful Math curriculum was developed with underlying principles that are evident throughout the curriculum. This handbook presents a brief introduction to these principles, and we hope it will assist you in implementing those principles. Keep in mind, though, that a document such as this cannot replace the valuable ideas and experiences gained through collaboration among teachers within the school setting and at in service workshops. The Interactive Mathematics Program strongly recommends that schools implementing this curriculum institute a full-scale program of professional development. Onlythrough such a program will teachers have the support they deserve as theydo the hard work of learning both new mathematics and new teaching strategies.
Meaningful Math is problem-based. The student text consists, primarily, of problems for students to solve. There are no worked out examples for students to follow. The text's problems really are problems—mathematical situations that are new to students, requiring them to figure out what to do when they don't know what to do. Problem solving is one of the overarching mathematical content goals of Meaningful Math, and engaging in problem solving daily is how students learn this content.
Meaningful Math is designed to engage students in doing mathematics. Doing mathematics is about searching for patterns and structure in quantitative and spatial situations; finding solutions to novel problems; posing and testing conjectures; convincing others of the validity of results by explaining, justifying, and proving; extending problems and situations by posing new questions;generalizing from individual problems and situations to classes of problems or situations.
Teachers have very different, but critical, roles in Meaningful Math classrooms. Theproblems in the text are the raw material for lessons, but to support studentlearning of mathematics, well-designed lessons will pose problems and organize theclassroom in ways that support engagement and interaction. The Meaningful Math curriculum assumes that students will spend considerable class time working on problems in small groups. Teachers will establish and make use of productive norms and expectations for these interactions, and monitor student thinking and learning.
Assessment of student learning is multi-dimensional. The assessment components built into Meaningful Math—including in-class assessment tasks, take-home tasks and POWs, and portfolios—are designed to help teachers and students compileseveral different types of evidence of student learning. This body of evidence will both document and support learning.
The Meaningful Math curriculum probably looks different from any textbook you have worked with before. That's because the Meaningful Math curriculum is problem‐centered. Most units begin with a central problem that is explored and solved over the course of six to eight weeks. As you guide students through a variety of smaller problems within the unit, they develop the mathematical concepts and techniques they need to solve the central problem.
Some of these central problems are based in practical real-world situations, such as maximizing profits for a business or studying population growth. Others are more imaginary, involving situations like an orchard hideout or a circus act. Central problems may have connections with history, science, or literature. Because the curriculum is organized around such big problems, students get a rich look at how mathematics is actually used—a feature that is often lacking in traditional textbooks.
The problems that make up the student textbook work best in a classroom environment different from that of most mathematics classrooms. In this environment, participation of students in the generation and analysis of mathematical ideas is the engine that drives the class. Meaningful Math flourishes in an environment in which:
There is a typical structure to the lessons: the instructor poses a problem for students to consider; the students work on the problem in their small groups (sometimes after a period of individual work); a whole‐class discussion follows, in which student solutions are presented, discussed, analyzed, critiqued, revised, and refined. This sequence may cycle several times, as students return to small groups to use ideas from a whole‐class discussion to revisit the original problem or to tackle an extension.
Whole-class discussions and a variety of assessment tasks give students opportunities to describe and analyze their work and the work of others, both orally and in writing, thereby providing evidence of their working knowledge of the big mathematical ideas of the course.
The student text contains the mathematics activities through which students develop the concepts and skills of each unit. It also contains reference material on major new ideas, supplemental activities, and a glossary of important terms. There are three main types of student assignments:
The 50-minute and 90-minute pacing guides for each unit help you plan your days and give guidance on how long to spend on each activity.
Typically, students will examine new concepts through an in-class activity. By starting in class, students have each other as resources. You are there to provide guidance and direction as they begin their exploration.
In activities assigned as homework, students reinforce and extend concepts that are introduced in class, and sometimes explore new ideas. Some of these activities provide opportunities for students to reflect on and synthesize what they have learned over a longer period of time.
Problems of the Week
Each unit includes several Problems of the Week (POWs). These assignments let students explore mathematical ideas without the constraints and time pressure of needing to know something tomorrow or next week. (Despite the name, students will often have more than one week to work on a POW.) These are open-ended problems—often mathematical classics—that cannot be solved easily in a short period of time, and often can be approached in several different ways. In POW write-ups, students describe how they worked on the problem and explain their reasoning; these problems are a vehicle through which students improve their mathematical writing and reasoning skills. Though POWs are embedded within the units, the mathematics of these problems is often independent of the unit problem.
Each unit also includes a collection of supplemental activities, both for reinforcement of concepts and skills and for extending ideas beyond the basic curriculum. These problems provide you with a way to tailor the curriculum to the needs of individual students. The special role of supplemental activities in the heterogeneous classroom is discussed in the section "A Heterogenous Classroom," found later in this guide.
For each unit, there is a Teacher's Guide that explains in detail how to present the material of the unit. Each Teacher's Guide begins with an overview that gives a summary of the unit, a list of the main concepts and skills that students will be learning, and how the unit is organized. The guide presents the intent, the mathematics, and the progression for each activity, cluster of activities, and the unit as a whole. At the activity level, the guide lists the approximate time the activity should take, the classroom organization, and any additional materials that may be needed. It also gives extensive guidance on doing the activity as well as discussing and debriefing the activity. This guide discusses how the mathematical concepts should evolve from student activities and discussions. It suggests specific hints you can give or questions you can ask to promote student dialogue, and provides additional mathematical background for your reference. It also contains specific suggestions about how to use the supplemental activities.
Because this curriculum represents a major change for most teachers, you should look to your colleagues for support as much as possible. We recommend that as frustrations, and questions. Teachers around the country have described this type of collegial support as a very useful form of professional development.
This three-year curriculum includes the fundamental ideas that have been part of the high school syllabus since before we went to school—concepts and skills from algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. Although this material is embedded in problem-based units, the key ideas are all there and students will learn them and revisit them throughout the three years.
In addition to this traditional material, students will also learn about branches of mathematics that are newer to the high school curriculum but are used throughout business and industry today, such as statistics. These additions to the curriculum are consistent with the recommendations of STEM initiatives. By combining traditional concepts and newer material, the Meaningful Math curriculum meets the needs of both college-bound students and those headed directly into the workforce. By putting these ideas in context, the curriculum prepares students to use problem-solving skills both in school and on the job.
In 1989, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) published Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics, which called for major reforms in mathematics education, including:
Meaningful Math is a collaboration among mathematicians, teacher-educators, and teachers, working together since 1989.
The revision for the second edition spanned 2002–10. It too underwent several rounds of review and revision. The main goals of the second edition revision were:
The revision for Meaningful Math and the Common Core State Standards edition spanned 2013–14. New content was written and field-tested to Common Core standards and conceptual approaches, such as transformational geometry.
Helping students to learn to solve problems is a stated goal of all school mathematics programs. It is not controversial to strive to help students learn, when confronted with a mathematical problem, to understand what the problem is asking, to devise a plan to solve the problem, to carry out that plan, and then to assess the validity of the solutions obtained. These general steps, outlined in George Polya's classic How to Solve It (1949), appear, at times quite explicitly, in many mathematics texts.
But what, exactly, is a "mathematical problem," and what roles might problems play in a mathematics curriculum? Meaningful Math has answered these questions in specific ways.What is a Mathematical Problem?
It might help to begin by describing what a problem is not. The familiar "word problems" that have vexed students for generations are not really problems. We are all familiar with these:
"Peanuts costing $1.50 per pound are mixed with walnuts costing $2.25 perpound to make a mix..."
"Two trains leave the station going in opposite directions..."
These tasks can be grouped into types, such as "mixture problems" or "rate problems." They are not "problems" in the true sense of the word, for at least two reasons:
A real problem is a novel quantitative situation that poses questions for which the solver has no ready-made solution strategy. If the work of solving the problem requires of students only that they recall a learned strategy, then it is not a problem. A real problem is also one that provides students with some reason to want to find the solution or solutions. This might be because the problem is embedded in some real-world context to which the students can relate.
Most mathematics curricula are designed to help students solve problems in the following way: first, choose problems in a particular mathematics topic teachers want students to solve; next, identify those ideas, skills and techniques required to solve these problems; then teach each of these ideas, skills and techniques; and finally, ask students to solve the problems. In this way, problem solving is the end of instruction.
In Meaningful Math, problem solving is the means as well as the end of instruction. Students learn the mathematical ideas, skills and techniques they need by solving problems. Each unit of the Meaningful Math curriculum is built around significant mathematical problems that draw on mathematical ideas from across disciplines. In the process of working on these problems, students encounter other, related problems that highlight important aspects of their larger work. In this way, rather than problem solving being the goal of the curriculum, problems solving is the curriculum.
There are at least three major benefits to using problems this way:
Proof—the establishment of mathematical "truth"—is what separates mathematics from the other sciences. The sum of any two odd numbers is always an even number, not because we've collected lots of examples that support this statement, but because the algebraic expressions 2x + 1 and 2y + 1 (if x and y are whole numbers) represent any two odd numbers,
(2x + 1) + (2y + 1) = 2x + 2y + 2 = 2(x + y + 1),
and because 2(x + y + 1) must, according to the definition of an even number, always be even. The definitions of odd and even numbers and a few logical steps have established both that this claim is true, and why it is true.
Explanation and justification are infused throughout the problem-driven Meaningful Math curriculum. Our intent is that students ask (and be asked), and answer, "Why?" questions as a regular part of doing mathematics. Mathematical justification, ranging from informal to formal, is at the heart of doing mathematics, and proof is the logical rigorous end of that continuum.
Educators have often lamented that the majority of students do not understand mathematical concepts, or see why mathematical procedures work, or know when to use a given mathematical technique. According to the National Research Council's Everybody Counts: A Report to the Nation on the Future of Mathematics Education, "Much of the failure in school mathematics is due to a tradition of teaching that is inappropriate to the way students learn." (p. 6)
In the traditional teaching model that has dominated our schools for many years, a teacher demonstrates an algorithm or technique, assigns a set of problems for students to do on their own, and then tests the students a week later on their accumulation of skills.
Students in such a situation often do not understand what they are doing because they are simply following instructions. They typically see no need for the mathematics, other than to pass the test. The result is a system in which students, "view mathematics as a rigid system of externally dictated rules, governed by standards of accuracy, speed, and memory." (Everybody Counts, p. 44)
The solution to this dilemma lies in active student engagement in learning.
"Research in learning shows that students actually construct their own understanding based on new experiences that enlarge the intellectual framework in which ideas can be created…Mathematics becomes useful to a student only when it has been developed through a personal intellectual engagement that creates new understanding." (Everybody Counts, p. 6)
This process of "personal intellectual engagement" lies at the heart of Meaningful Math's view of learning and is shared by educators around the world. NCTM's Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics elaborates on what this means in terms of what should happen in the classroom:
Students should be exposed to numerous and various interrelated experiences that encourage them to value the mathematics enterprise, to develop mathematical habits of mind, and to understand the role of mathematics in human affairs...they should be encouraged to explore, to guess, and even to make and correct errors so that they gain confidence in their ability to solve complex problems...they should read, write, and discuss mathematics; and...they should conjecture, test, and build arguments about a conjecture's validity. (NCTM Standards, p. 5)
An approach to learning that maximizes student involvement in thinking through important mathematical issues leads to a different role for the teacher. It deemphasizes the teacher's role as creator of concepts and disseminator of algorithms, and sees the teacher more as a facilitator of learning. The teacher provides learning opportunities, asks thought-provoking questions, and allows students to develop their own mathematical frameworks. The teacher uses his or her expertise to provide the "glue" needed to help students tie ideas together and to clarify any misconceptions that may arise. The teacher no longer dictates which steps students will take to solve a problem. An approach that promotes lifelong learning combines the mathematics at hand with thinking and reasoning skills, and encourages risk-taking and perseverance.
The Interactive Mathematics Program lets students be active, engaged learners, using what they already know, making conjectures and learning from errors. The Meaningful Math curriculum presents students with rich mathematical contexts and gives them well-designed opportunities to discover and develop mathematical concepts as well as to prove important results. This approach offers students meaning for abstract concepts, gives them ownership of mathematical ideas, and heightens their interest in mathematics. Research shows that Meaningful Math students are apt to take more mathematics in high school than their peers in traditional programs.
We teachers were most likely taught mathematics in a system where mastery of skills was the focus. We were the ones who succeeded in that system. Meaningful Math is not based on a mastery approach to learning. While the Meaningful Math curriculum seeks to attain the same goal of long-term mathematical understanding as mastery approaches, Meaningful Math promotes that understanding through a series of spiraled mathematics experiences, which result over time in mathematical proficiency. It can be exceptionally hard to allow students to take more responsibility for their own learning—you will have to remind yourself that you are trying to build independent thinkers and reasoners. As you see your students struggling with an awkward approach to a problem, you may have to work hard to keep from telling them the most elegant way.
For the Meaningful Math teacher who finds it hard to have faith in the curriculum. Your students are creative and capable! You will be surprised and delighted by the variety of ways students attack problems and investigations, yet come to successful conclusions, when given the opportunity to think independently and together. You will have to bite your tongue as you watch a student play with a topic for which you know the conventional super-formula. Don't steal that student's "Ah-ha!" experience.
Developing knowledge experientially with an activity-oriented curriculum takes more time than "delivering" knowledge through lecture. Think about why that is true. A student developing his or her own mathematical ideas to solve a challenging problem has to do many things—see a need for the math, try a problem with tools already at hand, look for a pattern, investigate a conjecture, and convince himself or herself of the findings. Of course that takes more time—it is a much longer process than listening to a lecture and practicing an algorithm. The process is what gives the student ownership of the end result, and deeper understanding.
Although you don't want to steal the "Ah-ha's," that doesn't mean that you sit by idly and let your expertise go to waste. You, as the facilitator for the learning process, have to be a skilled questioner. For example, as groups begin work on a problem, you will need to ensure that they understand the directions so that all students can access the problem. Perhaps you will have one student read the directions aloud and then have groups paraphrase them. Once kids get started, you will want to walk around the room asking questions of all kinds—probing questions to promote thought, testing questions to see where of such questions for you to use in the context of specific problems and activities.
As you watch your students become active and engaged learners, you will most likely be learning yourself. Be open and share your own learning experiences with your students. If you were trained in a different school of thought, you will grow from seeing the various approaches that students offer. You will also benefit from attending teacher in services which give you opportunities to learn as your Meaningful Math students are learning—through exploring, questioning, guessing, estimating, arguing, and proving. As you begin each Meaningful Math unit and activity, take time to talk with your fellow Meaningful Math teachers. Together, identify the goals of the unit or activity and think through how you are going to assess student progress toward such goals and grade student performance.
As you delve into the Teacher's Guides, you might ask, "Where are the solutions?" An explicit answer key or solutions manual is not among the resources provided, for several reasons:
Some problems are open-ended, and have many possible solutions. Repeating "Solutions will vary" is not particularly useful.
Many of the tasks in Meaningful Math are "open-middled"—there are many possible paths to the one correct solution or set of solutions. For these tasks, a solutions manual would be necessarily incomplete. We could not include all possible routes to the solution, nor could we capture adequately the thinking students might use to follow those routes.
One of the most important activities for teachers who are preparing lessons is analysis of the lesson's mathematics. This analysis includes: exploring solution(s) to mathematical tasks and anticipating the solution strategies and difficulties students will have as they bring their prior experiences to the same tasks. The student textbook does not include "worked examples" for students to mimic without understanding, nor does it break problems down and sequence the pieces in order to lead students along a specific route to a solution. Likewise, the teacher materials do not present for teachers the mathematical analysis central to their work.
However, we do take seriously our responsibility to support the professional work of teachers. So, while you will not find a solutions manual, you will find myriad resources to support your mathematical analysis of tasks, including:
the "Intent" section of each task's page in the Teacher's Guide, in which we state explicitly why the task is included in the student text at this particular time
the "Mathematics" section, in which we place the task in its larger mathematical context
the "Doing the Activity" section, in which we discuss student thinking issues teachers might confront as they orchestrate their lessons
The Meaningful Math curriculum is designed so that much of the in-class learning takes place as students work together collaboratively in randomly-formed groups. This group work is balanced by opportunities for students to work individually.
This section discusses the reasons for the collaborative approach to learning, the process of forming groups, and ways to make collaborative learning work successfully in your classroom.
In many traditional mathematics classrooms, each student sits at a separate desk and works alone, interacting only with the teacher. Looking at someone else's work is considered cheating. Consequently, many people see mathematics as something to be done in isolation. They believe that if you want to work with people, you do not go into mathematics.
In reality, collaboration is just as necessary in mathematics as it is in other aspects of society. Genuine mathematical work, whether done by mathematicians, plumbers, engineers, or dental hygienists, typically involves collaboration and communication. Indeed, employers identify the ability to work with others as one of the most important skills they look for in job applicants. The Meaningful Math curriculum teaches students how to collaborate by having them work together, usually in groups of four.
Students can learn a great deal by working collaboratively with others. Here are some of the many benefits of group work:
Students working in groups get to see different approaches to a given problem. Varied approaches to a problem lead to added insight and increased understanding. As students hear each other's approaches, they can ask questions to clarify the ideas.
Working in groups, students have more resources for tackling mathematically complex and challenging tasks than they would when working alone.
Small groups create a safe environment for students to take risks and make mistakes. A student is more likely to ask a question or take a risk in a group of four than in a class of thirty or more. In the potentially less-intimidating group setting, students can interact with other students about their mathematical ideas, their strategies for solving problems, and their questions, by
getting responses to their own ideas, strategies, and questions
responding to the ideas, strategies and questions of others
When students are in small groups, more of them get to participate. A task for four people allows each member to participate, whereas a question or problem thrown out to a whole class will probably get responses from at most a few students.
In a group, students take responsibility for each other's work habits and classroom behavior. Students see their groups as somewhat like families, in which it is each member's job to support and keep tabs on each other. This allows the teacher to be more of a facilitator.
Through the use of randomly-assigned groups, students get to work with others outside of their social groups. This promotes appreciation for, or at least an awareness of, people's differences.
If groups are too small, then the variety of ideas and approaches needed to solve complex and challenging tasks is less likely to be present. Smaller groups, such as pairs, can be appropriate for sharing work on mathematically more limited tasks that students first worked on alone. If groups are too large, then students are less able to interact with other group members. Student to student discourse might fragment into a side conversation, or individual students might break off from the group. Groups of three to four students typically strike the appropriate balance. (However, for computer lab activities, two students per computer is an optimal arrangement.)
Once students are arranged into groups, you'll need to work on running your class in a way that maximizes the benefits of collaborative learning. Students will not work productively in groups simply because they are sitting close to each other— students have to learn how to work in groups. You will train your students to use their fellow group members; and you'll train yourself to let students explore ideas together, with minimal intervention and interference from you!
Here are some considerations:
Choose tasks for which working together is seen by students as being helpful. Activities labeled "Group Activity" in the student text are particularly enhanced by working in a group.
Plan what you will do while students are working on the task:
Prepare questions that will focus students' attention on the task.
Know how you will respond to "We're done!" For example, choose someone from the group to explain what the group has been doing.
Prepare for the inevitability that some groups really will be done before others, by having ready some questions that extend the task.
Decide beforehand what indicators of progress you will be looking for as you circulate from group to group so you can efficiently monitor the progress of groups.
Circulate from group to group, asking questions and listening.
Be sure to interact with all groups as frequently as possible.
Avoid becoming a "member" of a group.
Observe student interactions and attend to students' understandings.
Do not simply police groups.
Allow students to struggle and brainstorm. Do not answer their mathematical questions. Instead, ask questions and make observations that stimulate students' own thinking and problem solving.
Use presentations as a "reporting out" mechanism.
You might have students do "serial" presentations (one after another), using chalkboard or overhead; or "parallel" (all at the same) presentations, where groups simply prepare and display posters.
Groups can present full solutions or focused aspects of a group's work, such as "How did you get started?", "What did not work?", "Did you do this another way?"
As your students become proficient in working productively as a group and become less dependent on you for guidance, congratulate yourself for creating independent learners who have gained the ability to work effectively in a collaborative setting!
Remember, as you walk among groups and listen, challenge yourself to avoid interrupting or interfering. Student ideas are often interesting and captivating to us, but it's fruitful to let students move forward with questions and on problems that make sense to them. So instead of seeking to show a group something, or even to lead them to "discover" it, work hard to pose genuine questions. Balance your desire to know what a student or group is thinking with the interruption to their work that your intervention causes.
Here are some additional tips from experienced Meaningful Math teachers:
Make sure students consult each other before asking you a question. One Meaningful Math teacher has the motto "Ask three before you ask me!" posted on her classroom wall.
If a group is stuck or off task, ask a thought-provoking, open question to get them going. Even better, have the students generate questions to get themselves back on task.
Instead of brainstorming about a problem as a whole class, have group members brainstorm with each other and post their ideas on sentence strips.
When discussing homework, have each group prepare a presentation on one part of the assignment.
Take time periodically to have students do some reflection and discussion about the value of learning to work together.
To show students how much you value collaborative work, incorporate the group process into students' overall grades. For example, have students assign "group participation" grades to all their group members (including themselves).
Combining the instructional strategy of having students work together in small groups with the assessment goal of determining what mathematics individual students have learned creates challenging issues:
If you award a single group score for mathematical achievement on a grouptask, then be prepared for, "He didn't do anything, and I had to do it all!",
"She did it all and I couldn't get a word in edgewise!", "I had to do it all otherwise we wouldn't have gotten a good grade!"
If you award only individual scores for mathematical achievement on a group task, then you might ask yourself why you made this a group task in the first place.
You can resolve this apparent dilemma by:
assessing non-mathematical aspects of a small-group task, such as productively working together, to support students' learning of how to work in a group
assessing the mathematics students learned from their small-group work by assigning them tasks to be done individually and that tap the same mathematical ideas.
Random grouping helps to eliminate the labeling and tracking that can occur in a classroom. Students will discern your reasons for using any deliberate grouping strategy. For example, if—as some advocate—you choose groups so that each group has a high achiever, a low achiever, and two middle achievers, the students will quickly figure out who they are (and who they are not). If you group students by similar level of achievement (for example, groups of "high" achievers, or groups of "low" achievers) then students might lose the opportunity to hear the ideas, strategies, and questions they might get from participation in mixed groups. The Meaningful Math curriculum provides varied activities and opportunities for students. Every student should be able to shine in some area, whether his or her strength is giving presentations, motivating other group members, or sharing unique problem-solving ideas.
Some random grouping methodsinclude:
Counting off: For example, a class of 30 students would require eight groups of 3–4 students, so have students count off up to eight and then start over until everyone has a small-group number.
Drawing from a deck of playing cards: For example, for a class of 30 students, create a "deck" containing ace through eight of three suits, and ace through seven of the fourth. The students are thereby assigned a group number (and a suit, which can be used for assigning roles within the groups).
Lining up students by birth date, and then grouping into fours.
You should form new groups at least at the beginning of each unit. Some teachers change more often so that students are likely to get a chance to work with every student in the class over the course of the year. Some teachers leave the students in their groups longer to allow them to get really comfortable with their group members. Three weeks is generally sufficient time for students to learn to work together, and still allows for variety (twelve different groups throughout a school year).
You may want to introduce the roles of Resource Person, Facilitator, Recorder/Reporter, and Team Captain. (For definitions of these roles, see Cohen, E. G., & Lotan, R. A. (1997). "Working for equity in heterogeneous classrooms: Sociological theory in practice." New York: Teachers College Press.) Define and post the expectations of each role. Publicly identify who will take each job in each group. Reassign roles on a regular basis. The assignments should be done by the teacher, not left to the group.
You may periodically need to remind students of the roles and what that person could do to support their group during group activities. For example, remind the Facilitator to occasionally pause to see how much agreement has been reached. Or ask the Team Captain to encourage contributions from all group members and to ensure all ideas are considered and consensus is reached about how to act on them.
There has been a movement in education away from grouping of students by perceived ability level—tracking—and toward a heterogeneous learning environment, where students with different mathematical maturity and development levels are in the same classroom.
Instead of helping students, sorting and tracking them according to ability can institutionalize failure in mathematics. However, placing students in heterogeneous classes and groups and teaching the same old curriculum will not solve the problem...The curriculum must be untracked just as the school structure must be untracked. A multidimensional curriculum will be accessible to more students and more interesting and more valuable to the most mathematically sophisticated. (Mathematics Framework for California PublicSchools, p. 62)
A heterogeneous classroom coupled with a curriculum written to engage all students creates the ideal.
Our educational system needs to broaden the range of students who learn mathematics. The heterogeneous classroom provides access to genuine mathematics for a larger pool of students than does a system based on ability-level tracking.
Kids work together: "PBS did a special on Berkeley High School, emphasizing the segregation and tracking that exist there. A student of mine told me that during a discussion in her Black Studies class about tracking and racism at BHS she raised her hand to say, 'You should come see my IMP math class. We all work together. I feel comfortable working with white kids; any kind of kid.'"
—IMP teacher, Berkeley H.S., Berkeley, CA
The IMP and Meaningful Math curriculum are designed to be used with heterogeneous classes, and thus to make the learning of a core mathematics curriculum more accessible, especially to those groups, such as women and minorities, who traditionally have been underrepresented in college mathematics classes and math-related fields.
A curriculum built around complex, open-ended problems can be explored at many levels of sophistication. The central problems in Meaningful Math units have a richness that will challenge the brightest student, yet their concreteness allows all students to do meaningful mathematical work.
Your Own Expectations
Conventional conceptions of intelligence—conceptions that have led to ability-level grouping—have created in all of us certain expectations and perhaps fears of a heterogeneously grouped class. We need to challenge these expectations, and believe that all our students are capable of learning mathematics and, as a group, are rich in their differences.
You will probably have some students, previously identified as "gifted," who don't want to be in a class with "normal" students. You will probably also have students who have never enjoyed or succeeded in math and now feel intimidated in a class that includes all the "smart kids." In order to work with both groups, you need to convey that a variety of backgrounds and learning styles is a benefit, not a detriment, to the learning process.
To take full advantage of the various learning styles and backgrounds in your Meaningful Math classroom, foster as much communication among students as possible. Provide a learning environment where students are encouraged to present their methods and ideas as well as to listen thoughtfully to the presentations of others. Provide a model, showing how to ask thoughtful questions when trying to understand another's point of view.
The heterogeneous classroom needs to provide an environment where cooperation for the common good is highly valued. Help students build an appreciation of each other's differences and encourage them to learn from other approaches and points of view.
When you work with students who have a wide variety of math backgrounds, there may be times when discrepancies in learning arise. The supplemental activities in each unit can help you deal with these situations; they were created in response to requests from Meaningful Math teachers. These teachers asked for problems, written with the Meaningful Math style and philosophy, that could be used when students showed a need for more experience or more challenge when they approached a topic in the unit.
Using the supplemental activities often requires planning ahead. As you look over the next week of a unit, ask yourself, "Which lessons are likely to involve wide discrepancies in student response?" and "How can I meet the needs of different students?" TheTeacher's Guide will give you guidance, because it indicates where in the unit each problem fits best.
There are two types of supplemental activities:
Reinforcements: The reinforcement activities exist for times when your students struggle with a concept in the unit. Since students come to you from various backgrounds, some of them may need to investigate a topic from approaches besides those provided in the basic unit. You may even find that, at some point in time, your whole class needs more work on a concept. The reinforcement activities provide such additional experience.
Extensions: There may be times when students understand a concept and want more challenge. The extension problems are provided for those who are ready to take concepts from the Meaningful Math curriculum farther than the basic unit does. Extension problems give students greater depth of understanding of topics in the current unit, rather than having them "accelerate" to material that appears later in the curriculum. In this way, they will gain appropriate challenge and enrichment, and yet each new unit will be fresh for them.
Whenever you use supplemental activities, be cautious of tracking within your Meaningful Math classroom. Students should be in on the decision as to which type of supplement, if any, they work on. You should avoid giving them a sense that you are labeling them. Let it be known that those who need reinforcement this time are not necessarily the same students that will need it next time and that all students are invited to tackle the extension problems, not just those who the teacher feels are "capable."
Revision of Work
Students in a heterogeneous class will not vary only in their mathematics backgrounds; they will also vary in their writing ability. One way to accommodate these differences is to encourage revision of written work. This will benefit students who find it difficult to express ideas. Also, if a student has not solved a particular problem or completed an assignment, this will allow the student to show what he or she learned from the class discussion of the activity.
It is possible for all students to meet high standards; some simply have to work harder to get there. Opportunities to revise work provide students with a chance to learn from others and to improve upon their initial attempts.
Getting Students Started
For a variety of reasons, including weak English-language skills, students may sometimes have trouble getting started on an activity. One key to getting all students involved in a problem or activity is ensuring that each student has access to the task at hand. To give students access, you may want to have a student read the directions aloud and then have each group discuss or rewrite the task in their own words. You may ask a question about how to get started. You may even let students get to work on an activity, then stop them after five minutes for group reports on where they are headed. Your goal should be to ensure that all students at least start everything you assign.
The Honors Option
A heterogeneous mathematics classroom may include students who were previously labeled "Gifted" or "Honors" and placed in separate classes. As a result, there may be parental or administrative pressure to provide an opportunity for students to have an "Honors" designation on their transcripts.
You can provide this option within your heterogeneously grouped class—offering it to every student in your Meaningful Math class, not just a select few. For example, you can have students elect to attempt some combination of the extension problems. You will need to set clear criteria for the quantity and quality of work needed for a student to receive the "Honors" designation at the end of the grading period.
You can enhance your Meaningful Math classroom by having those who do extra work make presentations to the whole class on their findings. Or you may prefer to keep this activity separate, providing regular time outside of class for students who are working on the extension problems to meet and share ideas.
It is vital that members of today's society be able to communicate their ideas to various audiences. In business and industry, ideas are conveyed in both written and oral formats. The Meaningful Math curriculum prepares students for this need in the job market by valuing communication in the classroom, and providing practice. Meaningful Math students use communication every time they work on a group task, write up a homework assignment or POW, or give a presentation. They communicate through formal presentations, informal conversations, written text, diagrams, models, graphs, tables, and algebraic expressions.
Mathematics involves a special language. Because language is learned through use, Meaningful Math students benefit from a regular diet of mathematical talk as they work together on group assignments. They experience mathematical language as they read each other's written work.
Communication not only conveys information, but also provides an opportunity for teachers and peers to assess a student's thinking and depth of understanding. A piece of written work or a formal oral presentation can make clear to any audience—the small group, the whole class, or the teacher—exactly what mathematical thinking went on.
When students begin giving presentations, your first task is to get them comfortable speaking in front of a group. It may be helpful to give them some experiences addressing a partner or small group first so they can build some confidence in speaking "publicly." You will probably want your first few presentations to be on a volunteer basis, rather than by random selection, to maintain a reasonable comfort level in the classroom.
Once students have seen a few presentations, you will want to establish some method for choosing presenters that allows all students to make presentations at some time during each unit. If a particular student is extremely uncomfortable getting up in front of the class alone, you may want to allow that student to bring one or more group members along to help.
Promoting Constructive Interaction
Although you need to build students' confidence, you also can't let presenters get away with incomplete thoughts or sloppy mathematics. One tricky aspect of this— for everyone—is figuring out how to ask questions without undermining the presenter's self-esteem.
In 4th Year IMP: "We were working with the part of the cube unit where the kids are developing the cosine or sine of the sum of two angles. We had three visitors that day, one of whom was a language arts teacher...The student at the board got to a point where she was stuck. She turned around and said that it just wasn't making any sense to her any more—she was in a state of disequilibrium. The whole class became totally focused on her dilemma. They totally took over—asking questions, answering questions, not interrupting each other. It was so hard just to sit there and do nothing. I wish we had videotaped that class. When I think of a perfect IMP class that is the day that comes to mind. When I talked to the language arts teacher after, she said she didn't understand any of the math, but was blown away by the dynamics of what was going on in the classroom." —Jean Klanica, Eaglecrest H.S., Aurora, Colorado
Class discussions on how to be a good audience will usually help, as will models of open-ended, clarifying questions. Have students compare constructive, nonjudgmental questions, such as, "Where did the numbers in your table come from?" or "What led you to the rule you are using?", with the more intimidating "I don't understand you!" or "You don't make sense."
You may get higher-quality presentations if your students prepare ahead of time. A student selected early in the week to give a POW presentation can be given pens and overhead transparencies to take home and prepare. Students may even want to practice their POW presentations with you before getting up in front of their peers.
Meaningful Math students communicate their thoughts and ideas quite often in writing. Many assignments require the student to write out the "hows" and "whys" of a problem. Students' writing gives you a window into their thoughts. Meaningful Math writing is different from the traditional math assignment, which might be just a list of answers along with number-crunching. It allows the reader to see what path the student took in solving the problem, as well as the justification for traveling that path. The focus is on what the student knows and how the student knows it.
Especially with POWs, students should be encouraged to describe everything they do on a problem. At first, they may have a hard time writing about work that did not lead to a solution, even when they learned something from the effort.
Sometimes students won't write anything if they did not get "the right answer." You will have to convey to them, through conversation and through your grading scheme, that the process has value even if a solution wasn't found.
Another suggestion for getting students started is to tell them to "write the way you talk." Let them know that you are interested in their ideas even if they aren't presented in perfect sentences.
Models of Excellence
Students need models to show them what good mathematics writing looks like. The best models are ones that they can relate to—work that comes from their peers.
You can provide these models by posting excellent work where they can see it. One teacher suggests making a POW write-up poster by cutting and pasting the best work from several students on different aspects of a particular problem.
Occasionally, the curriculum asks students to do focused free-writing. In this type of exercise, students are given a topic to focus on and are then asked to write for a few minutes on that topic—dumping thoughts onto paper in a stream-of- consciousness way.
The primary purpose of focused free-writing is for the student to communicate with himself or herself. Let students know ahead of time that they will not have to share their ideas if they do not want to. That will allow them to write anything that comes to mind. Since this writing is not going to be read, students don't need to worry about distractions such as grammar and spelling.
After students have finished writing, you can ask for volunteers to discuss the topic. Some students may want to read aloud from their work; others may simply share their ideas.
There are several key points to emphasize to students regarding focused free writing:
The writing is not collected (but students will have the opportunity to read some of it aloud or just share their ideas).
The student should write, write, write—a sort of stream of consciousness.
Students should try to stick with the assigned focus.
It is better to write things like "I can't think of what to say" than to stop writing completely.
Taking time to reflect individually on learning is a thread that will continue throughout Meaningful Math.
As your students become better communicators, both in oral and written form, point out their progress to them. Let them look at the clarity and quality of their most recent POWs as compared to the first POWs of the year. Videotaping presentations so students can watch themselves may leave them pleasantly surprised by how well they did. Talk to teachers in other disciplines to hear the kudos Meaningful Math kids are receiving when they give outstanding oral reports in other classes.
Pacing guides are provided for every Meaningful Math unit, for both 50-minute and 90-minute schedules. These guides organize the curriculum into individual daily lessons, with a description of what should happen in class and what should be assigned for homework. They are based on feedback from many teachers over the years.
You may notice that each of the five units in a year contain approximately 30 50- minute days, so teaching each year's curriculum exactly as outlined should take about 150 50-minute days—in theory. If your school year is 180 days, then it would seem that you have about 30 days to spare. However, the realities of teaching include fire drills, shortened assembly schedules, field trips, school-wide testing, and teacher inservice days. And there is the possibility that sometimes your students will not accomplish in a day what you had hoped, or the pacing guides propose—some "days" expand to a day and a half. Make an overall plan for the year, and then periodically make adjustments. You can have confidence that the overall curriculum has been developed so that each "year" of the curriculum pretty well fits a standard school year, based on feedback from hundreds of classrooms.
For many teachers starting out with the Meaningful Math curriculum, a recurring question is, "Do I need to spend more time on this topic? My students don't seem to have 'gotten it' yet. When will they see it again?"
In traditional mathematics learning, students typically work with each skill in isolation and are expected to master it before moving on to the next one. But in fact, students learn in a more gradual way and the Meaningful Math curriculum takes that reality into account. It allows students to develop their understanding of concepts and their facility with skills over time and in many different contexts. The Teacher's Guide for each unit includes comments about the level of understanding to be expected from students at each stage of the unit's development.
With all that said, you still have some choices to make about the pace at which your class moves through the curriculum. Finding the right pace for your school schedule and your students will take time and experience.
You do not want to be so tied to the calendar that you breeze by topics that your students have not had sufficient time to interact with and digest. If your students seem to have insight into a problem or activity, but do not meet the activity's goals, you may want to allot more class time. On the other hand, you do not want to be drilling a topic when the goal of the unit is simply to give students an intuitive feel for an idea.
The first time you teach each unit, try to follow the pacing guide for each unit fairly closely. Make written notes of spots where students were quicker than the Teacher's Guide led you to expect, as well as of the places they seemed bogged down. Keep a record of things like:
how you would teach the same lesson next time
what questions you would ask students to get them going
how much time should really be spent
what you could have done differently in a prior unit in order to facilitate learning in the current unit
As you progress through each unit, know that you and your students have the flexibility to stop and reflect on where you are in the unit and how the unit's goals are being achieved. Sometimes students lose sight of the forest for the trees, doing each day's activities as if the activities were all independent of each other. By asking questions and having students reflect, you can help them make connections to the main problem or theme of the unit.
Until you have taught the three-year Meaningful Math curriculum and know where topics are going, resist the temptation to interrupt the flow of a unit and supplement the curriculum content with your own materials. There will be times when not all of your students "see the light," as well as times that the "ah-ha" experience happens in the first 15 minutes of a two-day activity and you are left wondering what to do. If your students need more work on a concept or an added challenge in some part of the curriculum, use the supplemental activities at the end of the unit.
If your school does not have 50-minute-a-day, five-day-a-week math periods, or a 90-minute block schedule, you'll need to make some adjustments in order to fit Meaningful Math's "days" into your schedule.
There is no simple formula for this, but the flow of the units should be maintained as closely as possible, especially because many in-class activities are designed with the idea that students will have each other's support as they explore new ideas.
Moving a homework assignment into class time will cause less disruption of the development of the mathematics than vice versa. If you have any kind of restructured schedule, consider networking with a Meaningful Math school with a similar schedule.
The world in which we live is increasingly more technological:
Today, real people in real situations regularly put finger to button and make critical decisions about which buttons to press, not where and how to carry threes into hundreds columns. We understand that this change is on the order of magnitude of the outhouse to indoor plumbing in terms of comfort and convenience, and of the sundial to digital timepieces in terms of accuracy and accessibility. (Steve Leinwald, "It's Time to Abandon Computational Algorithms," Education Week, 2/9/94).
Our students are headed for a job market powered by computer systems, electronic spreadsheets, numerical analyses, and computer graphics packages. It is important that they enter the world with both technological and problem-solving confidence.
Today's programmable calculators are, infact, hand-held computers.
Technology is not only an essential tool in the world of work, but it has also opened new horizons for mathematics education. The graphing calculator expedites numerical computation, graphing, matrix manipulation, statistical analysis, and many other mathematical processes, allowing students to examine and analyze mathematical topics at a deeper level.
Mathematics has traditionally been a filter in the education process, eliminating students based solely on their level of computational proficiency. The calculator helps remove that filter, breaking down the barriers to mathematical understanding and allowing students to investigate numerical patterns, efficiently test strategies, and explore the "whys." Meaningful Math does not propose abandoning computation, but instead encourages students to use the particular computational method—such as mental computation, calculator computation, or estimation—that they consider most useful for the problem being solved.
Each Meaningful Math student should have a graphing calculator within arm's reach at all times during class. At all times means just that! For the calculator to be a natural tool for doing mathematics, the student must make the decision as to when to use it. It is not up to the teacher to decide "Today is a calculator day," or "They should not need to use calculators today." You will often be pleasantly surprised by when and how often students reach for the calculator!
Encourage students to buy their own graphing calculator. They will be using it for the next four years and having their own calculator will allow them to store and keep the programs they develop in class. Although most homework assignments and POWs do not require the use of a programmable graphing calculator, it is a good idea to have one anyway. You may want to also have a system for checking out graphing calculators to students for home use.
The Interactive Mathematics Program decided early in its work that it wanted every student always to have a powerful technological tool at hand. Economic realities led to the decision to build the curriculum around graphing calculators rather than computers. Thus, there are no activities in the program that require the use of a computer. However, software programs such as The Geometer's Sketchpad®, Fathom Dynamic Data®, and Microsoft® Excel®can be used to enhance particular activities.
The words "assessment" and "grading" are sometimes used interchangeably, but it's helpful to distinguish between them.
Assessment is something you do every day as you gauge where students are in the learning process. You are assessing your students when you ask them questions, read their homework, and listen to their mathematical conversations. These assessments guide your instructional decisions regarding pacing, teaching strategies, and "where to go from here." Getting as accurate a reading as possible requires that students be observed and assessed in real situations; hence the term authentic assessment, which is used frequently in educational reform.
Assessment should be part of the ongoing educational process and should enhance learning. Unlike standardized tests, which create a break in learning in order to take a measurement, assessment should be part of the natural flow of the classroom.
When the curriculum provides a window into a student's thinking, that is a natural time to assess that student. Such an assessment need not be something you assign a specific grade to—it may be simply for informational purposes, both for you and for the student.
POWs and portfolios, present in every unit, have particular usefulness in assessment. The extensive write-ups in Problems of the Week provide a wealth of evidence of students' ability to communicate their thinking in writing, as well as their grasp of important mathematical ideas. Portfolios not only give you insight into student learning, but also help students assess their own growing knowledge of mathematics. When students review their work over the entire unit, and select work that they think represents what they know and can do, they take ownership of their own assessment.
In a sense, grading is one of the by-products of assessment. As teachers, we have the responsibility of assigning each student a grade periodically throughout the year. Somehow, you must determine a grade—usually a single letter or number—to reflect all of a student's performance in one lump sum. Not a simple task!
The first step in deciding how to grade your Meaningful Math students is to sit down and decide what you really value in your Meaningful Math classroom. Some of these may come to mind:
completion of homework
group and class participation
progress in the concepts and skills of the unit
mathematical communication through written work and oral presentations
Your task is to construct a grading scheme that reflects your priorities. One way to construct a grading scheme is by allocating "value dollars." Imagine that you have 100 value dollars to spend. Write down the four or five aspects of student work that you value most and apportion your value dollars accordingly.
The list should reflect your personal priorities as well as school policies, and you may find that your allotment changes from year to year. For example, here is a sample budget:
Homework activities: $30
Problems of the Week: $20
Oral presentations: $20
Write-ups of class activities: $20
End-of-unit assessments: $10
Your own choices may be different. The discussion below concerning end-of-unit assessments will help explain why you might assign them only $10 compared to the traditional practice of giving major weight to final tests. Teachers find that working out these decisions together gives them all confidence in their choices, even if they disagree.
Once you've created such a list, you can then use it to assign percentages in your grading scheme. As you become more familiar with the Meaningful Math curriculum, your values may change, and your grading policy should reflect such change.
Whatever system you use, it is vital that your students be informed about the grading process. Students should know where their grade is coming from. They should know what is valued and should have ways to participate in the process.
Which Assignments to Grade
Although assessment is taking place every day in your Meaningful Math classroom, you will need specific tools for assigning grades. Since you can't thoroughly read and comment on all the work your students do, you need to make some choices. The Assessing Progress section of each Teacher's Guide suggests activities to assess that represent progress toward the unit's goals. These suggestions use a balance of activities, including some that focus on specific skills as well as those in which students can demonstrate a broad understanding of the development of concepts.
They are spread throughout the unit and include both in-class and at-home work.
There are both an in-class and a take-home "assessment" at the end of every unit. On-demand tasks such as these, on which students work alone, provide important summative information about students' understanding. However, these end-of-unit assessments should be just one tool of many in your grading tool kit. They are not intended to "cover" the unit, but rather to give students a chance to show some of what they have learned. You may decide that some of the supplemental activities also make good assessment tools.
The in-class assessments are intentionally quite short. You should give students the whole class period, even though most of them will need less time. That will allow you to measure how well—not how fast—students reason, think, and communicate.
Grades and End-of-Unit Assessments
Many of us have sometimes used end-of-chapter tests as the primary tool for grading, but we've also had the experience of seeing a "top" student do poorly on such a test. When that happens, we generally conclude that the student simply had a bad day. In other words, we trust the judgments that have built up over an extensive period of observation more than the results of a single test.
This principle applies even more with the Meaningful Math curriculum, because you have so many opportunities to evaluate your students' work. Keep in mind that the end-of- unit assessments represent perhaps two hours of student work in a unit that may have involved twenty to thirty hours of class time and many more hours of homework.
Once you have made the decision as to what you are going to grade, you need to figure out how to get it graded. Of course, the first step is to work the problem or do the activity yourself to appreciate its complexities and difficulties. If possible, discuss it with a colleague.
Here are some other tips gathered from experienced Meaningful Math teachers.
Grading Problems of the Week
POW grading is most efficiently done holistically. Holistic scoring means developing an overall sense of how well the student has done, rather than focusing on specific details. Many teachers do this by sorting papers into piles according to a broad standard (sometimes called a rubric). The teacher reads through the papers, focusing on explanation of process and solution, and puts each paper into one of the piles. Many teachers use three basic piles—above the standard, meets the standard, and not acceptable. You might then subdivide each pile into two and use that final sorting to assign grades. By reading student work with a focus and by limiting comments on the student papers, you can grade a class set of POWs in a reasonable amount of time.
There is not enough time in the day to thoroughly grade every piece of student homework that comes in. Most experienced Meaningful Math teachers grade the bulk of homework according to completion. This can be done by stamping the homework or marking it off in your grade book as students come into class. In order to build in more accountability on occasion, you can focus on one particular part of the activity or ask a specific question to gauge how students did.
Grading Group Participation
As you observe groups working, you will be getting insight into how well they are able to share the tasks they are assigned, and can give the group as a whole a grade on its members' ability to collaborate.
You may also find it helpful to have group members grade each other periodically on participation. You might have students do some self-reflection and grade themselves as participants in their groups. Students are typically very honest. In fact, many are too hard on themselves, so you will want to reserve the right to raise self-assigned scores.
Grading Group Projects
Occasionally, you may need to assign grades to projects or investigations done by each group as a whole. The simplest approach is to assign the same grade to each group member.
As an alternative, you can give a lump sum to the group and have group members decide how to allocate it. For example, suppose you want to allow each student a maximum of 10 points on a given activity, which would be a total of 40 points for a four-person group. If the group did B work, you might give them 34 points and have the group divide the total among themselves (and justify their decision).
As you become more experienced in teaching Meaningful Math, you will develop a system that works for you. Take time out occasionally to assess your grading scheme to make sure it reflects what you value. Also make sure it is doable—the profession needs you, so don't burn yourself out trying to be "Superreader"! Be selective in what you grade and stay on the lookout for the most effective and efficient way to get it done.
At the end of each Meaningful Math unit, students are asked to assemble a portfolio. This process serves these purposes for students:
It gives them an opportunity to review the unit's main ideas and solidify understanding of them.
It provides them with a record of their work. This is useful both for later reference to mathematical ideas and for seeing progress from year to year.
It encourages them to reflect on what mathematics learning is all about and on their own growth in mathematics learning.
The guidelines for compiling portfolios include a focus on the big mathematical ideas of the unit and guidelines for the types of artifacts to select. Typically, Meaningful Math unit portfolios will contain:
a cover letter, describing the contents of the portfolio and explaining why these artifacts were chosen
several activities, identified by the teacher or selected by the student, that illustrate understanding of key mathematical ideas
one of the POW write-ups
written work that exemplifies the student's best work
This material, and perhaps some other reflective writing, forms the student's portfolio for the unit. A more creative portfolio may include a video of an experiment or presentation, or photographs of student products or experiences, as well as written work. Group products may be photocopied so that more than one group member can use them.
The unit portfolios together form a growing picture of a student's learning. The portfolios serve as a demonstration of both the student's progress and the instructional program for parents and administrators. Questions regarding a student's progress can be answered by reading through that student's work, thoughts, and reflections. The portfolio is much more informative than a set of test scores!
Students' portfolioscan serve them as they continue their mathematics education. They can look back into their portfolio to refresh their knowledge of a topic from their own point of view. For example, students working on Is There Really a Difference? (an Algebra 2 unit) may be a bit rusty on finding solutions to statistics problems. They can go back to their portfolios from The Pit and The Pendulum (an Algebra 1 unit) to look at how they found a solution to a slightly simpler problem. Many students have sent along portions of their Meaningful Math portfolios as part of their college applications.
Teachers have a variety of policies on grading portfolios. Some teachers look for completeness, since the bulk of the samples put into the portfolios have already been graded. Others assign a grade based on demonstration of student growth or understanding, especially as reflected in the cover letter. However you choose to grade the portfolios, you should use them for a broader kind of assessment from time to time. Both you and your students should take time to look through the portfolios and get a feel for areas of growth and, perhaps, areas of need.
The portfolio should be available to students for use or revision at all times. Teachers have found it convenient to have the student portfolios in folders hanging either in a filing cabinet or in a crate in the classroom. Algebra 1 and Geometry portfolios follow the student into Algebra 2. Some schools turn portfolios over to students to keep at home when Algebra 2 begins.
Having calculators available at all times creates a need for a management system. Your goal is to have a system that results in your class set of graphing calculators' sitting on the groups' tables as soon as they enter your classroom. (You will be amazed at how much today's technologically adept young people will learn about the calculator by "hacking around" before and after the bell rings!) You might want to use the same containers in which you keep the other daily materials. The important thing to remember is to make it as convenient as possible for the students to access the calculators; if students have to get up out of their seats and walk across the room to get one, they may opt not to!
The security of the calculators may or may not be an issue for your classroom. If you are concerned about the safety of your class set of calculators, you should develop a management system that ensures that all calculators are accounted for at the beginning and end of class, without impeding their accessibility. An integral part of any calculator management system must be ongoing communication with the students about what a privilege it is to have real-world mathematical tools and how important the calculators are to the Meaningful Math classroom.
One calculator management system involves labeling the calculators with the symbols by which you randomly group your students. For example, if you assign your students to groups using playing cards, you could tape a playing card on the back of each calculator. Taping a card or label on the back of the calculator so that it covers the battery case can also deter the unwanted removal of the batteries.
No matter what kind of system you develop for ensuring the safety of the calculators, make sure that your students are part of your system. They need to be included in the decision that the calculators are an invaluable tool that they cannot afford to lose.
Of course, no curriculum program or teaching strategy will solve the problem of absenteeism, but this issue is especially important in the Meaningful Math classroom, where student interaction plays such an important role in learning.
Fortunately, the emphasis on group collaboration also provides one potential solution to the problem. Hold class discussions to bring out the fact that group work functions best when all group members arc present. Make each student feel that his or her presence is valued every day. Give group members the responsibility for getting each other to class.
Encourage students to call each other after being absent to see what was missed. Avoid answering the question, "I wasn't here yesterday, what did I miss?" Simply respond, "Ask your group." Students should do any homework that was assigned while they were out. Making up class activities might require the student to come in before or after school with other absentees or to do the activity alone. Students can often pick up details from group members and from later activities.
Like absence, this is an issue in many classrooms, but in Meaningful Math, the assignments are not just practice of what was done in class that day, and they often provide essential preparation for the following day. This makes it vital that students do their homework regularly.
You can try some of the following suggestions:
Hold discussions on the role of homework in the Meaningful Math curriculum.
Use your grading system to show the value you place on homework and POWs. Some students need external recognition for doing the work. If you never collect the work or acknowledge students for having done it, they may tend to slack off.
If students do not complete an assignment, have them write a letter either to you or to their parents explaining why. This will not only tell you about legitimate excuses, such as a family emergency, but may help you adjust your teaching or give you something to use when you call or meet with the student's parents regarding the noncompletion of homework.
Have students read their fellow group members' work. This not only adds peer pressure to yours, but also gives students an opportunity to learn from each other.
Have group members phone each other to remind them of assignments due or past due. You can use phone calls yourself to let students know about their good work.
Key to a properly designed Meaningful Math classroom is having the needed supplies available. All Meaningful Math classrooms should have a set of these standard supplies and equipment:
Overhead projector, screen, blank transparencies, pens for transparencies, or another projection device
Class set of graphing calculators
Device for overhead projection of the graphing calculator
Class sets of rulers, protractors, and scissors
Graph paper (1-Centimeter blackline master; 1/4-Inch blackline master)
Masking tape, glue, construction paper, colored pencils, paper clips, and other general classroom supplies
Several markers per group
Pads of 2' by 3' chart paper or a roll of butcher paper for posters
Baskets or other containers to hold materials for each group
A deck of cards for random grouping of students
Blank attendance charts (classroom layout of desks/tables that can be filled in each time groups change)
Boxes, crates, or file drawers for student portfolios
Students are responsible for having materials at home for assignments and at school for classroom work. These materials include: a math notebook or binder, pencils, paper (plain and graph), a ruler (inch and centimeter scales), colored pencils or pens, and a protractor.
Student access to materials and tools for mathematical learning is a challenging dilemma for the mathematics teacher. Punish students for not remembering to bring their required materials by not providing access to learning mathematics? Or provide students with what they forget, keeping them forever dependent on you for that pencil or piece of paper?
There are many reasons why students do and don't bring materials to class, including forgetfulness, responsibility, organization, financial constraints, and seeing value in the classroom activities and learning experiences.
There's not a one-size-fits-all remedy. Some materials the school and teacher simply must provide, such as a protractor or textbook or graphing calculator, otherwise a student without one will simply not have access to learning how to use the tool.
You may wish to discuss which materials to provide with your fellow teachers. Also devise methods to support students who, for one reason or another, will be without materials on some days.
Keep in mind that if a student doesn't have a mathematical tool in their hand when needed, they will be limited not only in their mathematical activity, but also in learning to use that tool for future mathematics.
In addition to the general supplies needed for every Meaningful Math classroom, there are additional supplies needed for specific units. These are listed in Materials and Supplies in the Introduction for each unit. Many of the units have prepared blackline masters for presentations at the overhead projector or for student worksheets. The masters are included in the Teacher's Guides, and there are references to these documents in the notes for specific activities.
More About Supplies:
The Meaningful Math Classroom Manipulatives Kit contains manipulatives and some supplies useful for all four years of the Meaningful Math curriculum. It can be purchased from It's About Time.
Sentence strips are useful in many Meaningful Math units. They are often used for posting solutions to problems, for posing problems, and for posting comments, strategies, and questions. These strips can be purchased at educational supply stores or made by cutting strips of construction paper, butcher paper, or chart paper.
Paper bags are often used in probability experiments. Regular lunch bags from a grocery store work fine and are inexpensive and reusable.
Straws are another commonly-used manipulative. Plastic straws work best and are available at grocery stores.
If you are an experienced teacher, but new to Meaningful Math, you doubtless have formed many insights that will apply to your teaching of the Meaningful Math curriculum, and you probably recognized many ideas in this guide that you have already used in a traditional mathematics classroom. You may have been drawn to Meaningful Math in the first place because it supports what you have been doing or what you have been trying to do. If you are a new teacher, perhaps some of these suggestions will help you in the first challenging weeks. In either case, the collegial support of hundreds of Meaningful Math teachers accompanies you into your Meaningful Math classroom, and the successes of many thousands of Meaningful Math students await your students. Welcome to an adventure!