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Introduction and Implementation Strategies for the Interactive Mathematics Program: A Guide for Teacher-Leaders and Administrators

Support and Training for Teachers

The most important players in successful implementation of the IMP curriculum are the mathematics teachers, who are being asked to make major changes in what they teach and how they teach.

  • They must learn and understand mathematical concepts that are new to the high school curriculum. These ideas, especially from statistics and discrete mathematics, may not have been part of teachers' own mathematics education, and most teachers will have little or no prior experience in teaching them.
  • They must develop a broader perspective on traditional mathematical concepts. Because IMP asks more from students in terms of conceptual understanding, teachers must learn to be flexible as students grapple with ideas. They must develop a sense of when to lead and when to give students the freedom to explore on their own.
  • They must become adept at new pedagogical strategies, such as having students work collaboratively in small groups.
  • They must attain skill with the new technology of graphing calculators.
  • They must develop new questioning techniques to bring out deeper understanding.
  • They must incorporate new approaches to assessment, including portfolios and open-ended problems.

In sum, they must adapt to all the ways in which the IMP curriculum and the IMP classroom are different.

Appropriate support and training are crucial elements in teachers' success as they work to create change. Even the most experienced and skilled teachers at IMP's field-test schools said this support was imperative for them. Support and training for IMP teachers in making these changes takes several forms, including inservice workshops, shared professional development periods, team teaching, and visits to and from experienced IMP teachers.

Inservice workshops

IMP's professional development program includes inservice workshops to help teachers understand both the content and the pedagogy embedded in the curriculum. These workshops begin the summer prior to initial implementation and should continue during the school year.

IMP inservice workshops are led by experienced IMP teachers. For a school or district that is just getting started, this means connecting with IMP's professional development network. Often it is most convenient to send teachers to workshop sessions that have been set up for them by an existing IMP regional center.

IMP inservice workshops deal with the full gamut of issues that arise for teachers as they implement the new curriculum.

Through all four years of the program, the workshops examine mathematical content. As teachers study the individual units, they become mathematics students again, working through sample activities and solving problems. Many units contain mathematical ideas that are new to them, such as the chi-square distribution or matrix representation of geometric transformations. Other units require them to see familiar mathematics in a new way or to reexamine the way in which concepts should be developed in the classroom. In every unit, teachers challenge themselves and each other as they solve difficult Problems of the Week.

When teachers assume the role of learner by being students again, they gain a better understanding of student perspectives. They learn to appreciate once again what it means to be risk takers, to venture into areas where they are not already knowledgeable or expert.

Themes of how to promote understanding are intimately linked with the learning of mathematical content. Teachers struggle with issues such as "What question can I ask that will bring out student insight?", "How do I help my students make the transition from an intuitive foundation to a more formal understanding?", and "How do I present this idea in several ways so each student finds a method that works for her or him?" Workshops also focus on pedagogical strategies: "How do I get students to work productively in groups?", "What can I do to improve my students' mathematical writing?", "How do I use graphing calculators to enhance student understanding of mathematical concepts?", and perhaps the deepest issue of all, "How do I change the focus of the classroom from my teaching to my students' learning?" The issues that concern teachers most change gradually from year to year. IMP Year 1 teachers are often focused on classroom management and on issues of assessment and grading. In IMP Year 2, they may want to work on developing better questioning techniques. By Years 3 and 4, the pedagogical issues are very few and the challenge of the mathematics becomes a greater priority.

Whatever the focus, the reflection teachers do as part of workshops pays dividends beyond the classroom, because it helps them become better spokespersons to the larger community about the need for change. Another integral part of all IMP workshops is the building of professional community among teachers. Teachers do mathematics together, discuss teaching strategies together, and confront a range of issues that they all must deal with.

For many teachers, IMP workshops provide an invaluable opportunity to talk about their feelings as teachers as they work to do their best for their students. There is some flexibility in the scheduling of inservice workshops. In one scheduling model, teachers meet for a full week in the summer and then continue to meet every six weeks throughout the school year. These follow-up sessions might be after school or on Saturdays. Another model combines five days in the summer with a block of three full days in the winter.

Though it might be convenient to try to do the entire inservice work in the summer, teachers agree that inservice must be ongoing. Workshops are much more effective if teachers can learn some of the basic pedagogical strategies and the content of the first few units, then come back later in the school year to continue the work. They get much more out of the workshops when they can build on classroom experiences.

Shared professional development periods with colleagues

For too long, most teachers have worked in isolation from one other, each in his or her own classroom. IMP teachers have repeatedly affirmed the overwhelming importance of being given time regularly and frequently to talk with their colleagues about what is happening in their classrooms.

At an absolute minimum, teachers who are teaching a given year of the IMP curriculum for the first time should have a common preparation period. In the model that has been most helpful, teachers receive an extra professional development period specifically for IMP, which means a reduced course load as they make the four-year transition from a skill-based curriculum to a challenging, conceptual, problem-based curriculum. In this model, everyone teaching the same year of the curriculum forms a teaching team with a common preparation period. If a school or district has made every effort to provide this extra preparation period but doesn't have the funds for all IMP teachers, first priority should go to teachers teaching IMP Year 1 for the first time.

Some schools have used other models for providing time for teachers to share ideas and experiences, such as after-school or weekend meetings (for which teachers should be compensated), full-day planning opportunities during the school year, or other forms of released time. When teachers teaching the same course have a common preparation period, they derive many benefits. They can

  • share what happened with students in their respective classes
  • clarify their understanding of the mathematics of the unit
  • review units in greater detail than is possible in the IMP inservices and look for the "big picture"
  • solve difficult mathematics problems together
  • help each other formulate open-ended questions for students
  • suggest management strategies
  • work through issues about the pacing of the units
  • construct rubrics for holistic assessment
  • develop realistic expectations of students
  • support each other while confronting the difficult issues and feelings that arise with meeting new challenges

Team teaching

Some schools have supported teacher professional growth by allowing two teachers to form a team to teach one section of the same IMP course together. Teachers in the team provide each other with daily professional development. Beliefs and practices are clearly seen because as each teacher works with a colleague, they are observing, acting, and interacting constantly. Because they are a team, they can benefit from each other's observations and perspectives. Opportunities to observe the class and sit with students are also enhanced; this allows each teacher to see the mathematics and the curriculum from the students' perspective.

Visits to and from experienced IMP teachers

Sites that have implemented the curriculum in the past have found it essential to establish a program of classroom visits between new and experienced IMP teachers.

A visit to a Year 3 or Year 4 class provides a Year 1 teacher with a vision of what students can do over time, and validates the emphasis on new approaches to both curriculum and pedagogy. Similarly, having an experienced IMP teacher come to one's own classroom can be a source of valuable feedback. In either case, such exchanges give new IMP teachers a chance to ask questions of a colleague who has already been down the road. For schools that are just starting out, such reciprocal arrangements can often be made with a nearby school that is farther along in the implementation process.

IMP teachers recommend that the experienced teachers involved in these visits include people whose expertise goes beyond the individual classroom. For example, by linking up with a regional center, a district can tap into a broader range of experience. New teachers might visit classrooms taught by regional directors and get feedback about their own classrooms from people who have seen a wide variety of teaching styles.

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