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

Growth of IMP® Within a School or District

The first year of IMP implementation is the biggest step, but ongoing success also requires the development of a plan for IMP growth within the school or district. Most schools have added two or more teachers each year, until most or all of the mathematics department is participating.

The experience of schools and teachers during IMP's field-test years suggests the following guidelines:

  • Begin gradually, phasing in the program one curriculum year at a time.
  • Have each new group of teachers begin with the IMP Year 1 curriculum and continue through all four years of the program.
  • Have teachers reteach a given year of the curriculum at least once at the same time as they move on to the next year.
  • Work to develop IMP leadership within the mathematics department.

Gradual implementation

IMP recommends that schools implement the program gradually, phasing it in slowly, one curriculum year at a time, until all four years are offered. It is important to keep the traditional college preparatory sequence at first, so that parents, students, and teachers retain choices. Continue to do so until the traditional curriculum is no longer a viable option, thereby avoiding unnecessary conflict. Change cannot be imposed from the top down; it will not work to force IMP upon anyoneteachers or students. Generally, it is best to start with at least two teachers who have made it clear that they want to teach using the IMP curriculum. This ensures that teachers have colleagues with whom to confer and collaborate and that several sections of IMP's Year 1 can be offered the first year. These initial teachers will be called upon to support and encourage the next group. They should be teachers with the potential to lead inservice workshops for their district in the future.

Following the curriculum through all four years

For most mathematics teachers, the curriculum they have been teaching is the same as the one they learnedalgebra in ninth grade, geometry in tenth, then more algebra, trigonometry, and perhaps precalculus. They know what to expect, and they know how the program develops from year to year.

The IMP curriculum, on the other hand, is new to everyone. Most teachers have little or no experience with a problem-based curriculum or with integrated content, so they don't know what to expect at each grade level. IMP teachers report that they experienced great anxiety when IMP Year 1 went by and students had not learned some topic that teachers associated with ninth grade.

Teachers need to see that the basics are all there, even if those basics are presented in a different way and in a different sequence. They need to experience for themselves the way in which the IMP curriculum spirals and unfolds. For instance, it moves cautiously in its introduction of formal algebraic manipulations. In IMP Year 1, students are mainly building intuition about the meaning and use of variables. However, teachers report that they saw how this approach paid great dividends in IMP Year 2, when students easily learned how to solve systems of linear equations and really understood what they were doing. Since the overwhelming majority of IMP students complete at least three years of the program (and most complete four years), this long view of learning is worthwhile. When teachers have the opportunity to see the curriculum as a whole, they get to see how the "big ideas" in mathematics are developed and enriched over the four years. They learn which ideas are key and what facets to emphasize within a given unit. Teachers using later years of the program understand the foundation of knowledge that students have already established, and their understanding allows them to help students build on this foundation.

Teachers also need to see the long-term effects of a new pedagogical approach. Many teachers report mixed results in the writing or group work of their Year 1 students. When they see these same students in Year 3, turning in polished mathematical essays or energetically exploring mathematical ideas together, they realize that the innovative teaching strategies have paid off.

Lastly, teachers report how personally exciting it is to watch students grow. They comment that teaching IMP has given them their first opportunity to really connect with students. Likewise, IMP students report that IMP teachers become important people to them.

Reteaching years of IMP

Although IMP recommends that teachers move sequentially through the curriculum, they also urge that teachers reteach each year of the program at least once while they move on. For example, a teacher might teach two sections of Year 1 during their first year with the program, then teach two sections of Year 2 and one section of Year 1 the following year.

This practice has several benefits. For one thing, teachers appreciate the opportunity to synthesize what they learned the first time around. They commonly express excitement about reteaching the program, saying they now have a clearer understanding of the structure and purpose of each unit and have a better grasp of the way the curriculum is organized.

Many teachers also comment that they were concerned about learning new mathematics the first time around. When they reteach a year, they are more comfortable and relaxed about the mathematical content and are better able to formulate good questions. Teachers reteaching a given year of the curriculum also serve as mentors for their colleagues who are working through the curriculum for the first time. It is very productive for a group of new teachers if at least one teacher who has been through the material can join the new group as they struggle with change.

Developing teacher leadership

In any process of change, there are those who take the lead and those who prefer to follow. Implementing this innovative curriculum is no exception; every district using IMP should encourage its strongest teachers to move into leadership of the effort. Those who pioneer the program at a given school can provide guidance to others at their own school and at other schools in their district. They can take major roles in the support and training of other teachers and become leaders of inservice workshops. They can become spokespersons to the general community about the need and rationale for change. Many of the teachers who worked with IMP in the program's early years have become valued leaders at the district, state, and national levels of mathematics education.

As teachers take on these new roles, they gain insight into their own teaching and into the mathematical ideas they are presenting. This work helps them continue to grow as classroom practitioners and their students reap the rewards of their ongoing professional growth.

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