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

Addressing the Concerns of Parents

Parents are naturally concerned about the implementation of any major change in the education of their children. With IMP, their concern is amplified by the recognition that mathematics is a vital element of their children's future, and by the fact that it is so different from what they experienced as high school students.

In fact, some of the most enthusiastic supporters of IMP are parents in the mathematics, science, and engineering fields. They have said things like "I wish I had learned mathematics this way when I was in high school. This is just what we do in our jobs."

The key to winning support from parents is communication, both before the program begins and after it is under way. IMP teachers have found that periodic family IMP nights are an excellent forum for conveying information about the mathematics program to parents. Frequently, IMP students are the leaders and facilitators at these events, guiding parents through the mathematics of the curriculum.

The questions below are some of those that parents frequently ask. The answers come from IMP's experience since 1989. How will this affect my child's chances of being accepted into the college of her/his choice?

As noted earlier, IMP students have been admitted to a wide variety of colleges and universities, including some of the most selective schools in the nation. More and more colleges are recognizing the importance of a broad high school mathematics education that goes beyond mastery of skills. They want students who can think and understand the world around them.

As college admissions departments receive applications from IMP students and learn about this program, they are recognizing the IMP curriculum as meeting college admissions standards.

Students themselves are seeing that what they did in traditional high school programs is often inadequate to meet the demands of higher education.

What about standardized tests such as the SAT?

In numerous studies throughout the country, IMP students have performed as well as or better than students in traditional programs on standardized tests, even though IMP students spend far less time on the algebra and geometry skills emphasized by these tests. With the time saved, IMP students learn topics such as statistics and matrix algebra that other students don't see until they reach college.

How do I help my child with homework or Problems of the Week?

Even though the mathematics in many homework assignments or Problems of the Week may be unfamiliar to parents, they can still help their children. General questions like "What do you know about that?" and "Can you find any examples?" will often help students when they are stuck. Many parents report that they themselves become very much engaged in their children's assignments and that dinner table conversation often involves the mathematics their children are studying.

Are IMP students able to take calculus in their senior year?

Some IMP students have successfully studied AP Calculus as seniors, just as some students do following three years of a traditional program that begins in the ninth grade. The IMP curriculum helps make this option available by embedding work with functions throughout the program and by introducing derivatives in Year 3. Some IMP students have successfully completed both IMP Year 4 and calculus as seniors.

Which is better for seniors - IMP Year 4 or precalculus?

Many teachers see IMP Year 4 as better preparation for college mathematics. With its focus on big problems, the fourth year of IMP is more varied than a precalculus course. IMP Year 4 includes topics such as circular functions, computer graphics, and statistical sampling, as well as a unit on families of functions and how they are used to solve problems.

Many colleges and universities are now offering a "reform" calculus class, in which the focus is on developing conceptual understanding and presenting problems in context. Most calculus classes now allow students to avail themselves of graphing calculator technology. These changes at the college level make IMP a natural preparation for calculus courses.

Is IMP rigorous enough for the top students?

Yes. This is a challenging curriculum for mathematically able students. Students are required to think, reason, and develop and apply mathematical models for real-world situations.

Some students who have been successful in a skills-based curriculum go through a period of adjustment. At first, these students may grumble because they are not given step-by-step instructions to follow. "Just tell me what to do and I'll do it" has been a successful strategy for many students in the past. Because they are good students and are committed to doing well in school, students who may complain at first do adapt and become just as successful with IMP as they were with a traditional curriculum.

Are top students held back by heterogeneous classes?

No, not when the majority of students in the class are on grade level and come to school ready to work. For Year 1, this generally means having a class most of whose students would otherwise have been enrolled in Algebra I or above. IMP teachers find that different students do well in different units. It is not necessarily the same students who excel nor the same students who struggle and have difficulties.

Since the curriculum is built around challenging and complex problems, everyone benefits from a diversity of approaches. As students work collaboratively, the thinking skills and problem-solving repertoire of the whole class are enhanced. And for the students who want additional challenges, the IMP curriculum includes a wide range of "extension" problems for each unit.

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