Article Summary

The Consequences of a Problem-Based Mathematics Curriculum    PDF

2004, Vol. 14, No. 2, 7-16

Implementation of a problem-based mathematics curriculum, the Interactive Mathematics Program (IMP), at three high schools in California has been associated with more than just differences in student achievement. The outcomes that distinguished students who participated in the IMP program from students who followed a conventional algebra/geometry syllabus were the students’ perceptions of the discipline of mathematics, of mathematical activity and the origins of mathematical ideas, of the mathematical nature of everyday activities, and of school mathematics and themselves as mathematicians. A coherent and consistent picture has emerged of the set of beliefs, perceptions and performances arising from such a program. Students who have participated in the IMP program appear to be more confident than their peers in conventional classes; to subscribe to a view of mathematics as having arisen to meet the needs of society, rather than as a set of arbitrary rules; to value communication in mathematics learning more highly than students in conventional classes; and to be more likely than their conventionally-taught peers to see a mathematical element in everyday activity. These outcomes occurred while the IMP students maintained performance levels on the mathematics portion of the SAT at or above those of their peers in conventional classes. If student achievement outcomes are comparable, the mathematics education community must decide whether it values these consequences of a problem-based curriculum.

The cooperation of the teachers whose pupils participated in this study is gratefully acknowledged. The comments of Barry McCrae, Kevin Olssen, Diane Resek and Peter Sullivan on early drafts of this paper are also gratefully acknowledged.

About the Authors:
David Clarke is a Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Melbourne and Director of the International Centre for Classroom Research. He is currently directing the 14-country Learner's Perspective Study.
Margarita Breed is currently a fulltime Ph. D. student funded under the APAI (Australian Postgraduate Award Industry) Scheme for the Scaffolding Numeracy in the Middle Years Research Project at RMIT University. Her background has been in primary teaching and as a Middle Years Numeracy Leader for Eastern Metropolitan Region and she is particularly dedicated to students in the Middle Years. Whilst completing her Master of Education (Research) she was Research Assistant for the Mathematics Teaching and Learning Centre at the Australian Catholic University.
Sherry Fraser is currently the Director of the IMPlementation Center for the Interactive Mathematics Program. She continues to be interested in providing both students and teachers access to rich secondary mathematics materials.

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