Integrated Math

I recently served on a panel of education specialists from every type of schooling system available. After we had spoken to the group about public, private, charter, and home schooling, the panelists chatted with one another. I had indicated my disdain for the Common Core standards as well as “integrated math,” two of the worst ideas ever! I only had about 30 seconds to prove my point, not nearly enough time. So I’ve decided to use this blog post to discuss the hatred I have for “integrated math” (also called problem-based math, inquiry math, spiraled/distributed math, and 21st Century math).

Ask yourself what your child thinks of his/her math classes at school? Have you heard comments like:

  • We don’t have a math book, just a packet of problems.
  • My teacher never explains how to do the problems. She just tells us to ask a friend.
  • All we have to do is participate to get a good grade.
  • I spend all the time helping other students.

If your child has made any of these statements, you may be dealing with integrated math.

Don Warren, an engineer, recently spoke at the Educational Policy Conference on integrated math vs. the traditional methods of teaching math. So, just what is this integrated math? I think the best way to show you is to compare this method with the method of teaching traditional mathematics.

In integrated math, students are encouraged to “struggle” with their peers as they learn techniques that will work. They focus on abstract thinking and finding multiple ways to solve the problem. The class is “discussion oriented” and students are usually sitting at an oblong table so that they can see one another while they work together to solve problems. Students will inevitably have to work through several possibilities to find the correct answer, adding to the confusion of trying to learn. Practice is discouraged by only requiring that children work through 3-5 problems. There is little or no homework and no textbook, only a packet of problems that have apparently been magically designed to teach children all the math they will ever need to know. Assessments are given on a group basis and are determined by how well the group worked together and relied on each other.

That sounds so sweet (<insert eye rolling emoticon here>). Students will make such great friends as they struggle together through these problems and rely on one another to get the answers correct.

This probably sounds nothing like the method under which you learned math. As I recall, the teacher taught us how to do various problems step by step. If we had a good teacher, he/she also explained why you did those steps that way. I had a textbook with problems in it that I alone had to solve in order to earn my grade. If I were caught looking at another student’s paper, I would have been penalized. The problems were introduced in a very strategic order. I was never taught to subtract before I had learned to add, and I learned to multiply before I learned to divide, etc. Each night I had 15-25 problems to complete. My grade was my grade. No one gave it to me, it was earned. It had nothing to do with how well or poorly the other students in my class were doing. This is how math is traditionally taught.

Why do progressives think that “integrated math” is such a great idea? They say it is “uniquely personal” and that students will “take ownership” of what they learn. It relies on experiences students have and since those students work together, everyone will improve in math. While those are bad enough (and the stupidest thing I’ve heard recently), the progressives also believe that competition and individualism is detrimental to the students and our society.

Really?

According to the Everybody Counts Report by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, “Competition and individualism, ingrained parts of traditional American culture, are reflected in typical mathematical courses where students work alone to solve set problems… To the extent that mathematics instruction in the United States continues to stress individualism and competition over cooperation and teamwork, to that extent we continue to introduce unnecessary counterproductive practices for many in our multicultural nation.”

This method of teaching math is about far more than a new means to teach math. Students who learn under this method will sadly be under the impression that they have good math skills. This will be problematic when they get their first job as a cashier and can’t make change unless the computer is working. It will be problematic when they are responsible for their own bank accounts and have to pay bills and balance a check book each month. And it will be problematic the first time they try to get into a good college. Georgia has used this method of teaching “integrated math” in their schools for the last five years. When they realized that the number of graduates who were being accepted into college was declining rapidly, they repealed this method! Unfortunately (in a clear example of stupid people repeating history) other states, such as TN, are adopting this method.

Look at the fallacies in the progressive argument. Students are supposed to “take ownership” of what they learn in this method. Have you ever learned anything in your whole life in which you didn’t “take ownership?” You learned something and then you either used it or decided you didn’t need it and have forgotten it. The idea of every student achieving more when they work as groups assumes that every piece of information in one student’s brain is stored in another student’s brain as well. Progressives are under the impression that when we work in groups, we all have the same experiences and learn the same things as everyone else in the group does. If we know that three people can all watch the same exact car accident from the same angle, yet will all testify differently when in trial, then how can it be assumed that we will all have the same learning experience in any given setting?

Watch out for this latest method of “new math” to be in a school near you soon. And if it’s not, make sure you are fighting to keep it that way.

Temerity Dowell

(I would like to thank Don Warren, an engineering consultant from St. Louis, for his wonderful presentation at the EPC event last month and for sharing his many notes on this subject. Don is a homeschooling dad!)

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