In 2010, California adopted the Common Core State Standards, which is defined by the Common Core State Standards Initiative website as “a set of clear college- and career-ready standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts/literacy and mathematics.” Since then, California schools have been gradually molding their curriculum to reach the goals outlined by Common Core. For the 2016-2017 school year, the Poway Unified School District offered a new integrated math course throughout middle and high schools that reflects the new Common Core standards for mathematics.
“The integrated math course is a new kind of way of looking at mathematics where we don’t separate all of our topic into Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra 3-4,” MC math teacher Cody Jenkins said. “Instead, we do a lot of blending and the goal is to try to get students to think about mathematics from more of a problem-solving point of view, where they’re looking at different scenarios and thinking about the best ways to go about doing it.”
Previously, incoming freshmen had the option to choose between Algebra 1-2, Geometry, and Honors Algebra 3-4, depending on the level of mathematics they had reached upon completing middle school. Now, the options for freshmen are Integrated Mathematics 1A-1B, Geometry, Engineering Geometry, and Honors Algebra 3-4. The idea of the integrated math course is to erase the distinction of mathematical concepts into its previous labels including “algebra” or “geometry.”
“We don’t want them to just think about problems in terms of ‘oh, this is a geometry problem or this is an algebra problem,’” Jenkins said. “It’s all math and it all blends together and we use different ideas from different areas and pull them together all the time in real life, so why shouldn’t we do that in our school?”
For MC teachers, this change from the district-level invites a new challenge.
“After you teach [math] for a certain amount of time, you get really comfortable with it,” Jenkins said. “That’s not always a good thing because it doesn’t always challenge me as a teacher if I’m comfortable with it. This is a new challenge for all of us who are teaching integrated, and we haven’t been as excited about teaching as we are in quite some time.”
For MC students, the class requires an open approach to learning new concepts.
“The biggest challenge so far is teaching students that mastery over time is okay,” MC mathematics teacher Michael Engebrits said. “You do not become great at math overnight. It takes time and commitment to learn from one’s mistakes.”
The integrated math course offers a learning experience for both students and teachers, as it is the first time the course has been conducted in the classroom. Regardless, looking forward, teachers such as Jenkins are optimistic about the outcomes of the new integrated math curriculum.
“The kids have reacted very very well to it,” Jenkins said. “When we see them working in teams together, when we see them asking each other questions and really talking about math, that’s a really exciting thing for a teacher to see. I think in the future, it’s going to better prepare [students] for college mathematics and their careers. Nowhere in your career are you going to sit down and your boss is going to say ‘do numbers 1 through 35 odd and get back to me by the end of the day.’ Instead mathematics is approached by defining a problem by deciding the best course of action and then executing the problem solving strategies that they’ve learned in school. That kind of idea is hopefully going to better prepare them for college and careers going forward.”