Campus: San Francisco State University -- October 6, 1999

Innovative High School Math Program Created at SFSU Honored by U.S. Department of Education

Independent research shows that students who participate in the Interactive Mathematics Program (IMP) tend to have higher GPAs, perform better on SATs and outperform their peers.

A groundbreaking high school mathematics program developed by two San Francisco State University professors has been named one of the nation's top five "exemplary" mathematics programs by the U.S. Department of Education. During a ceremony tomorrow, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education C. Kent McGuire will present the awards at the 1999 Regional Conference on Improving America's Schools.

"We are delighted with this honor, which recognizes the effectiveness of the Interactive Math Program's problem-based approach to learning mathematics," said SFSU math professor Dan Fendel, who developed the program with fellow SFSU professor Diane Resek and co-developers Lynne Alper and Sherry Fraser of Sonoma State University. "Data shows that IMP students can achieve a real understanding of math concepts and how to use them while still mastering the skills they need."

The top five programs in the nation were chosen by a panel of outside experts on mathematics and science education. Out of more than 60 programs nationwide, five were selected as "promising" and five as "exemplary." Selection criteria included the clarity of a program's learning goals, the quality of its content and its impact on student learning.

The 10-year-old Interactive Mathematics Program (IMP) uses an integrated, problem-based approach to teach such traditional curriculum linchpins as algebra, geometry, and trigonometry, plus previously neglected subjects like probability and statistics. The IMP has served hundreds of thousands of students nationwide from all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

According to Norman Webb of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, IMP students tend to have higher grade point averages and perform as well as or better on the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) and other standardized tests than students in traditional math classes. In a 1996 study, Webb found that IMP students demonstrated particular proficiency in statistics, problem solving, and quantitative reasoning. IMP students scored twice as high as a matched group of algebra students on a quantitative reasoning test, and tenth-grade IMP students also out-performed a matched group of geometry students in a test of problem-solving skills.

According to Resek and Fendel, IMP students also tend to continue their math education longer than those enrolled in traditional skill-based courses. "Students in traditional programs, for the most part, stop taking mathematics as soon as they can," said Resek.

Resembling the inquiry method of scientists, the IMP demands a more active role from students and teachers alike. Students are challenged to search for patterns and connections among mathematical ideas, and to state and test their own ideas. In-class activities and homework assignments go beyond finding the numerical solution to a problem; students must often describe and explain orally or in writing how they obtained the answer and why it is correct. Teachers, too, must delve deeper into familiar material and present it in a more interactive way.

"Most American classrooms have teachers in front of a chalkboard reciting exercises. We wanted to create a different classroom culture where teachers listen and students interact," said Fendel.

From its inception in 1989, the IMP aimed to include a broad cross-section of students and avoided focusing solely on remedial or advanced-level content. Three Bay Area high schools with diverse student bodies provided the initial pool of IMP students, and a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation in 1992 allowed the program to expand.

IMP courses now take place in more than 100 California high schools and in a total of 350 schools in 21 states. High schools in Denver, Honolulu, Minneapolis, New York City, Philadelphia and Phoenix have adopted the program, as have schools in suburban and rural communities. Curriculum materials have been translated into Spanish, French and Hawaiian. The program operates from an office in Sausalito, California and has 11 regional centers around the country.

For more information: Visit the IMP website at: Contact Dan Fendel at (415) 338-1805, and Diane Resek at (415) 338-2071. Alper and Fraser can be reached at: (415)332-3328.

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