The Bradley County Schools system will soon be changing how its high school students learn math.
Beginning this fall, students will be taking new courses that will combine the mathematical disciplines of algebra and geometry instead of separate ones for each type of math.
Dan Glasscock, the system’s supervisor of secondary education, and Amber Caldwell, mathematics coordinator, spoke to concerned parents and teachers about the changes Thu-rsday night at Bradley Central High School.
“We are not taking anything away from what is required,” Caldwell said. “We’re taking a different appr-oach.”
Currently, a student at Bradley Central or Walker Valley High School will take the Algebra I course during their freshman year, geometry during their sophomore year and Algebra II during the junior year. Students also take another math class of their choosing during their senior year.
That order of things can create problems for students because they are taking breaks from certain math disciplines to study others, Caldwell said.
Glasscock explained the Tennessee Department of Education allows public school systems to choose between two math curriculum sequences — one that is the “traditional program” Bradley County schools have now, and one like the “integrated math” sequence to be put in place this fall.
This fall, students will take both algebra and geometry in the same classes during their freshman, sophomore and junior years of high school. The new courses will be called Integrated Math I, II and III.
Caldwell said this means teachers will be able to divide all the required curriculum standards for each math discipline into three courses instead of cramming them each into one subject-specific course.
This decision was something she said local teachers and principals supported after the idea was presented to them earlier in the current school year.
Walker Valley Principal Danny Coggin was in attendance and said he supported the change in how students will be learning math.
“I look at it as a continuation of learning,” he said. “Everything has been taught in batches.”
Caldwell said the teachers she spoke to thought the change was “best for the kids.” One reason she cited for the belief had to do with how the current math curriculum schedule lines up with when students typically take the ACT college entrance exam.
Under the current schedule, seniors taking the test have not had instruction in geometry since their sophomore year. Caldwell said this means students have to do a lot of reviewing to prepare for the test because approximately 45 percent of the questions on the test’s math section have to do with geometry.
In order to move all students to the new math curriculum sequence, the Bradley County school system has come up with a “transition plan.”
This fall, incoming high school freshman will take the new Integrated Math I course. Sophomores will take the Integrated Math II course after having already taken Algebra I. Juniors will continue with the schedule that they are on now by taking Algebra II. Seniors will still take elective math courses.
“In two years, we will be integrated with all three levels,” Caldwell said.
While the new schedule of things could be difficult for a student transferring into the system from a different one, she said the school system will also be working on developing a program to help transfer students get up to speed.
One thing Caldwell noted is the new courses will not use new textbooks. In fact, she said the system will not be getting new textbooks until after the 2014-15 school year starts, when further implementation of Common Core state standards is set to take place. However, teachers have already been teaching without current textbooks.
“There were no textbooks this year aligned to the standards,” Caldwell said.
This fall, teachers and students will be using a website that provides math curricula available to students to read online and print if necessary. Materials on the site include worksheets that teachers can assign as homework and videos that explain each unit.
The site, called the Mathematics Vision Project, is free to use, and anyone can have access to it. The only cost to the school system would be the purchase of teacher answer keys, Caldwell said.
Over the summer, Caldwell and two teachers from each of the high schools will travel to Washington, D.C., where the company which makes the curriculum is based, for training. They will then teach other teachers.
During the question-and-answer portion of the meeting, one parent asked how the new curriculum would impact students who are part of honors programs like Bradley Central’s Cambridge program. Caldwell said the schools will offer honors-level integrated math courses.
In response to a question about what the school system hoped to accomplish with the change, Glasscock said the hope was to make sure students have enough knowledge of various math disciplines to do well on their ACTs and begin college. He said unlike schools at lower levels, local high schools have been putting the disciplines “in silos,” separate from each other.
“It [the change] makes sense when you think about it [in terms of] what they do in elementary and middle school,” Glasscock said.
Another orientation meeting is set to take place in May at Walker Valley High School, though the exact time and date have not yet been determined. For more information about the new county high school math curriculum, visit www.mathematicsvisionproject.org.