Integrated math: More jumping, less learning

You’ll never find me in a math course in college. I never even took the placement test before heading off to school last year, because I’m dead set on avoiding math at all costs.

In middle school, I was more confident about math than I was about any other subject. But something changed in high school. I was part of the second graduating class of students to go through the high school integrated math curriculum.

Instead of taking the “traditional” algebra and geometry courses, we took Math I, Math II, Math III and Math IV, or an “accelerated” version of the same content. Our class sequence incorporated ideas from algebra, geometry and statistics each year instead of separating this content into distinct courses.

Integrated math sounds great, at least in theory. Real-world applications of math concepts don’t solely require “Algebra I” skills or “Sophomore Geometry” knowledge. Math concepts intersect in complex ways, and it makes sense that students should learn by drawing connections between them.

In practice, however, our integrated math curriculum didn’t seem logical or helpful. Though the units were supposed to build on each other, they often seemed to jump around aimlessly. This illogical sequencing often led to wasted time.

Each year, we’d spend a unit or two on statistics and probability. Instead of progressing with new information, we spent much of our time reviewing the concepts we’d forgotten since our last unit on statistics the previous school year. This seemed to happen with each new unit we moved to.

In 2011, school districts in Georgia were granted a choice: They could either stick to the math sequence they’d begun just three years prior, or return to the more “traditional” approach. Despite widespread dissatisfaction, many decided to stick with the integrated approach, because a new Common Core math curriculum would be implemented in the fall of 2012 that meant another change.

Last year’s freshman were the first to begin the Common Core sequence of coordinate algebra, analytic geometry and advanced algebra for their first three years of high school. (Freshman not taking these classes had already begun the previous high school math curriculum during middle school on an accelerated or advanced track.)

Coordinate algebra, analytic geometry and advanced algebra are described as “discrete with connections.” They aren’t “integrated” courses, but they also don’t separate content from algebra, geometry and statistics when it logically connects.

This new sequence seems to me like a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t address demands for the state to return to the traditional approach in teaching math.

To silence critics, this math curriculum must actually work.

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Clare Lombardo of Decatur is a rising sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania.