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Integrate to Make Whole?

dialoguesJohnny W. Lott, Editor
For the Editorial Panel
January 2001
 

In this country, integrated mathematics has become the mantra of many school-reform programs. As such, it has either been viewed as the savior of the curriculum or has been vilified. As Hugh Burkhardt so eloquently writes in his essay, only in the United States is teaching integrated mathematics an issue. The fact that it has become an issue in the United States in the last decade is somewhat puzzling because its seeds were planted nearly a century ago.

As early as 1902, E. H. Moore, in his outgoing presidential address to the American Mathematical Society, called for integrating school mathematical topics. As Richbart indicates, New York has had a successful integrated mathematics curriculum for more than 25 years. Miller shows that integrated mathematics is commonplace in Canada. Berlin points out that integrated mathematics is well accepted in middle schools throughout the world. With the United States having low scores in the TIMSS tests and with people questioning the programs that served as a basis for that study, the Editorial Panel of Dialogues decided to present views on integrated mathematics to begin a discussion that is based on fact and not on soapbox rhetoric.

As late as 1991, the National Science Foundation funded several major projects in the United States to provide models for integrated mathematics curricula. Because teaching integrated mathematics has often become interwoven with cooperative learning, the use of technology, alternative assessments, the "teacher as a guide," and tampering with sacrosanct curriculum, it has become the epicenter of what is known as the "math wars." A lack of knowledge of new content and different pedagogy have become principal negatives for many schools that are considering adopting an integrated mathematics program. Many critics of integrated mathematics point out that few current teachers are prepared to handle the curriculum; as a result, many teach what has come to be called fuzzy mathematics.

In this issue of Dialogues, you will read essays from both proponents and critics of integrated mathematics. As you read, you may struggle with what the term means. Know that it can have different meanings at different grade levels. In the lower grades, integrated mathematics may bring to mind thematic units or a mixture of disciplines. In the middle grades, cross-disciplinary studies may continue, or the curriculum may involve a mixture of mathematics topics from different fields. At the secondary level, integrated mathematics is often defined as a blend of mathematical concepts chosen from a wide variety of mathematical fields and emphasizing relationships among the concepts within mathematics, as well as between mathematics and other disciplines. As such, integrated mathematics is frequently presented through problems chosen in context. With these understandings, the Panel hopes that you will engage in the discussion. We invite you to send your comments for possible posting on the monitored Web site.

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