The University of Chicago School Mathematics Project (UCSMP) was founded in 1983 with the aim of upgrading and updating mathematics education in elementary and secondary schools throughout the United States. Since its inception it has been the largest university-based mathematics curriculum project in the United States.
UCSMP believes that, with the information explosion and advances in technology, society today demands not just basic computation skills but a more sophisticated understanding of mathematics. It seeks to raise the level of mathematics taught to students, bringing their performance in mathematics to standards as high as any in the world.
In line with its reform ideas, UCSMP has created a curriculum for students from pre-kindergarten all the way through 12th grade. UCSMP materials, including Everyday Mathematics for Grades preK-6 and seven UCSMP textbooks for use in Grades 6-12 mathematics (Pre-Transition Mathematics; Transition Mathematics; Algebra; Geometry; Advanced Algebra; Functions, Statistics, and Trigonometry; and Precalculus and Discrete Mathematics), are being used currently by an estimated 4.5 million students in elementary and secondary schools in every state and virtually every major urban area.
These educational materials bring the real world into the classroom. They emphasize reading, problem-solving, everyday applications, and the use of calculators, computers, and other technologies. Unnecessary repetition and review are eliminated, so that by the end of high school, the diligent average student can learn mathematics once reserved only for honors students.
UCSMP extensively evaluates all its materials using the latest in qualitative and quantitative methods. Its studies indicate that UCSMP students significantly outperform their peers on the broader range of content covered in the UCSMP curriculum, while holding their own on traditional content.
Upgrading the School Mathematics Experience for the Average Student
At UCSMP, we believe strongly that even the best curricula of a short time ago are not adequate for today’s youth. The information explosion and advances in technology have widened the scope and multiplied the importance of applied mathematics and have given us extraordinarily powerful tools for solving applied problems. More and more, mathematical ideas are critical to the activities and well-being of the average citizen.
Improving the current situation requires effort at all levels from pre-kindergarten through college. The typical first-grade student today can expect to work well into the second half of the 21st century. Yet in many American schools, this student still encounters a variant of the elementary school mathematics curriculum designed in the 19th century. The secondary curriculum in many schools is likewise out of date, with almost all of its content oriented towards calculus, ignoring the majority of students who either will not take calculus or require preparation for other college mathematics as well. The content needs to be changed to deal with the large percent of students taking college-preparatory high school mathematics who, twenty years ago, would have been sorted out of these courses. At all levels, curricula need to be modified to take advantage of today’s widely available technology.
UCSMP is pleased to note that the Common Core State Standards adopted many of the principles that have been a hallmark of UCSMP materials. The eight mathematical practices in the Common Core can be found throughout current and previous editions of UCSMP materials. The content standards, including “newer” topics such as statistics, algebra in the middle school, and geometric transformations, have long been important aspects of UCSMP materials. The UCSMP approach to understanding mathematical ideas, which includes the importance of grounding work on mathematical properties, the ability to know when and how to apply the concept, and concrete and graphical representations, is found throughout the Common Core. While at times the historical UCSMP grade placement of content differs from that in the Common Core, the Common Core edition of Everyday Mathematics takes care of these differences for grades K-6 and specially-written lessons for each of the UCSMP texts for grades 6-12 enables teachers to cover all of the Common Core standards at each grade level.
The Real World and the Mathematics Curriculum
UCSMP materials view and teach mathematics as a tool for life. Elementary-level materials explain how teachers can integrate mathematics with other subjects, helping teachers seize opportunities for thinking mathematically throughout the school day. And at the secondary level, applications abound. The reading in lessons highlights these applications and introduces students to the history and cultural presence of mathematics.
The real world affects process as well as content. In some traditional classrooms, students learn one way to do a problem and are prohibited from using the tools that might make solving it easier. On the job, the opposite occurs: the goal is to be flexible, to consider many ways to accomplish a task, and to use the best tools available. For this reason, UCSMP is committed to using calculator and computer technology.
Committed to Learning from Others and from Experience with UCSMP
From its inception, UCSMP has scoured the world for the best ideas available. By examining materials from English-speaking and Western European countries, and by surveying and translating materials from Eastern Europe and Japan, UCSMP has broadened its perspective regarding what can be done in the classroom. This work raises the proficiency levels we think students can achieve, for it is clear that foreign educators (and parents) work from the premise that mathematical success is based more on opportunity to learn, interest, and diligence than on ability, and that the abilities of most students do not differ enough to warrant a different curriculum. Some of the UCSMP translations are available directly from the project; others from the American Mathematical Society and National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Evaluation has been integral to UCSMP from the start, providing a regular source of feedback. UCSMP materials at all levels are among the most-tested materials available and the preponderance of evidence shows that students using UCSMP materials outperform comparable students using traditional materials. UCSMP materials have received the highest ratings among similar programs from independent evaluators at the US Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse. In 2010, Everyday Mathematics became the only comprehensive elementary mathematics program to be designated as having “potentially positive effects” by the What Works Clearinghouse—with the highest rating of any such program. In 2011, the What Works Clearinghouse designated the UCSMP materials for Grades 6-12 as having “potentially positive effects,” awarding UCSMP materials the highest rating of all comprehensive 6-12 materials reviewed.
UCSMP has also engaged in a wide range of other activities, including the development of training materials for both elementary and secondary school teachers, and the translation of textbooks and educational literature from foreign countries such as the Soviet Union and Japan. UCSMP has sponsored four international conferences on mathematics education, with published proceedings representing the best thinking of the mathematics education community worldwide. UCSMP has also organized two other international conferences for the University of Chicago as a part of the multi-institution Center for the Study of Mathematics Curriculum.
How Far Have We Come?
It was never UCSMP’s goal to create a national curriculum. No project should aim for such a goal. We need a diversity of ideas to enable us to improve what we do. Furthermore, the work of everyone involved in schooling is required to implement change on the necessary scale. Our goal continues to be the stimulation of thinking and the creation of exemplary models and materials to improve school mathematics in grades Pre-K–12.
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