The Harwood Math Department: Changing Exponentially

Astrid Kahn, Student Writer


Remember being in fifth grade and spending the first half of class staring at XtraMath? Or having to keep track of that crazy area=½bh thing that was never explained by your fourth grade teacher?

This might sound a little like the math whiteboard outside the math lab, or maybe like a few days in math class. But in general, a pretty large and somewhat recent change aims to help with that. From completely remaking the old classes to working on adding a new class to the Harwood graduation requirements, there is a lot to know about the math department. Sarah Butler, department head, pushed a lot of the past changes, and Tara Kelley is leading the charge now.

A revolutionary new idea

Six years ago, Harwood taught math the same way as most other schools in the United States, with Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2, then electives. But Harwood switched to an Integrated Math program, a revolutionary idea that was brought up by Butler. Integrated Math meant that “students have some algebra every year, some geometry, and some statistics” said Butler. “You build on things every year, rather than having a year of algebra, and then doing something completely different.” This was new to many students and their parents because although it is more common in other countries, this is not the way math is taught in most of the United States. “It was a pretty big deal once we switched to the integrated curriculum, because the community wasn’t really sure what that meant, and what Integrated Math was all about. But now that we’ve had it for a few years, it feels more normalized,” Butler continued. 

But this is not the only recent change. The ability to take two math classes – one in school and one in an online class taught by Harwood teachers – has only been around since the start of the 2019-2020 school year. Students can finish the Integrated Math portion of the classes, then move onto electives or even college courses in the next two years. Having more time for electives was possible before, but it meant missing out on previous math classes.

“We had students doing high school math in eighth grade, or skipping a level of math. And that was fine for the first year. But then problems started to show up for most kids in upper level math class because they’re missing foundational skills,” said Butler. With the online classes, students can take Integrated Math 1 (IM1) online and IM2 in-person, or IM2 in-person and IM3 online. “We do have some criteria in place, mostly just to make sure that students are really ready for that challenge, because it is a lot of math and online requires a lot of independent work and independent problem solving since you’re not meeting with a class and a teacher,” Butler explained.

Coming up next

As for the current changes, the biggest of these involves the Personal Finance class, currently taught by Tara Kelley. It is an elective that is one semester and half of a math credit, but teachers are advocating for it to be a graduation requirement. The class covers behavioral economics, banking, checking and savings accounts, taxes, investing, credit, insurance, budgeting, and paying for college. These are all important skills to have, but they are taught in an elective class, so not even all students end up learning them. “Personal Finance did not only help me in ways other than just teaching me how to manage my money and invest. But it helped my parents, the information I acquired about creating a retirement plan. I used my knowledge that I learned from that class to go home and educate my mom and step dad on how they can start one so they don’t have to work till they are 85 years old,” said Iyah Lavit, a student who took Personal Finance last year.

Personal Finance does not assume that students will necessarily have any knowledge of the subjects talked about, so no background information is needed. As far as the math part of the class, it is mostly basic operations, equations, and graphs, all of which are learned in the Integrated Math classes.

“I think our job as a high school is to prepare students for the future,” said Kelley. “So we make sure that students have enough English classes that they’re going to be able to read and write proficiently, we give them math classes, so that they have background knowledge. We have Personal Wellness, because wellness is a lifelong adventure. We teach all the things that we think are super important, and then you get to Personal Finance, and we don’t have the requirement for it, even though it’s something that every student will end up having to make decisions about.”