Rigor in Math Education

The Illustrative Mathematics curriculum is providing a rigorous platform for students to engage in a mathematical community.

By Anna Blakeslee, Lower School Math Specialist

In the education world, we use the word rigor to describe how we want students to engage in learning and the tasks that we know will cement knowledge and strategies. A common definition of rigor is a challenge that is inflexible, hard to endure, and stern. In the education world, the definition differs in some significant ways. In the words of Kenny Nguyen, Upper School Mathematics Teacher, Department Chair, and PS - 12 Academic Leader:

“…we are trying to change the definition of rigor to being able to conceptually understand why mathematics works, to be an active participant in doing mathematics (not a casual observer whose job is to passively take in mathematics and practice procedures the way that they were taught) and developing flexible problem-solving strategies that can be used for a large variety of problems. That being said, we do want our students to be able to be fluent in concepts and procedures (albeit procedures where they now understand the meaning behind them)...”

Rigor still represents challenge, but we are challenging students to be problem solvers, be flexible in their thinking, and to understand mathematics from different points of view. Mathematics is all about patterns and we want students to see multiple patterns in the task we present them with. We don’t want students to have just one way to do a problem. We want them to see the problem, understand it, and pick the strategy that is most efficient to solve the problem. The strategy might not always be the most obvious, advanced, or quickest way to solve, it may not even need much calculation.

Catlin Gabel Beginning and Lower School is in our second year of using Illustrative Mathematics as our math curriculum. We believe that this curriculum provides a rigorous platform for students to engage in a mathematical community. We understand that it is a shift not only in curriculum, but in how we learn and practice mathematics.