Archived Information

Tried and True: September 1997--The information in this publication was current as of September 1997, and has not been updated since. Some services described in the publication may no longer be available.
[Instructional Content and Practice]

Comprehensive School Mathematics Program (CSMP)

Kindergarten Through Sixth Grade Mathematics Focusing
on Problem Solving and Concept Development

Developed and tested by
the Mid-continent Regional
Education Laboratory (McREL)

What is the idea behind CSMP?

The primary goal of the Comprehensive School Mathematics Program is to provide a complete kindergarten through sixth grade mathematics program which develops a broad and balanced range of skills regardless of students' ability levels--a program that will actively involve students in the world of mathematics, not simply drill them in the techniques of arithmetic. As a result, students will be able to understand the content and applications, develop techniques for learning them, and use their mathematics to solve problems.

Among the basic principles that guided developers were the following:

One of the manifestations of these convictions in the construction of the CSMP curriculum is the spiral approach. The content is completely sequenced in spiral form so that a student is brought into contact with each area of content continuously throughout the program. This approach consciously precludes atomizing the content and mastering each bit before continuing to the next. Students work through repeated exposures to the content, building interlocking experiences of increasing sophistication.

The content is learned in an atmosphere of constant connections with applications, from simple story situations to challenging applications to nontrivial simulations of real world problems. The emphasis at all times is on a two-level approach to learning: understanding and learningłunderstanding the content itself and its applications, and equally important, developing the techniques and processes of learning the content. It is the latter form of knowledge that gives power to apply the former.

To this end, the content is presented as an extension of experiences children have encountered in their development, both at the real-life and fantasy levels. Using a "pedagogy of situations," students are led through sequences of problem-solving experiences presented in game-like and story settings. Powerful non-verbal "languages," such as strings, arrows, and the Papy Minicomputer, allow students immediate access to the mathematical ideas and methods necessary not only for solving these problems, but also for continually expanding their understanding of the mathematical concepts themselves.

Tools and manipulatives such as the calculator, various geometry tools, random devices, various kinds of blocks, counters, and tiles are used extensively throughout the curriculum to pose problems, explore concepts, develop skills, and define new ideas.

What does research say about how this idea can help teaching and learning?

This program addresses the needs faced by mathematic teachers as discussed in reports by many national groups, including the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the National Science Board, and the National Assessment of Educational Progress. These reports consistently stress several things:

How was this program tested?

At each grade level, a 5-year research and classroom-based development, evaluation, and revision cycle was followed, on a staggered basis. As the program was developed, piloted, and revised, both content and pedagogy were modified to reflect classroom experiences.

Year 1. Instructional materials were planned and taught by CSMP staff to heterogeneous public and parochial school classes. This experience led to a Local Pilot Test version of the materials.

Year 2. The Local Pilot Test materials were used by about 10 regular classroom teachers in St. Louis area schools. CSMP staff observed the classes and revised the materials, producing an Extended Pilot Trial version.

Years 3 and 4. The Extended Pilot Trial version was used for 2 years in a national network of cooperating schools. Extensive evaluation data, including comparisons of CSMP and non-CSMP classes, were collected.

Year 5. Revisions based on Local and Extended Pilot Test data resulted in the versions of materials that were then readied for publication.

An extensive evaluation dealing with many aspects of CSMP usage was conducted. This work led to the publication of many formal evaluation reports (about 60 volumes). Copies of evaluation reports and summaries of evaluation data are available.

Three primary claims can be made for CSMP:

  1. CSMP improves students' ability to use the mathematics they have learned in new problem-solving situations involving estimation, mental arithmetic, representations of numbers, number patterns and relationships, word problems and producing multiple answers, prediction, and algebraic thinking.

  2. CSMP students show a higher level of enthusiasm and interest in math than do comparable students in more traditional programs.

  3. CSMP students perform in traditional computation skills as well as comparable non-CSMP students.

In the past several years, McREL has conducted further development activities to update, enhance, and extend CSMP to its current CSMP/21 edition. In doing this work, the developers surveyed all CSMP sites and worked closely with teachers in Colorado sites to address classroom needs for mathematics curricula. Close attention was given to ensuring that the program aligned with both national and state standards for school mathematics.

What communities and states are using this program?

CSMP is presently in use in classrooms, buildings, or districts in over 35 states across the country.

What is involved in using this program in my school and community?

The program is to be taught by the regular classroom teacher in a regular classroom. No other personnel or facilities are required. Depending on the grade level of implementation, between 6 and 30 hours of training are recommended.

Materials consist of both nonconsumable items, which last about 5 years, and consumable items that may need to be replaced each year. There are no special equipment costs.

To implement this program effectively, a school or district should appoint a CSMP coordinator (normally the district mathematics supervisor) and agree on an implementation plan that provides for the training of teachers, the evaluation of the program, technical assistance, and support services.

Costs associated with implementing this program vary, depending on the components of the program being used.


Clare Heidema
2550 S. Parker Road, Suite 500
Aurora, CO 80014-1678
Phone: (303) 743-5520
Fax: (303) 337-3005

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