Website review by Emily Pohlonski, Common Sense Education | Updated May 2020

Illustrative Mathematics

Comprehensive 6–12 curriculum highlighting math discourse

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Grades
6–12
Subjects & Skills
Math, Critical Thinking

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Pros: Tasks encourage rich discussions about math concepts.

Cons: Student-tracking tools and simulations are available only through certified partners, and kids probably won't be excited by the textbook-style interface.

Bottom Line: Free Common Core math curriculum emphasizes classroom discussion.

Illustrative Mathematics can be a powerful tool to help teachers elevate their practice. Teachers can use Illustrative Mathematics as a free digital textbook for their students. Without the additional teacher dashboard tools provided by the certified partners, teachers will have to create their own ways of tracking student progress. For teachers who already have a different student textbook, dig around until you find the free tasks organized by content standard. These are great prompts to start math discussions around real-world examples.

Use the glossary within the lessons to make sure students know the terms necessary to get started. And if you don't want to use the lessons wholesale, you can use the warm-up activity, the synthesis section, or the cool-down to augment your own materials. There are also family resources, lessons in Spanish, and advice around teaching students with learning differences that might enhance instruction.

 

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On its own, Illustrative Mathematics could serve as an online math textbook. Common Core-aligned curriculum is available for 68th grade math along with HS Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra II. The resources are free, allowing teachers to access the units and problem sets.  This basic curriculum does not include all assessments, online simulations, or a teacher dashboard.

Illustrative Mathematics has three different certified partners: McGraw Hill, Kendall Hunt, and LearnZillion.  LearnZillion has added online simulations utilizing Geogebra and Desmos. Kendall Hunt has the exact same content as the regular Illustrative Mathematics website but it also has assessments that teachers can access. Teachers have to register with Kendall Hunt, using their school email address, to access assessments and answer keys. McGraw Hill's version of the curriculum includes automatic scoring of student practice, and classroom performance reporting.

Editor's Update: Illustrative Mathematics now covers grades K-12.

From a student perspective, the Illustrative Mathematics website isn't exciting or inviting. However, it does provide teachers with models of quality math instruction. Illustrative Mathematics clearly identifies instructional routines for teachers, including "Algebra Talk," "Think-Pair-Share," and "Which One Doesn't Belong?"

It's created tasks that encourage math discussion and application that goes beyond rote memorization and drills. For instance, in the task "Mangos for Sale," a problem is posed along with two possible student explanations. This is followed by a teacher-facing commentary outlining why it's important to surface both perspectives in conversations about ratios. Using the curriculum to its full potential will definitely take some time, as navigating the site can be confusing -- especially in light of the multiple partners -- and the many layers of the curriculum could be intimidating. Simplifying the experience for busy teachers would be helpful. Also, kids will likely see the free version as just an online textbook, which could hamper motivation. However, while kids may see a standard set of math problems, teachers can use Illustrative Mathematics to build rich classroom experiences if they are willing to put in the time. 

 

 
Overall Rating

Engagement

The materials are certainly rigorous, but the presentation probably won't excite or motivate kids.

Pedagogy

Instructional routines help students to collaborate and build communication skills, and tasks target the eight Standards for Mathematical Practice.

Support

Data and reporting tools are available only through outside partners. Professional development and sample videos provide coaching for teachers.


Common Sense reviewer
Emily Pohlonski Classroom teacher

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Featured review by
Ashley M. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Terrible for a main Curriculum. Great for extentions.
I do no recommend IM as a main curriculum. This curriculum does not reach all learning styles. Many of my students that are not visual or manipulative learns quit before they even get the opportunity to try. We used it in or district for three years our test scores went down and when we vertically planned with high school teachers they talked about large learning gaps and not doing well with high school standards.
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