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Japanese Mathematics Instructional Model and Implications for Science Instruction

author: Gerard F. Conseguera, Ramon Lopez
submitter: Science Connections Project
description: The TIMSS report suggests an effective instructional model for Grade 8 Mathematics. Elements of that model can be used to enhance science instruction in U.S. schools.
published: 01/17/1998
posted to site: 01/17/1998

Japanese Mathematics Instructional Model and Implications for Science Instruction

Gerard F. Consuegra and Ramon Lopez, Co-Principal Investigators, Science Connections, NSF LSC Project

(Note: Some text was taken directly from Understanding and Improving Classroom Mathematics Instruction: An Overview of the TIMSS Video Study. J. W. Stigler & J Hiebert)

The TIMSS report includes a detailed analysis and comparison of Grade 8 mathematics teaching in Germany, Japan, and the United States. Since efforts to improve student learning succeed or fail inside the classroom, considering typcial instructional approaches can be a key component of systemic change. Understanding the process of leading effective classroom instruction will contribute to improving instruction by all teachers.

Critical analyses of instruction in these three countries revealed Grade 8 mathematics instruction differs significantly between Japan and the United States. Among the differences, Japanese teachers emphasize thinking where as German and U.S. teachers emphasize skills. Japanese instruction typically requires students to develop methods themselves. Furthermore, Japanese teachers give students time to struggle with challenging problems and follow-up with direct explanations and summaries of what students learned.

Typical Japanese Mathematics Instruction

  • Teacher poses a complex problem
  • Students struggle with the problem
  • Students present ideas
  • Class discussion
  • Teacher summarizes key student conclusions and presents alternate solutions
  • Students work on similar problems
  • Teacher summarizes major point of the day
The Japanese mathematics instructional approach appears similar to instructional reform movements and reflect key ideas in constructivist-based learning. Japanese teachers focus on high-level mathematics, focus on thinking and problem solving, and emphasize student derivation of alternate solutions and explaining their thinking. Given the high mathematics performance of Japanese students, one might conclude that U.S. teachers should teach more like their Japanese counterparts. However, considering the cultural settings and pressures, making direct changes may not be justified. Making modifications and enhancements based on what can be gleaned seem reasonable and meritorous.

Improving teaching can be accomplished by studying various approaches and considering features that can be addressed. In that context, we might consider modifications to our teaching and specific enhancements for science instruction.

During the NSF sponsored Principal Investigator/Lead Evaluator Annual Meeting of Local Systemic Change projects (January 15-17, 1998), the Typical Japanese Mathematics Instructional cycle was presented and discussed. Maryellen Harmon, Boston Univeristy, suggested ways of modifying science instruction based on the Japanese model. That model is shown below with enhancements by Consuegra and Lopez.

Suggested Science Instructional Model

  • Teacher and students discuss preconceptions
  • Teachers poses task
  • Student groups plan investigation to address/solve task
  • Student groups field test investigation and discover problems with design or additional information that is needed
  • Student groups rework design, get more information, or get direct instruction from teacher
  • Student groups conduct investigation and collect data
  • Student groups make their own sense of the data and draw their own conclusions
  • Student groups present and support with evidence