Motivational Qualities of Instructional Strategies and Computer Use for Mathematics Teaching in Japan and the United States: Results from the TIMSS 1999 Assessment

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There is considerable interest in instructional practices and mathematics achievement for students in Asia. Recent assessments have indicated that students in several Asian countries, such as Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, and Singapore, have tended to score above international averages (Kelly, Mullis, & Martin, 2000; Mullis, Martin, Gonzalez, Gregory, Garden, O'Connor, Chrostowski, & Smith, 2000). In order to explore possible explanations for these achievement differences, an international study has been conducted to examine cultural factors such as mathematics curriculum and content, student characteristics and learning styles, mathematical goals, and instructional practices (International Commission on Mathematical Instruction, 2000). Leung (2001) has considered East Asian approaches to mathematics and suggested that Asian students have been encouraged to use memorization as part of the learning process, have been expected to understand that success is dependent upon hard work and studying, and that Eastern cultural values tend to result in whole-class teaching and learning. Geist (2000) identified seven characteristics of mathematicians and found that instruction in Japan focused on learning concepts and developing multiple solutions for problems. Further, observations of classrooms in Japan indicated that students engaged in problem solving activities first, followed by explanation by the teacher, and then reflection by students about their problem solving efforts (Whitman, Nohda, & Lai, 1997). It has been noted that elementary-school students in Japan spend extensive time on single problems in order to produce multiple solutions and to reflect on the learning that has occurred (Sawada, 1999). Similarly, teachers in Japanese schools provided students with more extended explanations in their mathematics classrooms (Perry, 2000). Finally, comparisons from the initial TIMSS assessment indicated that eighth-grade mathematics instruction in Japan covered fewer topics, but in greater detail, than was the case in United States mathematics classrooms (National Research Council, 1999). These findings indicate that there are cultural differences in expectations for student achievement in mathematics and in classroom practices and instructional strategies.

The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) represents the most comprehensive international assessment of educational contexts and student achievement yet conducted (Schmidt & Cogan, 1996). Several studies have examined data from the TIMSS assessment to identify instructional practices associated with student achievement. For instance, students in Japan who showed higher mathematics achievement test scores also reported that their teachers more frequently gave them homework, they more frequently used things from everyday life when solving mathematics problems, and that their teachers more frequently showed them how to do mathematics problems (House, 2001). Similarly, students in Hong Kong who indicated that they more often did experiments or practical investigations in class and that their teachers more frequently gave demonstrations of experiments tended to earn higher science test scores (House, 2000b). Findings from the TIMSS Videotape Classroom Study indicated that eighth-grade students in Japan spent considerably more time on inventing and developing multiple problem-solving strategies to geometry problems than did students in the United States (Stigler, Gallimore, & Hiebert, 2000) while a case study of a geometry lesson in Japan identified specific instructional activities designed to enhance student attention and interest that were incorporated into computer-based teaching for mathematics (House, 2002). Results from numerous countries indicated that several factors were consistently associated with student achievement, including the amount of time spent on mathematics homework, educational aspirations of the students, and being in an orderly classroom (Martin, Mullis, Gregory, Hoyle, & Shen, 2000). …