A Comparison of American and Taiwanese Students: Their Math Perception

By Tsao, Yea-Ling | Journal of Instructional Psychology, September 2004 | Go to article overview

A Comparison of American and Taiwanese Students: Their Math Perception


Tsao, Yea-Ling, Journal of Instructional Psychology


The major purpose of this study was to attempt to understand some of the reasons for Mathematics perception of Taiwanese children compared to American children. The study was conducted with elementary schools in the Denver metropolitan area and Taipei, Taiwan in which fifth graders in each city (21 and 37 respectively) were selected as target subjects in the study. To determine if attitudes and beliefs have this profound of effect on American students' performance in mathematics, research believes that it may be helpful to compare American students to Chinese students. By providing comparative data, the researcher found marked differences in the beliefs of American and Taiwanese students in four areas under investigation: how to do well in mathematics, what math solutions should be, motivation. The present study makes a potentially important contribution to our understanding of child development and education in two cultures.

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Poor performance by American students on tests of mathematics and science has reached the level of a national crisis. Why is this? Study after study has reported on one or another facet of the low standing of Americans in international competition. For example, in a recent cross-national study of mathematics achievement, American students in the eighth and twelfth grades were below the international average in problem solving, geometry, algebra, calculus, and other areas of mathematics. In contrast, Japanese eighth graders received the highest average scores of children from 20 countries, and, at the twelfth-grade level, Japanese students were second only to Chinese students in Hong Kong (Garden, 1987). We must ask why this is the case. Why are Chinese students consistently among the top scorers in cross-national studies of achievement and American students consistently below the international average? The primary purpose of this research project was to attempt to provide some answers to this question. The researcher was interested in exploring cross-cultural differences in mathematics perception and attitude of younger children. Our major concern was to describe the context in which different levels of achievement occur in these two cultures. The researcher sought to identify not only contexts that appear to be important in explaining differences that we observed at the early years but also those that might be related to the cross-cultural differences in achievement that have been found among older children and youth. What effect does it have on our children's performance in mathematics? The researcher hope's these question s can be answered in further research.

Literature Review

Logically, children's academic achievement is related to three major factors: their intelligence, their experiences at school, and their experiences at home. With regard to the first factor, it seems unlikely that cross-national differences in academic achievement among Chinese, Japanese, and American children can be accounted for by differences in general intelligence. There is no evidence that Chinese and Japanese children are more intelligent than American children.

According to Schoenfeld (1989), the way people engage in mathematical activities is shaped by their conceptions of mathematics. There have been many studies that confirm that affective factors shape how students behave. For instance, perceived personal control (Lefcourt, 1982), and perceived usefulness of mathematics (Fennema & Sherman, 1978) are all positively correlated with achievement in mathematics (Schoenfeld, 1989). However, it is unclear if there is a cause and effect relationship between affective factors and achievement in mathematics. It is interesting to note that Schoenfeld (1989) found that the strongest correlation was between mathematical performance and perceived mathematical ability.

Children's academic achievement is given a more central role in some cultures than in others. …

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