Study: Teachers should emphasize math concepts
WASHINGTON (AP) --American teachers must do more to help students
understand the concepts of math, not just the mechanics of how to solve
algebra or geometry problem, an international review of 8th-grade
The four-year study analyzed videos of teaching techniques in seven
countries, including six that score higher than the United States in
achievement: Japan, Hong Kong, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, the
Netherlands and Australia.
Researchers cautioned Wednesday they cannot draw direct links between
teaching techniques and the countries' levels of success, particularly
because so many factors affect learning. They also said the study did
aim to pinpoint features of good teaching, although more review is
that could help produce specific tips for U.S. teachers.
The authors said U.S. teachers spend less time than counterparts in
higher-achieving countries on explaining math's underpinnings.
"They're more focused on getting the answers, and less focused on giving
students the opportunities to really engage in serious mathematical
said James Stigler, chief executive officer of LessonLab, which
the study for the Department of Education.
"Finding ways to engage students in conceptual thinking -- it doesn't
within our cultural script of how you teach a math class," he said.
How those specific skills are developed "may be the real key," said
University of Delaware professor James Hiebert, another leader of the
video study. Even when they present problems that link ideas to
U.S. teachers often end up in step-by-step mode.
"We have to worry about whether students are understanding what they're
being asked to do," he said. For example: "Why is that skill working?
do you divide now? Why do you take the square root here? Why am I
the lengths of the these two diagonals?
The study underscores there is no single correct way to teach math,
"It shows there are many paths to excellence in teaching," said William
Frascella, an education leader of the National Science Foundation, a
partner in the study. "Unfortunately, it appears from initial results
the United States is not able to use any one of these paths in a
consistent and sustained manner."
The Education Department plans to make available public copies of
videotape examples in compact disc form. Results of the science-video
portion of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study
be released later.
Jerry P. Becker
Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244
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