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Mathematics Teaching in Seven Countries: Results from the TIMSS 1999 Video Study of Eighth-Grade Mathematics Teaching

Dr. Patrick Gonzales Hello, and welcome to today's StatChat on the results from the TIMSS 1999 Video Study of eighth-grade mathematics teaching. I'm sure that you have many questions regarding the study; so let's get right to them...

John Kirkland from Palmerston North NEW ZEALAND asked:
Would it be possible to access the original video tapes from a central archive? Free?
Dr. Patrick Gonzales: The videotapes analyzed for the report were collected under the condition that they be used only for research purposes (what we call restricted-use). Restricted-use data can be accessed by researchers and educators, but it requires that the user agree to the legal restrictions placed on maintaining the confidentiality of the data. Because the main database is restricted-use, we collected videotapes that can be shown in public (what we call public-use). Video clips from the public-use videos are available on CD as an accompaniment to the report. Some of the video clips can be viewed on the NCES website at and clicking on the Highlights link. If you wish to receive a copy of the report and the CD, forward your mailing address to me (

John Stallcup from Napa, CA asked:
How similar are the classroom practices observed in Japan with those in Singapore? How many of the countries employ systemwide umath manipulatives (Math kits) in the early grades.
Dr. Patrick Gonzales: Singapore did not participate in the TIMSS 1999 Video Study, so it is difficult to say with any certainty how teaching practices in Japan and Singapore differ. Like Japan, Singapore employs a national curriculum. Like Japan, Singapore spends a considerable amount of effort studying and understanding student learning styles, patterns, and needs. I can tell you that there is an ongoing project between the Ministry of Education in Singapore and the US Department of Education that is investigating the use of the Singapore mathematics curriculum in U.S. classrooms. The results of the project have not yet been released. The TIMSS 1999 Video Study examined teaching practices in the eighth-grade only. Thus, we do not have data that addresses the use of math manipulatives in the early grades in Japan. However, in the eighth-grade in Japan, the video study shows that 86 percent of Japanese lessons make use of special mathematics materials (such things as graph paper, graph boards, geometric solids, rulers, compasses, protractors, base-ten blocks). However, it appears that their use is largely related to the coverage of 2-dimensional geometry topics. When you take this fact into account, Japan differs in this respect from four of the other six countries; Czech and Swiss teachers also make use of manipulatives/materials as much as their Japanese counterparts for problems related to 2-dimensional geometry. This information is covered in Figure 5.3 and Table 5.6 in the report.

Lynn from Brooklyn, NY asked:
As a doctoral candidate in mathematics education, I firmly believe in an inquiry-based mathematics curriculum in which children construct mathematical ideas while engaged in problem solving. However, as a mathematics curriculum coordinator for grades 1-8, I hear teacher complaints that there is not enough class time for the demands of the US spiral-based mathematics curriculum that includes so many skills and concepts, unlike countries that scored higher in the TIMSS and in which children cover fewer topics but have more time to think deeply and take possession of their mathematical ideas.
Dr. Patrick Gonzales: As part of TIMSS 1995, Bill Schmidt at Michigan State University conducted a study of curriculum around the world. One of the conclusions that he reached after analyzing the data was that U.S. curriculum is "a mile wide and an inch deep." His point was that, in the U.S., topics are continually added to the curriculum, but few are ever dropped. This can result in students studying the same topics, over and over, for several years as they move through the school system. In other countries, this may or may not be the case. In Japan, for example, the national curriculum includes some review of earlier introduced topics, but does not spend an inordinate amount of time on them. In that way, students continually "move forward" through the curriculum. They also focus on conceptual development, which appears to not always be the case in the U.S. That may be important because, if students understand why they are studying a particular topic, or how it relates to other topics, they may retain the information better.

Terese from Columbus OH asked:
What did this study tell us about the cognitive level of the mathematics instruction among the 7 countries?
Dr. Patrick Gonzales: There are several indicators in the report that partially address this issue. To fully address the issue would require us to know the level of understanding of the student who is encountering the math problems. We can tell you, from a researcher's perspective, that U.S. eighth-grade mathematics may not be at the same level of complexity, difficulty, or challenge as some of the other countries included in the study. Please see appendix D in the report for some experimental analyses of the level of content, deductive reasoning, generalizations, rationale development, level of coherence, and the like.

Pallabi from Olney, MD asked:
Q1.Exactly how were the countries selected? Q2. Was there any emphasis on arithmetic anywhere?
Dr. Patrick Gonzales: The countries that participated in the study, other than the United States, represent countries that are relatively high performers on the TIMSS 1995 mathematics assessment. In particular, Hong Kong and Japan were among the top performers. In conducting the study, we wanted to include high performing countries from Asia (Japan and Hong Kong) and Europe (Czech Republic, Switzerland, and the Netherlands). When looking at the topics covered during the eighth-grade mathematics lessons, no country appears to "stick out" in terms of emphasizing arithmetic topics. For example, 30 percent of problems per lesson in the U.S. focused on whole numbers, fractions, decimals, and integers. This compares to 42 percent in Switzerland; 27 percent in the Czech Republic, and 36 percent in Australia. For more details, please see table 4.1 in the report.

Valerie from Irvine, CA asked:
Are the coding protocols available for this study?
Dr. Patrick Gonzales: A quite lengthy technical report is currently under review. The report will include a discussion of the methodology and analyses conducted, as well as all of the codes applied to the data. Please check back on the TIMSS website later this summer for the availability of the report.

William Anderson from Magnolia, NJ asked:
If you could change one thing regarding the way we teach Mathematics in the USA, what would it be, and why is it not being done? Thanks.
Dr. Patrick Gonzales: Thank you for your question. An adequate response would be very complicated, at best. What I can say at this point is that it may not be a matter of a specific method of teaching, but how we approach mathematics in the U.S. that may make a difference. The analyses included in the report seem to indicate that some of the high performing countries focus on conceptual development in addition to skills acquisition. You may be particularly interested in chapter 5, the section that address how mathematical problems were stated and solved by teachers.

Martha from Los Angeles, CA asked:
How do we obtain a copy of the full report?
Dr. Patrick Gonzales: Currently, the report is available online. Once the report is returned to us from the printer, we will have copies to distribute, free of charge. Please forward your mailing address to me and I will make sure you receive a copy when the report is available in hard copy (

Diana from Madison, Wisconsin asked:
My understanding is that the Japanese teachers have a significant amount of lesson preparation time and collaboration time related to lessons. Is there any data to support a minimal amount of needed preparation to have positive impact on student achievement? How does the preparation time in each country relate to how the students perform?
Dr. Patrick Gonzales: I know of no research that specifically addresses the amount of preparation time necessary to positively impact student achievement. That being said, it is true that Japanese teachers have multiple opportunities to collaborate and concentrate on the lessons they teach. Teachers join together to conduct what is termed "lesson study." This method of lesson construction is beginning to catch on in the United States, with several groups around the country being formed. You may wish to conduct a search on the web for Lesson Study groups in your area.

Jonathan from Fort Worth, Texas asked:
Do these countries represent the best countries in the world in terms of math achievement in schools?
Dr. Patrick Gonzales: Two of the countries, Japan and Hong Kong SAR, are among the top performing countries in terms of mathematics achievement as measured through TIMSS. Indeed, only three other countries perform like Hong Kong and Japan: Singapore, Korea, and Chinese Taipei (Taiwan). The other countries that participated in the study, other than the United States, outperformed the U.S. in TIMSS 1995 and, with the exception of the Czech Republic, outperformed the U.S. in 1999 as well.

Eric from Beavercreek, OH asked:
The report notes that US kids spend twice as much instruction time reviewing math as Japanese kids, and work four times more problems of low procedural complexity. Is this true independent of whether the US schools are "subject-centered" or "student-centered" (aka constructivist)? Does the new work support the contention in "Stigler and Stevenson On TIMSS and Instruction" ( that Japanese schools are more "teacher centered?" What existing math curricula available in the US reflect the high higher rates of complex problems typical in Japanese classrooms?
Dr. Patrick Gonzales: The response to your question depends on the definition of "teacher centered." In Japan, there is no doubt that the teacher is in charge of the classroom, and in charge of the direction of the lesson. The way in which a Japanese teacher approaches the students, and the content, is observably different than in the United States. That is, in Japan, teachers appear to engage students more in contributing to their own learning, through such techniques as asking them to explain their answers, work out problems in front of the class on the chalkboard, and the like. In the United States, this appears to occur less often. I am not aware of any particular curricula available in the United States that is modeled after Japanese lessons or textbooks. That does not mean, however, that they do not exist.

Valerie from Irvine, CA asked:
When the report talks about time spent on review, does that include homework correction time? Is the U.S. different from the other countries in the amount of time, and the way in which homework is handled in class?
Dr. Patrick Gonzales: Yes. Review was defined as time spent going over content that was previously introduced. That may include using homework as an opportunity to review the content of the previous day's lesson. In the report, however, we look at the issue of homework separately. You may be interested in the section on homework in chapter 3 of the report. In the report, we examine how much time is spent during the lesson on each homework problem. On average, the U.S. is not out of line with the other countries (some 7 minutes, on average). The Netherlands, however, spends the most amount of time on homework problems (16 minutes per lesson, on average). When looking at how much time is spent during the lesson working on homework problems assigned for the future (beginning one's homework during class), the U.S., again, is not out of line with the other countries (3 minutes per lesson, on average). The Netherlands, again, spends the most time (10 minutes per lesson, on average).

Duncan Hsu from Lincoln Nebraska asked:
The high score of some Asian countries may not related directly to the classroom settings. The home/after-school activities can contribute a lot to the high scores. Are there any such studies underway?
Dr. Patrick Gonzales: This is an issue that is continually raised. To my knowledge, there are no published studies that directly address this question. However, I can tell you that after-school activities and cram schools (juku in Japan) are not solely focused on academics; indeed, in my visit to Japan, students said that they often spend as much time on topics as art, music, and sports as other academic topics. My Japanese colleagues have also reported that when they analyzed the TIMSS data, they did not find any differences in achievement between those 8th grade Japanese students who attended juku and those who did not. That paper, unfortunately, has not yet been published.

Sylvia from Lawrenceville, NJ asked:
Did the study in any way address the mathematical content knowledge of teachers and the pedagogical preparation of teachers?
Dr. Patrick Gonzales: The simple answer is no. This is a study of teaching, not teachers (though, obviously, teachers do the teaching). We have limited information on the academic preparation of the teachers involved in the study. As has been reported elsewhere, U.S. mathematics teachers tend not to have the same academic training as their international counterparts; on the other hand, more U.S. teachers obtain higher degrees (MA and above) than their international counterparts.

Gary from Arlington, VA asked:
I can't agree with more with you about the poor teaching in math concepts. As a parent, I attended several GT math classes in my son's school. The teacher spent most time in problem solving drills without any explanation of the ideas involved in those exercises. It was a game where advanced kids got all the chance to win and the others just sitting there. It was in stark contrast with what I was taught math in China many years ago, where most attention was paid to understanding math concepts, to explaining the meanings of the ideas and using various transorms to reinforce students' conceptual grasp. Not much time was spent on applied problem solving.
Dr. Patrick Gonzales: Your experiences in China relate very well to what we see in the videotapes from the other countries. As can be deduced from the many analyses included in the report, mathematics lessons in the United States focus a lot on skills. Other countries focus on skills and conceptual development. Indeed, mathematics skills (i.e., procedures) in the other countries appear to be acquired while focusing on conceptual development as well. I would encourage you to read through the report for other insights related to this matter.

Catherine from DC asked:
How much did the study cost and is it possible to expand the effort to other subjects?
Dr. Patrick Gonzales: A study such as this is, as you may imagine, complex and labor intensive. There are no easy ways to analyze videotapes. The cost of the study is approximately $13.2 million dollars, for both the mathematics and science components. This study has been going on for over 4 years. The conceptual development of the study started around 10 years ago. The video survey approach has application to the study of other areas of instruction.

Valerie from Irvine, CA asked:
Your report highlights the use of goal statements and summary statements during a lesson. How important do you believe these practices are?
Dr. Patrick Gonzales: Learning is a complex activity, and what may be effective for one student may not be as effective for the next. I have no idea how important goal statements and summary statements may be to an individual student. What I can tell you is that such teaching techniques are employed more often in high achieving countries that participated in the study than in the United States.

Harold from Tempe, Arizona asked:
Q1: Is there information available that would help understand students' "motivation" and willingness to stay in school and do well and what helps this attitude to develop? Q2: As the instruction moves forward, how to the students catch up if they don't get it, so none is left behind? Is there a greater amount of time spent outside of classes in study groups formal and with peers? How many hours do the students spend in classes per day and year?
Dr. Patrick Gonzales: Issues of student motivation and willingness to stay in school are beyond the scope of this study. There is a great deal of published literature that addresses this issue and that I would encourage you to seek out. As for playing catch up: in some of the other countries, teachers use the blackboard to capture the "story" that is being told throughout the lesson. Thus, a student who temporarily "checks out" of the lesson can, at any moment, see what has occurred by looking at the blackboard. This sometimes contrasts with what we see in the U.S. wherein teachers write things on the blackboard, erase them, write something else, erase it, and so on. The "story" is therefore lost to any student who has not paid attention throughout the lesson.

Carolyn from Atlanta, Georgia asked:
From the study- what is the biggest difference between how the American teachers teach mathematics and the other countries? Is it teacher knowledge of content or pedagogy?
Dr. Patrick Gonzales: The study emphasizes the complexity of teaching, and so it would be inappropriate for me to suggest that there is "one big thing" that distinguishes U.S. teachers/teaching from their international counterparts. I wish I could tell you otherwise.

Ellie from Rixeyville, VA asked:
Do you feel that teachers and students might act a lot different than normal when they know they are being videotaped for a study? In my classes, students (and teachers) are always on their best behavior when somebody brings a camera to record a special occasion.
Dr. Patrick Gonzales: Glad you asked. We asked students and teachers about their experiences of being videotaped. On average, teachers across the seven countries indicated that they felt their lessons went as usual, though, obviously, there are some cases where teachers felt otherwise. This is explained in detail in chapter 2. When teachers were asked if their students acted better or worse than usual, in all countries except the Czech Republic, the vast majority of teachers indicated that their students acted about the same or better than usual (the range is from 77 percent in the Netherlands to 95 percent in Australia and Switzerland). In the Czech Republic, 41 percent of lessons were taught by teachers who believed their students acted worse than usual.

Cathy Bing from New York asked:
What will the United States start to benefit from the TIMSS study. Obviously, they score higher on test because they teach differently.
Dr. Patrick Gonzales: In many ways, I would argue that the U.S. is already benefiting from the TIMSS studies. Any time that you can engage the nation in a serious discussion of how to improve mathematics (and science) learning and achievement, I think you have made a difference. As for the video study, I believe the benefit may be in engaging practitioners in reflecting on their own practice. In particular, I think the videos from the other countries can help us feel more comfortable talking about teaching and, eventually, talking about OUR teaching. I also think that the videos can show us that the way we teach mathematics in the United States is a matter of making choices--it is not inevitable. The videos from the other countries can provide examples of how we can approach mathematics through different techniques, or by rearranging the techniques that we already use. There is much to be learned from the video study, and I look forward to hearing how others are making use of the study too. I have time for one more question....

Terese from Columbus OH asked:
I'd guess that we all share one question: "So why the differences in performance?" As a person who has delved into this study, what insights have you come to that might even partially answer this question?
Dr. Patrick Gonzales: As much as I would like to have an answer, I don't. It would be a mistake to assume that the way in which eighth-grade mathematics teachers approach the topic is indicative of all teachers in K-12. We must remember that achievement is the accumulation of years of exposure, both in and out of school. It would be wrong to assume that the teaching that we see on the videos "caused" the high achievement we see on the TIMSS assessments. There are many, many researchers who are seeking out the answer to your question. I hope in some small way, this study will move us closer to an answer, but I don't think we are there yet.

Thanks for all of the great questions. Unfortunately, I could not get to all of them, but please feel free to contact me if you need further assistance. Today's release of Teaching Mathematics in Seven Countries: Results From the TIMSS 1999 Video Study is the first report from this new international study of teaching. Later this year, a second report will be released that focuses on eighth-grade science teaching. We look forward to continuing this dialogue with all of you.

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