COMET • Vol. 4, No. 11 – 28 March 2003


(1) New Study Offers View of Mathematics Teaching in U.S. and High-Performing Countries

Source:  U.S. Department of Education – 26 March 2003 (Press Release)


A new video study of methods for teaching eighth-grade mathematics in seven countries shows that there is no single method of teaching mathematics among the high-achieving countries.

Furthermore, according to the report, the teaching of mathematics in the United States differs in striking respects from the ways mathematics is taught in high-performing countries.

The study’s first report, Teaching Mathematics in Seven Countries: Results from the Third International Mathematics and Science (TIMSS) 1999 Video Study, summarizes thousands of hours of videotape of mathematics lessons taken in representative samples of schools in the United States and six other countries, Australia, the Czech Republic, Hong Kong SAR, Japan, the Netherlands and Switzerland, all of which outperformed the United States on an earlier TIMSS mathematics assessment.

“This study allows us to learn from those countries whose students excel in mathematics,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige. “We know that our current practices have not achieved the success we demand. So, we’ve asked experts to review the teaching practices of high-achieving countries to inform our teachers and staff in our teacher preparation programs how to improve U.S. teaching practices.”

The new international study was released today by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, which is within the Institute of Education Sciences, along with its sponsoring partner, the National Science Foundation. The researchers for this study collected and analyzed 638 videotaped lessons of mathematics from seven countries to gain valuable national-level information about classroom teaching.

“The TIMSS 1999 Video Study is important to our basic understanding of what happens in the classroom every day,” said NCES Associate Commissioner Val Plisko. “It can provide the basis for future research into those aspects of teaching that most influence students’ learning.”

Plisko added that this report offers only initial findings from the new video study. At a later date, NCES will release two additional reports. One, on eighth-grade science teaching, will be a first for the nation and its international partners. Another upcoming report will be on U.S. mathematics teaching as captured in the earlier 1995 study compared to the new 1999 data.

Among the findings in the report was that countries often differed in the way that mathematics lessons were structured and how the content was presented to and worked on by students. For example:

* Review of previously taught lessons plays a larger role in mathematics lessons in the Czech Republic and the United States than in the five other countries where more time is devoted to introducing new content. Indeed, a greater percentage of eighth-grade mathematics lessons in these two countries was spent entirely in review of previously introduced content than in Hong Kong and Japan (28 and 28 percent of lessons vs. 8 and 5 percent, respectively);

* Lessons in Hong Kong included a larger percentage of problems per lesson targeted at using procedures, e.g., applying a formula, (84 percent) than in most of the other countries (ranging from 41 to 77 percent). Mathematics lessons in Japan, on the other hand, included a larger percentage of problems per lesson that emphasized making connections among mathematical facts, procedures and concepts (54 percent) than lessons in most of the other countries (ranging from 13 to 24 percent);

* When the researchers examined the ways in which the mathematical problems in the lesson were actually discussed and worked out during the lessons, they found that eighth-grade mathematics lessons in Australia and the United States were the least likely to emphasize mathematical connections or relationships (8 and less than 1 percent, respectively; other countries ranged from 37 to 52 percent);

* Eighth-graders in the Netherlands were more likely than their peers in four of the other countries to encounter problems during the lesson that included a real-life connection (42 percent of problems per lesson; other countries ranged from 9 to 27 percent). In the other countries, problems were more likely to make use only of mathematical language and symbols; and\

* Calculators were used in more lessons in the Netherlands (91 percent) than in the United States and the other countries (ranging from 31 to 56 percent); computers were actually used in relatively few eighth-grade mathematics lessons across all the countries (ranging from 2 to 9 percent of lessons; there were too few to estimate in the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and the United States).

Copies of the TIMSS 1999 Video Study results are available on request and on the NCES Web site at [see below]. For general information on TIMSS, please visit the NCES Web site, contact the TIMSS customer service number at 202-502-7421, or send an e-mail to

(2) Teaching Mathematics in Seven Countries: Results from the TIMSS 1999 Video Study

Source:  National Center for Education Statistics (Electronic Catalog) – 26 March 2003


Description: The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 1999 Video Study examines classroom teaching practices through in-depth analysis of videotapes of eighth-grade mathematics lessons. More ambitious than the earlier TIMSS 1995 Video Study, the TIMSS 1999 Video Study provides rich descriptions of mathematics teaching as it is actually experienced by eighth-grade students in seven countries… This report presents initial results from the study.

Download, view and print the entire report as a pdf file (236 pages):

Authors:   James Hiebert, Ronald Gallimore, Helen Garnier, Karen Bogard Givvin, Hilary Hollingsworth, Jennifer Jacobs, Angel Miu-Ying Chui, Diana Wearne, Margaret Smith, Nicole Kersting, Alfred Manaster, Ellen Tseng, Wallace Etterbeek, Carl Manaster, Patrick Gonzales, James Stigler


Note: The TIMSS 1999 Video Study data will be presented at the American Educational Research Association [AERA] meeting in Chicago on April 24 (12:25-1:55 p.m.)


Related Web site:

Highlights from the TIMSS 1999 Video Study of Eighth-Grade Mathematics Teaching


On-line Availability:

* Browse this document and video clips:

* Download, view, and print the report [highlights] as a pdf file (12 pages):

(3) “Study: Teachers Should Emphasize Math Concepts”

Source:  CNN – 26 March 2003


American teachers must do more to help students understand the concepts of math, not just the mechanics of how to solve an algebra or geometry problem, an international review of 8th-grade classes suggests…

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 work,” said James Stigler, chief executive officer of LessonLab, which conducted the study for the Department of Education.

“Finding ways to engage students in conceptual thinking–it doesn’t fit 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 math video study. Even when they present problems that link ideas to formulas, 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? Why do you divide now? Why do you take the square root here? Why am I finding the lengths of these two diagonals?

The study underscores there is no single correct way to teach math, officials said.

“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 that 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 will be released later.

(4) New Professional Development Course Based on TIMSS Research

Source:  The Intel Innovator – March 2003


…A new online professional development course, TIMSS Video Studies: Explorations of Algebra Teaching, makes available a virtual tour of classrooms from three countries recognized for high student performance in mathematics.

The course, developed by Intel in cooperation with Dr. James Stigler and LessonLab, builds on the research base generated by the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), and the newly released Video Studies. The TIMSS research projects were launched by the U.S. Department of Education to provide an international assessment and benchmark of educational achievement in mathematics and science.

A follow-up to the original TIMSS was the TIMSS Video Study where Dr. Stigler, author of The Teaching Gap, and his research team videotaped and analyzed classrooms from seven countries…By observing teachers in authentic classroom settings, course participants explore what they can learn from other cultures to better engage and sustain their own students in doing serious mathematical work. Interactive tools and guided reflection activities can help participants connect what they learn from the videos with what they want to happen in their own classrooms…

Course Options:  Although teaching algebra is the specific focus in the lessons, the course is designed for middle school and high school mathematics teachers, curriculum specialists, and instructional leaders.

TIMSS Video Studies is available as a six-week facilitated course with optional university credit, or as a non-facilitated course that allows for self-paced learning but offers no course credit. Train to become a facilitator (coming Summer 2003), and lead a customized course for colleagues or adult students.

The Intel Foundation has underwritten the cost of the course. However, there is a $40 fee for materials and an additional $60 to receive university credit if desired.

(5) Online Moderated Chat: Mathematics Teaching in Seven Countries: Results from the TIMSS 1999 Video Study of Eighth-Grade Mathematics Teaching

Source: NCES StatChat Live (Hosted by Partrick Gonzales, U.S. National Research Coordinator and report author, NCES) – 27 March 2003 (2 p.m. EST)


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 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….


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.


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.


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.


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.


Duncan Hsu from Lincoln Nebraska asked: The high score of some Asian countries may not be 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.


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…


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.


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.


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.