Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I love stories like this, LXXII

An oldie but goodie, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), spawned a recent analysis by the Brookings Institution's Brown Center on Education Policy that makes an interesting point:
The nations with the best scores have the least happy, least confident math students.

Countries reporting higher levels of enjoyment and confidence among math students don't do as well in the subject, the study suggests. The results for the United States hover around the middle of the pack, both in terms of enjoyment and in test scores.

In essence, happiness is overrated, says study author Tom Loveless.

"We might want to focus on the math that kids are learning and just be a little less obsessed with the fact that they have to enjoy every minute of it," said Loveless, who directs the Brown center and serves on a presidential advisory panel on math.

"The implication is not 'Let's go make kids unhappy,"' he said. "It's 'Let's give kids better signals as to how they're performing, relative to the rest of the world."'

Other countries do better than the United States because they seem to expect more from students, he said. That could also explain why high performers in other nations express less confidence and enjoyment in math. They consider their peer group to be star achievers.

I say that this is an oldie but goodie because the TIMSS was done in 2003, with components of the study done in 1995 and 1999. One of those components looked at teaching methods in 8th grade science courses in schools around the world. Here's one of the conclusions:
The data suggest that compared to the U.S., the four relatively higher-achieving countries (based on the TIMSS 1995 assessments and consistent with the 1999 assessments) in eighth-grade science participating in this study—Australia, the Czech Republic, Japan, and the Netherlands—shared two commonalities. First, eighth-grade science lessons in these four countries appeared to focus on high content standards and expectations for student learning. However, there were varying definitions across these four countries for what counts as high content standards. Second, instead of exposing students to a variety of pedagogical approaches and content, the science lessons within each of the four relatively higher-achieving countries appeared to reflect a common instructional approach that was content-focused.

In other words, the high-achieving countries teach science as science, not as entertainment. Fancy that!

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