2009 Student-Faculty Fellows: Linfield College

Lessons Learned from Looking Inside the Classroom:
A Study of Middle School Mathematics Education in Japan

Mentor: Nancy Drickey
Students: Marissa Davis, Amy Shoemaker


The Linfield Team at Rikkyo University in Tokyo

Project Abstract

Middle School Math Class

The team of three researchers from Linfield College traveled to Japan from June 2-25 to observe twelve middle school mathematics classes and interview the teachers. The purpose of the study was to learn more about Japanese teaching methods and to compare data to a national study conducted in the U.S. from 2000-2002 by Horizon Research titled Looking Inside the Classroom: A Study of K-12 Mathematics and Science Education in the United States. The national U.S. study included results from almost 400 K-12 mathematics and science classes. Our data, drawn from two instruments developed by Horizon Research (Inside the Classroom Observation and Analytic Protocol, and Inside the Classroom Teacher Interview Protocol) was used in twelve Japanese classrooms and then compared to the U.S. study data of sixty-six middle school math classes.

Researchers traveled to Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Yokohama and stayed with seven host families. Due to the spread of the H1N1 virus, plans were changed as several schools cancelled scheduled observations and interviews. Researchers were able to add additional schools to the schedule with the help of contacts. Involvement in this research enabled the researchers to implement the Linfield College foundational principles of global and multicultural diversity, experiential learning, and integrated learning. The experience has been incredibly rich and rewarding and will have a profound influence on the way we teach and interact with students.

Marissa Davis

Kiyomizudera Temple

Our research consisted of classroom observations, teacher interviews, filling out the observation and analytic protocol, writing up narratives of each classroom observation, entering data into a spreadsheet, analyzing the data, comparing the results from Japan to the previous Horizon Research study conducted in the United States, and disseminating our findings through various presentations and publications. We have completed the classroom observations and teacher interviews and filled out the observation protocols for all twelve schools. We have drafts of the narratives and have entered our data into spreadsheets. We have started to analyze the data and compare it to the middle school results of the U.S. study. We have created graphs to display the data. So far, we have presented our preliminary results at a conference for state math leaders on August 4, 2009, and a state conference for math educators on September 12, 2009. We will need to continue to analyze the data and work on future conference presentations and publications of our findings. Overall, this has been a life-changing experience. I have become even more passionate about what I will be doing with my life and have more tools for teaching. I hope to teach my U.S. students a little about Japanese culture, and instill in them the drive to learn which was very evident in every Japanese classroom we visited.

Amy Shoemaker

Dance Performance at Kyoto Bunkyo

Our research goal is to organize our data in such a way that one can easily compare different aspects of Japanese and American math pedagogy. We conducted observations in twelve Japanese middle schools and for each school filled out a twenty page observation protocol. We then wrote narratives of each experience to give readers a sense of classroom procedures, teaching strategies, and flow of instruction. Once this was done, we created an excel template and coded the data and various ratings drawn from our observation protocol. Over the summer, we entered the data from our handwritten notes. We can now begin to compare our results drawn from Japan with that obtained by Horizon Research in U.S. schools. We will focus on aspects of Japanese instruction that seem to most influence the capsule rating of each lesson. I am currently applying for a Fulbright Grant to investigate the impact of Japan’s national curriculum on students’ writing. As another possibility, I am also applying to the JET program to teach English in Japan once I graduate.

Reception at Kyoto Bunkyo University