Both TIMSS 2015 and TIMSS Advanced 2015 were conducted by IEA (The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement), an independent international cooperative of national research institutions of government agencies. IEA has been conducting studies of cross-national achievement since 1959.

East Asian countries topped the ranking in TIMSS 2015, 4th Grade Mathematics (participated by 49 countries), Japan ranked 5th. The result reveals a 23-point gap between the East Asian countries and the next highest country, unchanged from 2011.

Japan also ranked 5th in TIMSS 2015 8th Grade Mathematics (participated by 39 countries). 8th Grade Mathematics result reveals a 48 point gap between the East Asian countries and the next highest country, increasing from 31 in 2011.

From 2011 to 2015, among 34 countries, Japan, together with 18 countries, continues having higher average achievement. In fact, based on TIMSS record from 1995 to 2015, the Japan’s achievement level is unchanged.

TIMSS Mathematics

(Japan: 1995 – 2015)

4th Grade

8th Grade

Year

Score

Year

Score

2015

593

2015

586

2011

585

2011

570

2007

568

2007

570

2003

565

2003

570

1995

567

1999

579

1995

581

TIMSS 2015, 4th Grade

Country

Score

Singapore

618

(SAR) Hongkong

615

Korea

608

Chinese Taipei

597

Japan

593

N. Ireland

570

R. Federation

564

TIMSS 2015, 8th Grade

Country

Score

Singapore

621

Korea

606

Chinese Taipei

599

H.K. SAR

594

Japan

586

R. Federation

538

Based on TIMSS 20-year trends, among 13 countries, Japan raised achievement in all four international benchmark since 1995.

OVERVIEW: International Benchmarking (2015)

4th Grade

8th Grade

Advanced Benchmark (AB)

Can apply understanding and knowledge jn a variety of relatively complex situations and explain their reasoning

Can apply and reason in a variety of problem situations, solve linear equations, and make generalizations

High Benchmark

(HB)

Can apply knowledge and understanding to solve problems

Can apply understanding and knowledge in a variety if relatively complex situations

Intermediate Benchmark (IB)

Can apply basic mathematical knowledge in simpler situations

Can apply basic mathematical knowledge in a variety of situations

Low Benchmark (LB)

Have some basic mathematical knowledge

Have some knowledge of whole numbers and basic graphs

In TIMSS 2015, 32% of the 4th Grade Japanese students reached AB, 74% reached HB, 95% reached IB, and almost all (99%) reached LB. Among the 8th Grade students, 34% reached AB, 67% reached HB, 89% IB, and 98% reached LB.

4th Grade Japanese students performance at the International Benchmark of Mathematics Achievement (Across Years)

AB

HB

IB

LB

2015

32

74

95

99

2011

30

70

93

99

2007

23

61

89

98

2003

21

60

89

98

1995

22

61

89

98

8th Grade Japanese students performance at the International Benchmark of Mathematics Achievement (Across Years)

AB

HB

IB

LB

2015

34

67

89

98

2011

27

61

87

97

2007

26

61

87

97

2003

24

62

88

98

1999

29

66

90

98

1995

29

67

91

98

C. The Japanese Problem Solving Approach

Teaching through lecture, or chalk-talk method, wherein the teacher talks and gives input while the students, majority of the time, just listen and receive the information coming from the teacher is probably the easiest method in teaching Mathematics. However, this traditional method of teaching might not be the most effective way to promote higher order thinking. Students as passive learners and teachers as the only source of knowledge do not encourage critical thinking among learners. Mathematics curriculum and instruction should focus on “encouraging learners to seek solutions (not just memorize procedures), exploring patterns (not just memorize formulas), and formulateing conjectures a (not just do exercises)” so as to give learners opportunities to study mathematics as an “exploratory, dynamic and evolving discipline” (from “Everybody Counts”, as quoted by Schoenfeld, 1992). Developing problem solving skills has been the focus of math education since 1980. Based on NCTM Principles and Standards of School Mathematics, “students must learn math with understanding and actively build new knowledge.” According to the first recommendation of National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) in “An Agenda for Action” in 1980, “Problem solving should be the focus of school mathematics in the 1980’s”. Specified in “Principles and Standards for School Mathematics” is the following:

“Solving problems is not only a goal of learning mathematics but also a major means of doing so. It is an integral part of mathematics, not an isolated piece of the mathematics program. Students require frequent opportunities to formulate, grapple with, and solve complex problems that involve a significant amount of effort. They are to be encouraged to reflect on their thinking during the problem-solving process so that they can apply and adapt the strategies they develop to other problems and in other contexts. By solving mathematical problems, students acquire ways of thinking, habits of persistence and curiosity, and confidence in unfamiliar situations that serve them well outside the mathematics classroom.” – ( Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, Executive Summary, p.4)

Based on TIMSS 2011 report on “Teacher Instructional Activities in Mathematics” (as reported by teachers), both in the fourth and eighth grades, “Work Problems (Individually, with Peers, or the Whole Class) with Teacher Guidance” is present in almost half of the lessons in Mathematics in Japan. When working on a mathematical task, rather than following the teacher-prescribed method, 40% of the time students decide on how they will solve the task under the teacher’s supervision. The teacher supervises and monitors the students’ activities, manages the discussion, and summarizes the lesson at the end of the period (Mastrull, 2002). This teaching approach, known as the Japanese Problem Solving Approach, is “recognized as the teaching approach for developing mathematical thinking which was recommended for developing higher-order thinking for human character formation.” (Isoda, Problem Solving Approach to Develop Mathematical Thinking)

Problem Solving Approach is a result of lesson study in the twentieth century (Isoda et. al. 2007, Isoda and Nakamura, 2010, as mentioned by Isoda, 2012 Introductory Chapter: Problem Solving Approach to