Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Math Success: More About Asian vs. Non-Asian Differences

More out about the different ways native English vs. native Chinese speakers do mathematics. In the latest brain studies (at right), English speakers were more likely to use conventional language areas (Wernickes and Brocas), whereas Chinese speakers utilized motor imagery and planning areas.

The abacus is one reason for this discrepancy- from very young ages, Chinese-taught students use the abacus and develop spatial and motor associations with number quanity and manipulation.

But other studies involving Western-educated Chinese, also suggest that Western-educated Chinese are more likely to have their math facts well-memorized...
"The Chinese educated in China were the fastest in giving the answers to these questions while the non-Asians were the slowest - about 25 per cent slower." Western-educated Chinese were not as fast as their Chinese-educated counterparts, but were still better than Western-educated non-Asians.

Knowing math facts "cold" correlated with successful solution of more complex mathematical problems. Canadian professor, Jamie Campbell: "What we found out was that, if you used a calculator, you did not perform well in answering complex questions. If you did not use one, then you performed well in complex mathematics,' he said."

The data from these Asian vs. non-Asian studies may provide useful tips about what aspects of mathematical education to emphasize in the curricula. In a previous blog post (below) we've also reviewed Liping Ma's work suggesting that mathematics education in China is focused more on conceptual and deductive (based on math properties or laws) compared to the U.S. (procedural).

Also, in a recent study looking into motivation differences in Asian vs. non-Asian students regarding math, success tended to correlate with the following: "parents and peers who hold high standards, believing that the road to success is through effort, having positive attitudes about achievement, studying diligently, and facing less interference with their schoolwork from jobs and informal peer interactions."

Cultural Differences in Mathematical Processing pdf
Asian Math Scores - In Their Heads
ENL Blog:East vs West Mathematics Teaching
Math Properties at Dr. Math
Asian countries tops in TIMSS
Asian Motivation and Math Achievement Abstract

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