Not many variety of activities to apply to real life situation or problem solving skills although most students in Japan exhibit strong foundation in math. Even in the complex multi step story problems, equations and labeled answers could be on the worksheet. Why? Because young children are trained in the same way over and over. In addition to the day time school, many students attend Juku (private cram school). Juku teachers give their students more drills endlessly. Kids are all beautifully cookie cuttered but no one can accuse their way of learning because their scores are at the top level in the world.
Drilling practice has been used in Japan because of their National Standards. Drilling makes most students meet their standards or above. Adversity of drill based practice was lack of creativity. Lack of critical thinking. At a certain point of recent history, this problem was blamed on too much work days and too much academic requirements. So the school days was shortened and schools adopted "affluence" time once a week. 30 years later, no results. Blame was now pin pointed to extra time that they thought they could make students more creative, just like America.
Over these few decades, my question kept coming back, "Are all Americans creative as Japanese envy?" Indeed Steve Jobs, Michael Jackson, Steven King, and Lady Gaga had contributed our century with their extra ordinary talent. Unfortunately true, though, these celebrities can be famous because they are a tip of iceberg. Unlike Japan, diversity consist within our country. Thus, a differentiation approach has been natural in the U.S.A. Here is another problem. Differentiation without academic foundation resulted more academic gap among youngsters. To close this gap, Common Core sounds like a best solution for now.
I really want American and Japanese teachers to think. Look at the big picture. What about standards and differentiation. Study more differentiated options for Japan. Compacting curriculum or acceleration for faster paced students who mastered contents after pre assessment? Give them some choices in the interest based, problem, or project based learning model. The meaningful independent (or cooperative) project enhances their contents knowledge in depth. Project assignments requires to emerge not only math skills but other content knowledge harmoniously. That becomes creativity.
As for Americans, take advantage of Common Core. Help build strong foundation among our students while differentiation is happening. Tiered Instruction has been used as one of RIT (Responses to Intervention). Several Tiered assignments are available beyond RIT purposes. While closing the gap by teaching standards explicitly in variety activities at an appropriate tier level, make anchor assignments, interest based, and project based assignments available for gifted students. Responding each student's best interest in the most effective way is the key for our nation's future. Early childhood education is essential to ensure all student's basic knowledge through Common Core. Then, plan and provide real life opportunities that students can explore their learning skills. We are raising children who will be absolutely ready for their career and our global society.
Fellow teachers, our future is in our hands. Let's juggle with it!