by Dr. Rob R. Moore
We have heard it before: The average Japanese student is doing as well in mathematics as the best US students. In test after test, the top 5% of US math students are matched by the top 50% of their Japanese counterparts.
Why should that be so? Surely US students compare well with Japanese learners in terms of intelligence, and potential.
Well, we know that schools stay open longer in Japan, an average two hours per day longer, than in the US. It has also been pointed out that in order to promote proper attention to classroom lessons each Japanese classroom period is followed by a recess aimed at allowing excess youthful energy to be discharged. Sadly, this is at a time when many US schools are being forced to abolish recesses altogether because of the threat of violence recesses pose.
Until recently, the one area in which US students continued to outperform their Japanese counterparts was that of creativity. That is, in tests measuring the ability of students to innovate, US learners seemed to be able to consistently rank higher than Japanese learners in their ability to formulate a number of solutions to any given problem.
However, beginning roughly in 2004, Japanese schools introduced a system of creativity training that seems to be opening doors for Japanese students. Today, Japanese students' performance on creativity evaluation instruments is at least as good as that of American students.
Surprisingly, the creativity training system being referred to here was developed by an American University (MIT), and is available to every American school and family. However, the system has not been utilized as in the US as hoped. The name of this magic system is Lego Mindstorms.
Dr. M. Csikszemtmihalyi, in his work entitled Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, emphasized the importance of providing a sense of freedom, a sense of educational flow to students if we wish them to be creative in mind and spirit.