Sunday, January 22, 2012

Japanese Geometry Problem Set

I am doing a foray into trying to differentiate for my very advanced Japanese student! He's awesomely hard-working, but I recently had a chat with him because I am concerned that he has already learned all of our Grade 8 topics in Japan, and he's concerned that he'll fall behind the curriculum in Japan. I actually noticed this much earlier this year, but he has just now gained enough basic English fluency to communicate academically, so I decided that now is a good time to start his individual math program.

Given that he's planning on moving back in two years to finish high school there, I think it's important to try to help him keep up with the Japanese curriculum. So, I asked him to bring me some Japanese math textbooks to give me a sense of what goes on in Grade 8 in Japan. I sat down today to take a look, and wow! It was tough stuff considering he's only in Grade 8! Since I obviously cannot read Japanese (I can read some Kanji, since they use Chinese characters, but it doesn't always mean the same thing), I did my best to cross check his geometry diagrams and the solution guide he gave me, to get a feel for what was given in each problem, what was expected, and what prior knowledge he must already have.

This is going to be my new pet project for Grade 8. I've got at least one other very bright kid in similar shoes, actually, who is transitioning back to a different curriculum after this year and wishes to be studying Geometry to supplement the algebra we are doing in class. So, for at least the two of them (and anyone else who wishes for the challenge), I am going to do my best to offer Japanese math problems as enrichment in our class. I think it'll be a great way to force the bright kids to work together and to support each other, and it will help our class appreciate math from other cultures!!! (We are an international school, after all.)

As for the Japanese kid in my class, the advantages are obvious -- I can help him bridge the gap between the curricula, and because I've translated the problems to English, he can receive my support in English, as well as develop a bilingual vocabulary, hopefully to be able to read the questions further on down the book on his own and translate for me what they're giving him and asking him to do!

And for me, this is also an exciting opportunity to take a look at math problems from another culture, to see what they consider "basic" and "difficult" and how they scaffold. I am very excited about this pet project! It's a win-win-win!

Here is the first Japanese problem set I translated/loosely scaffolded, if you're curious. I don't know what the day-to-day math pacing is like, but they do all this and MORE in one lesson in the textbook!!


  1. I know there are some already translated resources out there. You might try and/or you might try getting some of the Singapore texts ( This sounds like a really cool project--way to go supporting your students!

  2. Thanks for the link! I took a look but they didn't have the type of material I was hoping for. For now, as much as I can continue to manage it, I'll translate the Japanese sets and put them on the blog so that maybe others can benefit from them. My Japanese kid is very happy; he opts to go in between doing those and doing regular projecty things with my class on the simpler topics, because he says he wants to learn the English vocabulary for the topics he already knows.

  3. If you need any help, I am both a math teacher and I speak Japanese. I also work in a Japanese language and culture focused charter school and have access to other Japanese speakers who can help with translation. Clearly you have figured it out, but I would love to see some of the original Japanese problems and can maybe help if you run into anything you need exact direct translations for.

  4. Oh, fantastic. I gave the textbooks back to my student recently because he said there is a chance he'll go to Japanese math school during our February break, but I might scan in a few things here and there and see if you can help me out! They take me a while to prep, but that's between the translation / trying the problems / transcribing them in English including diagrams.