# What makes Russian Mathematics special

I was contacted over the summer by Jaraslaw Anders from the US State Department with an interesting question: what differentiates the Russian approach to mathematics from the approach of America and other developed nations? A Russian mathematician had again won the Fields Medal (it’s like the nobel prize for mathematicians that Russians have been dominating since the late 1980′s) and Anders was interested in understanding what differentiated Russia’s approach to math education.

Unfortunately, the summer is a very busy time for RSM. We run our much anticipated summer camp and I work with our head teachers to extend our curriculum based on new international standards and our own experience in the school. I spoke several times with Anders over the summer, but didn’t see the final article until recently. I think the article does a great job of explaining what works in the Russian methodology.

Essentially I think there are 3 main differences to how Mathematics was taught by schools in Russia and how it’s taught in America:

**Math (really as a language of critical thinking) is not introduced early enough**. The later you introduce it the less time you have to play with it and the more you’re going to rely on memorization of formulas over critical thinking.**The math curriculum is not consistent from K through 12th grade across states, across schools with a state, or even across teachers in the same school**. In mathematics things are connected. Math builds on itself and simply can’t be taught in a year unless you have a solid foundation from the previous year.**The math curriculum focuses on application before building out depth**. To be apply to think critically about problems, you need to have a deep understanding of the fundamentals. That’s simply not possible if you’re racing from subject to subject and focusing on a few problems each time.

As Anders points out in his article, the impact of the above is enormous for math education in America and around the world:

Americans have long been concerned about their children’s performance in math, especially in comparison with students from other developed countries. In 2003 the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) showed 15-year-old Americans trailing far behind their colleagues from most other industrialized countries in standardized math tests. In 2006 the results were almost the same.

You can find the entire article on the State Department website:

http://www.america.gov/st/educ-english/2010/October/20101019101345zjsredna0.107052.html

**EDIT**: It was interesting to read that the National Science Foundation just awarded a $2 Million grant to study the Russian math curriculum.

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Terrific work! This is the type of information that should be shared around the web. Shame on the search engines for not positioning this post higher!

My kids. One in 10th grade and other in 6th grade. I would like to know for 10th grade is it geometry and algebra both or only algebra.

What about SAT. When should the kids join for it. Can u brief me about the 10th grade requirements for college and what exams they should appear in 10th or 11th grade + other what requirements are necessary.

My 6th grader is poor in math. Problem solving is also the biggest task.

Can u help me in this

What I appreciate about the Russian approach to mathematics is the incorporation of complex concepts with much younger children, such as simple algebraic, equations using a scale as a graphic, something a young child can relate to. By familiarizing the child with concepts that they will see again with increasing abstraction over time, the child learns the concept without the fear that American children often have in 7th grade or so when suddenly there is a “x” in front of them and set of operations to remember the order of!

Eleen,

does your 6th grader have an opportunity to solve problems in real life? OIr is his daily schedule pre-solved, pre-planned and spoon-fed to him, while mistakes are critisized and ponushed in form of sending to bed early, no ice cream, bad grades, etc? Problems in real life often don’t have trivial solutions and we spend more time failing than succeeding. Help him feel comfortable with failure, and help him get excited and inspired about usefulness of his accomplishments, and you’ll find that his struggles with math problems are in your head, not in his textbook. My nephew recently nearly gave up chess because it was getting too hard, but was inspired to perseveere, and later truly rewarded when he was able to beat a BILLIONAIRE in a major competetion. He understood that not only no amount of money could help his oponnent outplay him, but that also he opened many doors for himself by working at the problems until he “got it”.

As for your 10th grader, I might have misunderstood your question. If it’s purely about curriculum, then I wouldn’t know – I don’t work at RSM, but if it’s about whether he should take those classes, I can help you there. I believe that by 5th grade kids have sufficient mental capacity to start learning calculus. Not the one with formulas, but the conceptual calculus which runs life: problems in thermodynamics, physics, spatial integration, etc. So, if anything, he’s late in starting geometry. It shouldn’t even be a question that he should take both classes.

Krista, AMEN!