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DIFFERENCE OF MATHEMATICAL LEARNING METHODS

Difference of Mathematical Learning Methods between


Chinese and American High School Students
Interview Report
Yifan Wei
Purdue University

Author Note
Yifan Wei, freshman, Department of Mathematics, Purdue University
The report was supported by Kyongsong Park, Zachary Letterhos and Curtis
Servaas.
Correspondence of this article should be addressed to Yifan Wei, Department of
Mathematics, West Lafayette, IN 47907.
Contact: wei164@purdue.edu

Abstract
This interview report explores two interviewees feedback. The two interviewees

DIFFERENCE OF MATHEMATICAL LEARNING METHODS

are Mr. Letterhos and Mr. Servaas. This interview report was about interviewees
mathematical learning methods and their mathematical learning experience when they
were in their high schools. Their viewpoints about the difference of mathematical
learning methods between Chinese and American high school students will appear in
the article. The interview report also included the two interviewees feeling about the
assignments and exams when they were in their high school. Their comments on how
international students from China learn mathematics and their feeling about these
international students were recorded in this interview report. This paper will summary
the two interviewees feedbacks and conclude their standpoints. This report will
become important reference data which can support the essay, which will be written in
the future, on the topic Difference of Mathematical Learning Methods between
Chinese and American High School Students.
Keywordsmathematical learning methods, high school, interview

Difference of Mathematical Learning Methods between


Chinese and American High School Students
Interview Report
As a student who is interested in figuring out the difference of mathematical
learning methods between Chinese and American high school students, I prepared two

DIFFERENCE OF MATHEMATICAL LEARNING METHODS

interviews with two people. The first person I interviewed was Zachary Letterhos. Mr.
Letterhos is not only a teaching assistant but also a graduate student at Purdue
University. He graduated from New Mexico University with the degree Bachelor of
Science in both Pure Mathematics and Psychology. Mr. Letterhos is good at
mathematics and he has his own opinion on the topic I choose. Because of this, I
chose Mr. Letterhos as my first interviewee. The second person I interviewed was
Curtis Servaas. Mr. Servaas is an undergraduate student whose major is computer
science at Purdue University. He will graduate in the spring 2015 semester. Mr.
Servaas also has a good command of mathematics when he was in high school. I
thought his mathematical learning experience would be helpful so I chose him as my
second interviewee.
Interview Report
Interview with Zachary Letterhos
I met with Mr. Letterhos at the office 603 of Math Building on February 27,
2015. Before starting the interview, I discussed a problem about the number theory
with Mr. Letterhos. He was glad to answer the question I asked. After the discussion, I
started the interview with the question How did you study mathematics in your high
school? Mr. Letterhos said that he used to do a lot of exercises when he was in high
school and he extremely preferred this method. But he added that he did a lot of
exercises with several approaches such as using the function graph or using the
algebra theory, instead of just finding the answers. After finishing the exercises, he
would discuss those exercises that he solved with his classmates to figure out whether
there had other strategies to solve the problems.
However, Mr. Letterhos said that international students from China were
different from native students. Though most of the international students from China

DIFFERENCE OF MATHEMATICAL LEARNING METHODS

performed better than native students in mathematical learning, especially in getting


high scores in exams, those international students from China did not have interest in
finding multiple approaches to solve the problems. These students focused more on
finding a general way to solve similar problems. Their learning methods also included
doing a lot of exercises, but they just wanted to get the answer. I felt that they have
no creativity. Mr. Letterhos said.
I mentioned that high school students in China did a lot of exercises when they
learned new mathematical knowledge. And it was true that most high school students
in China just wanted to find the answers of exercises. It seemed like these
international students from China remained their old learning methods which they got
from Chinese high school. Mr. Letterhos pointed out that it was good for students to
have and keep their own learning methods even their study environment was changed.
But students need to improve their learning methods if their methods could not help
students get a good command of the knowledge that they learned. It was also
important for students to develop appropriate mathematical learning methods because
these learning methods will influence students value and the way they think.
After the interview, I discussed some knowledge about the complex analyses
with Mr. Letterhos. He encouraged me to take complex analyses course in the future.
When it came to abstract algebra, Mr. Letterhos said that when he was undergraduate
student, he directly studied the abstract course instead of taking abstract algebras
basic courses in advance. Until now, he said, the period he took the abstract course
was the most marvelous period when he was undergraduate student.
Interview with Curtis Servaas
Mr. Servass is my current roommate so I interviewed him in our dormitory. I
asked Mr. Servass how he studied mathematical knowledge when he was in high

DIFFERENCE OF MATHEMATICAL LEARNING METHODS

school. He said that he loved to prove the theory and formula that they learned rather
than doing a lot of exercises. However, he only used this method when he was
learning the courses in which he was interested. When learning other courses which
he thought was bored, he would just finish the homework assigned by their teacher.
He mentioned that when he did assignments, he just wanted to figure out the answers.
He found that the attitude of international students from China to the assignments was
same as him. But, these students never proved the theory and formula that they
learned, or thought the theory and formula deeply. What those international students
focused on was finding a general way to solve similar problems. He thought that these
students were not creative but these students could solve problems fast.
Conclusion
Mathematical learning methods are important because they help us learn
mathematics. Most international students from China, who were once high school
students in China, have same mathematical learning methods with high school
students in China. So these two groups are equivalent. International students from
China focus more on finding the solution of exercises and developing a general way
to solve similar problems. By comparison, American students put more emphasis on
how to have a good command of the new knowledge that they learn. Their methods
vary from one person to another. Chinese high school students can solve problem
faster than American high school students but American high school students think
that Chinese high school students are not creative. Students should develop
appropriate mathematical learning methods and keep these methods even if the study
environment changes.

DIFFERENCE OF MATHEMATICAL LEARNING METHODS

References
Letterhos, Z. (2015, February 27). Mathematical Learning Methods. Personal
interview.
Servass, C. (2015, February 28). Mathematical Learning Methods. Personal
interview.