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School math/physics education in USA/Canada compared to Europe

  1. Dec 1, 2017 #1
    For what I know, there is a very big difference (if not a gap) between how math and physics are studied in USA/Canada vs in the Europe (and I am afraid not only in the Europe, but nearly the whole world, Africa and South America included).

    What makes North American education special is that very many topics are postponed until the later grade comparing to the other countries, that creates a gap which I can estimate as 2-3 years average between formal level of knowledge (at least in the middle grades) here and in the Europe (not including some singular topics where the difference may go even further). I still do not know how the final results (after the high school) are compared for America and Europe.

    Of course, there are many other differences, which I could elaborate, but I just wanted to point out on some very major.

    I believe, such topics were already discussed here, so I am not raising this as a new issue for any discussion, but rather am asking for links to some existing forum discussions of the issues of this kind.

    My personal situation which made me interested in this topic is I live in Canada and having realized the situation, I decided to provide some additional math training for my son (10 yo.). Now, I do not know whether it will benefit him or not, he is not much bright in math and making just more boring math for him may bring more harm than use. Because of this, I need to understand the situation better, like whether learning some math/physical stuff ahead of the school program is really necessary in America to get any adequate preparation for high school/university, or, alternatively, I should rely on the system, however it scares me.

    So, I basically need not to learn what IS the difference, but rather what people think about this difference and the situation generally.
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 3, 2017 #2
    If you son is not interested in pursuing a career in physics or math related than there is no need to worry as long as he understands what he is learning through the schooling system.
  4. Jan 1, 2018 #3
    10 years old is too early to judge the ability of a child in a particular subject.IMO. Using my own experience I did not come to realize my interest in math until I was 12 or 13. Until then I was about average. Should you trust your school. Probably not. By that I mean find out what they are teaching and when they start and compare it to some standard. But this is only for content which to be sure is important but not the whole story. The teaching method and environment are very important but something that a parent may not be welcome to evaluate. So called ability is sometimes a reflection of interest, educational process history as well as innate ability. I don't believe in forcing a subject onto a child, he should have some attraction to it. But attraction can be enhanced by familiarity for example by demonstrating the utility of math in the understanding of everyday problems or in understanding of current topic in the news and just showing how prevalent math is. If he has had a bad experience in math at school it could cause him to avoid it when possible too. He may feel inadequate for some reason which would cause him to shy away from math.

    Look at this website https://www.mathsisfun.com/index.htm it gives content for various grade levels. . And really the teacher should have a syllabus with goals and objectives for the year. You could ask for them after all you are a customer,and have a right to know what to expect. It also gives you a chance to assess your son's understanding of the materials to which he has been exposed something that tests often do not do well.
  5. Jan 5, 2018 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    Well in the US there are some schools of a very high standard eg Basis Schools:

    And others of a very low standard you wouldn't want to sent your children to.

    Overall though it lags significantly behind places like Australia where I live.

    If you are a good student in an accelerated program here in Aus you do the equivalent of Aus first year university which would be about the same as Calc 3 and half of linear algebra plus differential equations eg:

    The math would be about the same as Basis in the US. But overall our math is a higher standard than the US. I well remember a, from our point of view, laughable discussion about kids doing algebra in grade 8 in California - it was considered too hard. We already do at least that - no problems. It was until a few years ago usual for everyone to do calculus before leaving HS. That has now changed with students simply wanting the easiest option - a bit sad.

    If your son likes math get him some extra tutoring - otherwise I wouldn't bother. I didn't like math at age 10. What happened to me is when I was 12 I was reading our math textbook - it was called Algebra and Geometry and I started doing some of the problems. I don't know what clicked but it just came easy. I worked through the whole book in a couple of weeks. But after I was bored until a I was 14 and heard of this subject called calculus so studied that - much more interesting. Then again became bored, did no work even in grade 12. When I left school went to work and read more advanced math and physics books from the library. It when on like that until I turned 20 and realised time was slipping away, so if I wanted to actually learn I had to go to uni. So I enrolled in a math degree part time and certainly was not bored. Put my heart and soul into it and did very well. It was the best decision I ever made - now the vistas that opened up to me was huge - I got a good job, retired on a good income, and now read and understand many advanced topics in math and physics.

    So my advice is if your son likes math it will emerge. That is when to get extra tutoring. But really you don't need tutoring - he can easily self study.

    If your son does not like math then again don't worry. Just make sure he does some advanced math and computing at uni - even if he doesn't like it. It will be vital for all jobs in the future - it will be dominated by AI, data retrieval and analysis both of which require significant math and computing skills.

    Last edited: Jan 5, 2018
  6. Jan 12, 2018 #5
    I teach maths and science not far from this locality.

    Its true what you say - you can do university level courses in Australian schools, and in some exceptional circumstances kids in primary/elementary schools even undertake university level maths. I have had Year 11 students study a university business subject.

    However, you will not find this in the private schools, and in particular GPS schools (elite private schools). These schools are obsessed with obtaining high aggregate and individual university entrance results. This means for STEM students, studying 2 maths subjects as well as physics and chemistry. If you are exceptionally good at maths you will be told to gain good entrance results, not undertake university subjects in high school.

    The better (private) high schools just operate at a higher level than state-run schools. The best schools have mandatory ipads and/or laptops, have downloadable textbooks, and have automated assignment submission. Some have automated marking of formative assessments, and most have a learning management system. For example, a local (GPS) high school teaches group theory as part of the regular Grade 12 curriculum, and had the problem "solve cos z = 2" as part of an assignment that guided students through Euler's identity and complex algebra. In other words, these schools ARE doing university level maths assignments but within the Australian curriculum, so their marks on the (easier) school exams are high.

    The contrast between this and public schools is stark. Most public schools have paper textbooks which students don't bother bringing. Classrooms are antiquated and discipline issues are rife. Most have little homework and trivial assignments.
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2018
  7. Jan 12, 2018 #6
    As a maths teacher and private tutor, I suggest trying http://mathletics.com/ or https://ixl.com/math/ or perhaps kumonglobal.com .

    Make sure he knows his multiplication table and reading an analog clock, knows how many days in each month, can recite the months, and spell months and days.

    As a tutor, often the reason I'm employed is to enforce homework and assignments - sad but true. You can do the same - ask you kid when his assignments are due, help with assignments and follow up. Don't be afraid of contacting teachers, just be polite and interested.

    You cold look at these Australian math/English assessment test papers to get an idea of how he is performing at his year level. I also rely on these workbooks and tests to ensure that the breadth and depth of the curriculum is covered.

    I also google worksheets eg "year 3 maths worksheet". Just go from simpler to more complex problems. In that respect you know as much about the subject as I.

    Also don't forget reading. Read to him and try to engender a love of books. See what's happening in your local makerspace/ hackerspace, join you local library. Many libraries run activities in school holidays.
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2018
  8. Jan 12, 2018 #7


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    These websites are all wonderful, and amazing for practice. As a student, I prefer Khan Academy for learning new skills and simply finding online worksheets for free for practice (sometimes past exam papers). Each of these websites have payments which, again as a student, does not seem appealing, but I think OP should be fine since he wants to help is son and seems willing to take the extra effort.

    I can't speak ill of Kumon's price since I used to attend Kumon lessons from the age of 3 till about 6 or 7. Kumon has helped me significantly in building the foundation of my math skills. I definitely recommend Kumon. At the age of 10, I think Kumon can definitely help and if your son gets ahead of his level, Kumon has the necessary infrastructure for him to study until just before university level (yes, they have calculus).

    Edit: Try and introduce books regarding the sciences, not textbooks or novels, but there are some interesting books which physicists have written over the decades. I personally enjoyed Mr. Tompkins in Paperback by George Gamow. Of course there are other books in other fields, if he is interested.

    You should also try consulting with your son about what he wants to do in the future. In this day and age, there are all kinds of help for all fields. Forcing your son into something he doesn't want to do might do harm, so try and ask him and understand him.
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