In the science and mathematics lessons they observed in France, SMSO researchers reported a consistent tendency for the teachers to make formal presentations of complex subject matter. They saw teachers emphasizing formal definitions, laws, and principles and observed students engaged in theoretical reasoning and problem solving. Many of the lessons observed in Spain shared these features. In addition, the small set of Spanish teachers observed seemed to seek to link theoretical principles to practical everyday applications. Textbooks also seemed more central in the Spanish lessons observed in SMSO. A great deal of emphasis also seemed to be placed in Spain on use of homework.
In contrast, the set of mathematics and science lessons in Norway seemed more often to center on helping students develop factual knowledge. The content did not seem as complex or as formal from a disciplinary perspective as what was evident in the French lessons observed. In the judgment of the SMSO research team, the Norwegian teachers sought to engage students in learning activities in both individual and small group work in ways that seemed more child-centered than what was observed in the other countries. Compared to the French and Spanish teachers observed, the Norwegian teachers also spent less time lecturing. It should be noted that observers saw little classroom discussion in these lessons.
The Japanese lessons were quite different from those in France, Norway, and Spain. Observers from SMSO noted an active engagement with the content by both teachers and students. They cited notable emphasis on multiple representations and methods, as well as a considerable amount of complex, content-focused discussion. Some of the discussion in the Japanese lessons seemed to be guided quite strongly by the teacher and focused on eliciting complex ideas rather than on facts or simple understanding.
The Swiss lessons were similar to those in Norway and emphasized student responsibility for learning through teacher-prepared demonstrations and activities. Lessons tended to be structured around a single subject matter idea and covered a small amount of content. Textbooks seemed to play a smaller role than in some other countries observed.
In lessons observed in the U. S., teachers often seemed to be the central figures in the classroom. Frequently, they functioned as transmitters of information. In their report, researchers note that the teachers appeared to be more involved with subject matter content than the students were, although, in some lessons, little actual topic content was observed. The lessons observed tended to be organized, structured, and directed by the teacher, and definitions and vocabulary were emphasized.
The SMSO study of instructional practice raises the important issue of the extent to which mathematics teaching and science teaching are embedded in culture. Although the lessons that the researchers observed across countries shared characteristics, and lessons within countries showed variation, SMSO researchers were able to identify what they believe to be pervasive and recurrent patterns by country. In the report, they employ the term characteristic pedagogical flow (CPE) as a way to capture the notion of a cluster of culturally embedded classroom relations, practices, and