Below we post the results of Japanese participants in the various Olympiads, (note: Japan does not seem to be participating in the International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA) – among the Science Olympiads, this is the second newest one after Biology, and with the lowest profile.)

Results from the 55th International Mathematical Olympiad July 12, 2014

Medals received by Japanese students:

4 gold medals, 1 silver medal, 1 bronze medal (6 Japanese participants out of a total of 60 participants)

Results from the 46th International Chemistry Olympiad July 29, 2014

Medals received:

1 gold medal, 2 silver medals, 1 bronze medal (4 participants out of 291)

Results from the 25th International Biology Olympiad July 12, 2014

Medals received:

1 gold medal, 3 silver medals (4 participants out of 239)

Results from the 45th International Physics Olympiad July 20, 2014

Medals received:

4 silver medals, 1 bronze medal (5 participants out of 383) – the performance while commendably strong, the gold medal garnering strength appears have slipped slightly since 2011.

Results from the 8th International Earth Science Olympiad September 29, 2014

Medals received:

3 gold medals, 1 bronze medal (4 out of 82 participants)

Results from the 11th International Geography Olympiad August 19, 2014

Medals received:

1 silver medal (4 out of 144 participants) – This arena is the weakest link in the Olympiads for Japan traditionally.

Results from the 26th International Olympiad in Informatics, July 19, 2014

Medals received

1 gold medal, 2 silver medals, 1 bronze medal

(4 out of 311 participants)

The participating students were from the following schools:

Komaba, University of Tsukuba, Tokyo; Ibaraki Prefectural Mito Dai-ichi Senior High School, Ibaraki; Tokyo Metropolitan Musashi Senior High School, Tokyo; Kaisei Senior High School, Tokyo; Kaisei Junior High School, Tokyo; Nada Senior High School, Hyogo Prefecture; Osaka Prefectural Ibaraki High School, Osaka Prefecture; Osaka Seiko Gakuin Senior High School, Osaka Prefecture; Gifu Prefectural Gifu Kita Senior High School, Gifu Prefecture; Miyazaki Prefectural Miyazaki Nishi High School, Miyazaki Prefecture; St. Viator Rakusei Senior High School, Kyoto Prefecture; Waseda Senior High School; Tokai High School, Aichi Prefecture; Toshimagaoka Girls’ Senior High School, Tokyo; Hakuryo Senior High School, Hyogo Prefecture; Gaku Nishiyama; Sugamo Senior High School, Tokyo; Hiroshima Gakuin Senior High School, Hiroshima Prefecture; Shizuoka Prefectural Hamamatsu Kita High School, Shizuoka prefecture

Background on International Math and Science Olympiads

The first IMO was held in Romania in 1959. The problems come from various areas of mathematics, such as are included in math curricula at secondary schools. Finding the solutions of these problems, however, requires exceptional mathematical ability and excellent mathematical knowledge on the part oF the contestant. See Hard Problems: The road to the world’s toughest math contest Hard Problems is a an American film that shows “the dedication and perseverance of these remarkably talented students, the rigorous preparation they undertake, their individuality, and the joy they get out of solving challenging problems. Above all, it captures the spirit of math competitions at the highest level”.

At the IMO for eg., the usual size of an official delegation to an IMO is (a maximum of) six student competitors and (a maximum of) two leaders. There is no official “team”. The student competitors write two papers, on consecutive days, each paper consisting of three questions. Each question is worth seven marks. A total score of 42 points is possible. Awards are determined as follows:

GOLD MEDAL: the top 1/12 of scores receive gold medals
SILVER MEDAL: the next 2/12 of scores receive silver medals
BRONZE MEDAL: the next 3/12 of scores receive bronze medals
HONORABLE MENTION: any competitor who receives a perfect score of 7 on any one question, but who does not receive a medal, is awarded an honorable mention

The International Science Olympiad (ISOs) are a group of international competitions in the fields of science and technology. The competitions are designed primarily for upper secondary students (high school students and are held in the subject areas of mathematics, physics, chemistry, informatics, biology, geography and earth science. (Biology and Astronomy and Astrophysics are the newest of the Olympiads). The ISOs aim to award the best and brightest students in science, give them the opportunity to develop their talents and deepen international exchange and understanding among nations.

The International Chemistry Olympiad, for example, is 5-hour long with 9 theory questions, and 2-3 experiment tasks. The syllabus of the IChO contains subjects from several areas of Chemistry, including Organic Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry, Physical Chemistry, Analytical Chemistry, Biochemistry, and Spectroscopy. About 8-10% of all participants are awarded Gold Medals.

Math and Science Olympiad participants are typically nurtured and trained in gifted programs in other countries. In Singapore, only 4 schools provide the entire pool of participants to the Olympiads. Considering that Japan until only most recently had no gifted school programs to speak of, the consistently high level of achievement and performance of its students at International Olympiads is astonishing. It is arguable whether the common practice of ranking of students according to their performance in various areas and streaming them into ranked classes in public and private schools with good academic reputations and rankings, constitutes the identification of gifted and talented students of sorts. Another explanation is possible — Rolf Dobelli in his book “The Art of Thinking Clearly” and chapter “Does Harvard make you smarter?” calls this the “swimmer’s body illusion”, whereby swimmers with the naturally streamlined physique end up selected for the competitive sport, and where the best students naturally end up selected by schools like Harvard whether the schools in themselves are actually academically excellent. By extension, despite the absences of dedicated gifted programs in Japan, the brightest Japanese students naturally aspire and compete to get into the schools of highest repute and ranking in Japan, some of these brightest of the brightest students then form the pool of talent for trying out for the various International Olympiads.

On the value of the Math and Science Olympiad:

Source: “(Website of Science Olympiad, n.d.). The overarching questions include what students involved in Science Olympiad perceived about their STEM and 2 1st century skills after being part of a team, whether they saw any overall benefits as a result of participating, and whether or not their experience influenced their career choice. This focus is critical due to the importance of the STEM fields and the importance of students’ involvement in the areas of science in and out of the school environment.
The concentration on, and the discussion of, STEM is not isolated to the United States. International testing such as Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) denotes the rankings of schools on an international scale. Science is a major focus. Citing the TIMSS study, Vitale and Romance (2006), state that those countries that ranked high had curriculum that,

“…focused around big ideas, was conceptually coherent and carefully articulated across grade levels. In contrast the curricula in low-achieving countries (including the United States) emphasized superficial, highly-fragmented coverage of a wide range of topics with little conceptual emphasis or depth. (p. 336)”

Some research found that direct instruction from the teacher is more effective than a student’s self-discovery approach. This direct instruction is stated to be better for both the students’ initial understanding and acquiring of knowledgc regarding procedures and for later application and transfer of that knowledge and understanding. Additionally, focusing on core concepts and the interrelated relationships, as well as both science knowledge and the nature of science, provides a comprehensive science literacy background (Vitale & Romance, 2006). According to Stohr-Hunt (1996), research shows that activity based science programs are effective, but that conversely, the research is not definitive as to whether or not it shows that it is necessarily better than traditional methods of instruction. Science Olympiad is a competition that allows students to work in groups and teams. It is normally run as an afterschool club and not as part of a class during the school day. As such, it does not normally fall under the direct teaching classroom model…
…Campbell (2008) cites research stating that challenging stimuli often create new pathways and increases the likelihood of long-term memory retention. A rich environment contributes to a rich brain. Educators should think about the stimuli that students are getting whether it be through the classroom or through other activities. Variety is a critical component to brain function. Variety can come in the form of new and different stimulations, fluctuations of rest and activity.

Learning should be exciting for the student and brains need to be stretched to reach their potential. The brain is at its best when it is in an environment that is positive, nurturing, and stimulating. Learners’ want to experience new things; they want to engage in discovery and challenges. Rote learning and memorization on the other hand inhibits brain development (Campbell, 2008). Science Olympiad tournaments are comprised of events ranging across many science, technology, and engineering disciplines. This plethora of events is exciting for the participants, as they can get involved in many different STEM areas…” — Jennifer L. Wirt, “AN ANALYSIS OF SCIENCE OLYMPIAD PARTICIPANTS’ PERCEPTIONS REGARDING THEIR EXPERIENCE WITH THE SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING ACADEMIC COMPETITION”

 

Details of the results of Japan’s participants’ performance and the school names were from the MEXT IMSO pages at URL: http://www.mext.go.jp/english/topics/1354136.htm

See also the blog on International Math and Science Olympiads Singapore Scene