COMET • Vol. 1, No. 33 – 20 November 2000


(1) “Johnny W. Lott Is Elected President of National Council of Teachers of Mathematics”

Source: NCTM Press Release – 14 November 2000

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) today announced that Johnny W. Lott, professor of mathematical sciences at the University of Montana, has been elected its next president. Lott will serve a one-year term as president-elect beginning in April 2001 before beginning a two-year term as president at the Council’s annual meeting in Las Vegas in April 2002.

“This is a great professional honor, and an especially humbling one because the president is elected by colleagues teaching math at all levels,” Lott said. “I look forward to building on the successes of my predecessors and capitalizing on the fine work that’s being done now by NCTM. I hope to promote and capitalize on the ‘Principles and Standards for School Mathematics’ produced earlier this year, and seek more innovative ways to provide quality mathematics education for all students.”

Lott said his goals for the organization included using electronic media effectively to promote mathematics education, developing grassroots affiliate efforts to increase and maintain membership, and informing and educating the public and government officials about mathematics policy issues.

For the past two years, Lott has been the project manager of Figure This!, a program of mathematics challenges for families, which is funded in part by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education and managed through NCTM. The program develops and publishes mathematics challenges for middle school students to work on at home with their families and maintains a Web site ( Since 1983, Lott has been professor of mathematical sciences at the University of Montana, where he has been on the faculty since 1974. He has also taught mathematics in schools in Alaska and Georgia.

Lott received a B.S. in mathematics from Union University, an M.A.T. in mathematics education from Emory University, and a Ph.D. from Georgia State University.

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics was founded in 1920 and is a nonprofit, nonpartisan education association with more than 100,000 members and 250 Affiliates located throughout the United States and Canada. NCTM facilitates ongoing dialogue and constructive discussion among all stakeholders about what is best for our nation’s students. The Council is dedicated to improving mathematics teaching and learning from pre-kindergarten through high school and providing a high-quality mathematics education for every child. The Council’s “Principles and Standards” provides guidelines for excellence in mathematics education and issues a call for all students to engage in more-challenging mathematics.


(2) “NCTM Announces Election of Four New Members to the Board of Directors”
Source: NCTM Press Release – 14 November 2000

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) today announced that Cindy Chapman, Albuquerque, N.Mex.; Carolyn Kieran, Westmount, QC, Canada; Mark Saul, New York, N.Y.; and J. Michael Shaughnessy, Portland, Oreg., have been elected to three-year terms on its Board of Directors. Their terms will begin at the 79th Annual Meeting in Orlando in April 2001…


(3) “Algebra Benefits All Students, Study Finds” by Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Source: Education Week – 15 November 2000

All students, regardless of their prior mathematical skills, benefit from taking algebra, a study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison concludes.

That finding, published in the fall issue of Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, a journal of the American Educational Research Association, should add weight to the recent push to encourage all students to take the course, one of the researchers said.

“The findings indicate that general-math classes should be eliminated because those are low-level classes that lack a strong pathway to the future,” said Adam Gamoran, who conducted the study with Eileen C. Hannigan. “Students learn less in them, no matter how low their test scores are, than if they took algebra.”

The study, titled “Algebra for All: Benefits of College-Preparatory Mathematics for Students With Diverse Abilities in Early Secondary School,” is based on data from the first two phases of the National Educational Longitudinal Study, conducted in 1988 and 1990. The researchers measured changes in achievement in mathematics among a sample of 12,500 students.

Tenth graders who took algebra scored higher-and showed greater improvement between 8th and 10th grades-on a math test developed for the national survey than those who did not take the subject. Students who took algebra improved their scores by about 8 points by 10th grade; those who did not take the subject improved by about 4 points.

Benefits to taking algebra were found regardless of students’ race or sex, or whether their classmates had similar skills in the subject matter or a range of skills. Students with poor math skills tend to benefit less from the course than those with higher skills, “but they still benefit more than those not taking algebra,” Mr. Gamoran said.

Requiring all students to take algebra has become a central part of many efforts to improve low-performing schools.

But some critics have argued that algebra is not a necessary course for all students, particularly those who have little mathematical talent or do not plan to go on to college. Moreover, some math educators argue, the traditional algebra course-offered in 8th or 9th grade without providing students with the prerequisite foundation in algebraic thinking-only sets students up for failure.

Too Hard for Some?

“The overall success of trying to teach algebra to everyone, particularly in the way it has historically been taught, has not been successful. The failure rate is very high, teacher burnout is very high,” said Jim Kaput, a professor of mathematics at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. “The kinds of efforts that attempt to shove algebra down the throats of all students distract us from improving the way we do algebra in the long run.”

Some experts have called for supplanting elementary and middle school math programs, which tend to focus on basic math skills, with a curriculum that builds algebraic-reasoning skills beginning in the early grades.

Yet even in a traditional program, Mr. Gamoran argues, some algebra is better than none at all. “Algebra is an important domain of intellectual knowledge which has application in a number of areas,” he said.

Reason enough, he adds, to encourage all students take the subject.

On the Web

Read The Nature and Role of Algebra in the K-14 Curriculum: Proceedings of a National Symposium, from a conference held by the Mathematical Sciences Education Board and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, May 1997. and offer tutoring, message boards, lists of books on algebra, and other useful information related specifically to algebra.

Read a 1996 report from the National Center for Education Statistics, “Eighth-Grade Algebra Course-Taking and Mathematics Proficiency.”

Read about the development, scoring, and design of the Educational Testing Service’s product, an algebra end-of-course assessment, including sample questions and a list of concepts covered.


(4) “Math Studies Go High-Tech Graphing Calculator Becoming Common School Tool” by Mary Owen

Source: Chicago Tribune – 13 November 2000,2669,SAV-0011130131,FF.html

Powerful and expensive graphing calculators are changing dramatically the way teens and young adults learn math. The hand-held computer-like devices, which cost about $100, have become as common on teenagers’ back-to-school lists as crayons are for the elementary set.

As schools grow more adept at incorporating technology into the classroom, use of the graphing calculator is seeping into other subjects, like chemistry and physics, and into earlier grades.

For parents who learned to do math before calculators were commercially available, the trend needs a little explaining. Why do teenagers need sophisticated tools to learn basic algebra? Why do graphing calculators cost so much more than regular calculators? And shouldn’t students be learning how to work problems with pencils and paper?

In search of answers, we visited the classroom of Marie Copeland, a math teacher at Macomb Mathematics Science Technology Center in Warren, Michigan. Fourteen-year-old Sarah Hercula of Warren had entered 24 fictional test scores into her TI-83 Plus calculator to make a histogram, a bar graph that shows the frequency of numbers in a group.

Copeland had required the students to graph manually, using a pencil and a piece of lined paper first–something she said was important to ensure that they understood the concept of plotting numbers. “The graphing calculator is only as good as the puncher-inner–and that’s you,” Copeland told her class.

Hercula entered the data into the calculator and pressed a series of buttons to form a graph, change the scale, identify the range of the diagram and find the numerical average.

“It’s easier to use the calculator as long as you know how to operate it,” she said.

Within a few minutes, the class was talking about the graph, looking at where the greatest concentration of numbers was and analyzing whether it meant the data represented things like productivity.

Copeland, who has been teaching for 30 years, said students used to spend too much time graphing large amounts of data or trying to solve basic equations before moving on to more complicated ones. Now, they can use the graphing calculator as a shortcut to the complicated computation that used to get short shrift.

She said that analyzing results was almost never possible before the graphing calculator, which started to grow in popularity in high schools in the early 1990s.

But Copeland and other teachers say students walk a fine line between using the gadgets as a learning tool and using them as a crutch.

Gregory Bachelis, a Wayne State University math professor, said the graphing calculator is an important math tool, but it should never replace basic manipulations. Bachelis warns that some students don’t understand mathematical concepts, but have mastered the “keying-in stuff” of the graphing calculator.

“It’s turned people into math robots,” Bachelis said. “They can punch all these numbers in and know how to get the right answer.”

He said graphing calculators are most likely to be misused in integrated math classes that combine elements of algebra, geometry and precalculus in each grade of high school. Bachelis said classes try to cover too much material–like probability and statistics, typically not covered in high school–and the graphing calculator is used to save time.

Slightly fewer than half of all Michigan schools use some form of integrated math, said Chuck Allan, math education consultant for the state Department of Education.

But Charles Vonder Embse, co-chairman of Texas Instrument’s teachers technology training program, called opponents of graphing calculators short-sighted.

“To deny technology of our everyday life is ludicrous,” said Vonder Embse, who is also a Central Michigan University math professor. “If you went into the hospital today, wouldn’t you be a little bit worried if it looked like the hospital of the 1940s or 1950s?”

Math experts say parents can check up on their students by asking them to explain how the graphing calculator works or by asking teachers for specific examples of how the tool is used in class…

“We used to do math every day by hand,” said…Houieda Barakat]. “Why not do it like that now?”

But Alan Hercula of Warren said the $99 he spent on his daughter Sarah’s calculator is an investment because she will use it in other math classes.

“If you understand the principles behind what the calculator does, it’s not a crutch at all,” he said…


(5) “Student Jobs Hurt Math, Science Scores” by John Gehring

Source: Education Week – 15 November 2000

A study in The Journal of Educational Research‘s November/December issue questions the common belief that part-time jobs benefit high school students and suggests that the more hours students clock, the fewer math and science courses they take.

The study, which looked at more than 26,000 sophomores and seniors from about 1,000 high schools nationwide, examined the impact part-time work had on students’ course-taking and their achievement on math and science standardized tests.

It found that even when students’ socioeconomic status and previous educational achievement were taken into account, jobs still had a “significant negative effect” on coursework and achievement in math and science.

The more hours students logged at their jobs, the less likely they were to take courses and perform well in those subjects, said Kusum Singh, a professor of educational research at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and the study’s lead author.

“The first 15 hours of work didn’t seem to matter,” she said. “But after that, when students are working 20 hours or more, it starts interfering with school performance.”

The number of high school students holding part-time jobs has risen steadily over the past two decades. Forty-two percent of high school seniors, 33 percent of juniors, and 15 percent of sophomores worked part time in 1994, according to the most recent figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The United States is one of the few industrialized nations where adolescents commonly both work and attend school. American students’ performance on science and math tests has lagged compared with that of other countries-an often-cited concern for U.S. policymakers educators.

Previous studies on students who work reveal mixed findings. Some found a small to moderate decline in student achievement; others concluded work had a negligible impact on students’ grade point averages. But some research suggests that when a high percentage of students at a school hold part-time jobs, the school’s teaching and learning atmosphere shifts because teachers begin to lower their expectations for student performance.

Ms. Singh said a more critical look at the issue is needed. “The common wisdom says work is good for children, but that is more theoretical than empirical,” she said.


(1) “NAEP Sample Math Questions Online”

Source: NCTM’s Legislative & Policy Update for the week ending Nov 10, 2000 by Kyle McCowin (

National Assessment of Education Progress sample math questions are available at the Sample Questions Tool (SQT) at 300 math questions are posted at the site, including scoring guides, actual student responses and performance data…

For math, an advance search is available where you can select by:

  • Grade (4, 8, 12)
  • Content Area (six areas in the NAEP math framework)
  • Question Type (multiple choice to extended constructed response)
  • Math Ability (three abilities in the NAEP framework) difficulty (three levels)
  • For more information on the NAEP math framework, visit


    (2) Mathematics Education Dialogues

    Mathematics Education Dialogues is an open forum for the exchange of points of view about issues in mathematics education. It provides essays about compelling, complex, and timely topics in mathematics education that transcend grade levels. Dialogues does not present official policies of NCTM. The Editorial Panel strives to have many viewpoints represented. Dialogues invites responses to each issue…

    The October 2000 issue includes the following articles:

  • “Teacher Preparation: A Never-Ending Quandary” by Johnny W. Lott, Editor
  • “Prescription for Preservice Education: Stop Blaming the Victims- and Teach Them” by Angela Andrews
  • “The Only Prerequisites Should Be Knowledge and the Desire to Teach” by Dan Kennedy
  • “Math in the Middle: Are We Prepared?” by Barbara Cain
  • “Teacher Responses” by Cynthia Ballheim, for the Editorial Panel
  • “Teacher Education via the Yellow Brick Road” by Peggy House
  • “New Thinking about the Mathematical Education of Teachers” by Alan Tucker
  • “What We Think That Elementary Teachers Need…” by Cathy Kessel and Liping Ma
  • “Teachers Need More Knowledge of How Children Learn Mathematics” by Constance Kamii
  • “How Much Can We Accomplish? Elementary Mathematics Methods Revisited” by Megan Loef Franke
  • “Enabling Future Teachers” by Diane Resek
  • “Multicultural Issues Necessary for Teacher Preparation in Mathematics: Moving beyond Awareness” by Michaele F. Chappell and Deborah H. Najee-ullah
  • “Are Our Teachers Prepared to Provide Instruction in Statistics at the K-12 Levels?” by Christine Franklin
  • “Teaching Mathematics in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program-Are You Prepared? by Margaret Langfield


    Math On Call

    The Fresno County Office of Education (FCOE) is hosting a mathematics hotline beginning on November 27, 2000. Five tutors will be available to answer mathematics questions from students in kindergarten through calculus. Students may call (559) 497-3776 or (888) 567-MATH between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday. For more information, contact Lori Hamada (FCOE Mathematics Coordinator) at 497-3729.