This is the last issue of COMET for the 2008-2009 Academic Year. We will resume publication in August. Best wishes for a productive and enjoyable summer!
- 1 ARTICLES & ANNOUNCEMENTS (CALIFORNIA FOCUS)
- 2 ARTICLES & ANNOUNCEMENTS (NATIONAL FOCUS)
- 2.1 (1) Social Networking for Mathematics Education Professionals
- 2.2 (2) U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan Speaks about Data-based Education Reforms at Annual Institute of Education Sciences Conference
- 2.3 (3) Letter to President Obama from the STEM Coalition, Urging Support of STEM Education
- 2.4 (4) Science and Mathematics Teacher Imperative (SMTI) National Conference
- 2.5 (5) MATHCOUNTS 2009 National Competition Results; Math-Based Ride at Disney’s Epcot Center Scheduled to Open this Fall
- 2.6 (6) “Connecticut District Tosses Algebra Textbooks and Goes Online” by Winnie Hu
- 2.7 (7) “Online Games Spark Girls’ Interests in Science and Technology” by Robert Sanders
ARTICLES & ANNOUNCEMENTS (CALIFORNIA FOCUS)
(1) CCTC Meeting Agenda Item: “Pedagogical Preparation to Teach Mathematics”
Source: California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC)
Item 6E on the agenda of the June meeting of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC) addressed teachers’ pedagogical preparation to teach mathematics, a topic the Commission’s Teaching Mathematics Advisory Panel (TMAP) has been discussing. CCTC’s Teri Clark presented this item, which can be downloaded from http://www.ctc.ca.gov/commission/agendas/2009-06/2009-06-6E.pdf (Drs. Joanne Rossi Becker and Michael Lutz were in attendance representing CAMTE–the California Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators.)
In her report to the Commission, Teri Clark referenced pages from the agenda item (6E) document. She noted that that CCTC Program Standard 6: Pedagogy and Reflective Practice (pp. 1-2) addresses general pedagogy, but that there is nothing specific about mathematics in this standard. Program Standard 8: Pedagogical Preparation (pp. 2-4) does address the pedagogy that multiple and single subject teachers must understand and be able to implement. Mathematics is addressed in Program Standard 8A(a) for multiple subject and in Program Standard 8B(a) for single subject. Because the focus of her presentation was on multiple subject teacher preparation in mathematics, Teri read Program Standard 8A(a) aloud (pp. 2-3).
An excerpt from Teri’s oral presentation appears below:
“The Teaching Mathematics Advisory Panel asked the question, ‘Are our [CCTC’s] standards specific enough about the mathematical pedagogical skills that a teacher needs to allow them to be successful in today’s public schools?’ …We went beyond what our standards talk about and we went to the California Mathematics Framework, which was adopted in 2005, and we took just two examples from the Framework. One has to do with the information at the bottom of page 6 [of the CCTC agenda item document] about students’ need to be able to understand conceptual, procedural, and mathematics reasoning. Those concepts are not explicitly called out in our program standards about pedagogy. Another area in the Framework is … a whole chapter on a general framework for the teaching of mathematics topics and … the concepts of that chapter again are not explicitly called out in our pedagogy standards.”
Teri briefly discussed the findings of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, noting a conclusion that the Panel felt that “there was inadequate research of sufficient rigor or quality to allow them to identify the features of teacher preparation programs that have effects on teachers’ knowledge, instructional practice, or students’ achievement” and noting that this wasn’t very promising for the TMAP’s work.
Teri then mentioned Dr. Jim Stigler’s presentation to the Commission at the April CCTC meeting (see http://www.cmpso.org/comet/2009/2009.05.09.html#ca3 for a summary). Teachers in the United States “don’t necessarily ask the students to grapple with this idea of making connections. They sometimes turn the [‘making connections’] problem into a ‘using procedures’ problem. This agenda item [(Stigler’s presentation)] is being used with the [TMAP] as one of their resources.”
Teri continued, “They [(TMAP)] did have a meeting in May and … have Dr. Deborah Ball speak with them for about an hour and a half about this idea of what it is that an elementary school mathematics teacher needs to know and be able to do in the area of pedagogy for mathematics instruction.”
In response to a question from a Commissioner, Teri shared that the TMAP had three subgroups, one working on early elementary mathematics, one working on upper elementary to middle school mathematics, and a group working on mathematics specialists. She later reiterated that the Panel’s focus was on K-7 mathematics–to strengthen the mathematics education there so there was not as much drop-off in the later years.
The October CCTC meeting will include an update of the work of the TMAP.
(2) EdSource Reports: “Algebra Policy in California: Great Expectations and Serious Challenges” and Related Reports
Source: EdSource (firstname.lastname@example.org)
EdSource, with support from the Noyce Foundation, recently released a report on the topic of California’s algebra policy. A two-page Executive Summary of this report, “Algebra Policy in California: Great Expectations and Serious Challenges,” is available for download from the Web site above. The report focuses on “California’s policies regarding mathematics, in particular state standards for when students should take Algebra I. It also provides a comprehensive look at state data related to both student participation and performance.”
A few excerpts from the summary appear below:
Most California policymakers and educators would likely agree that all students need to take and master algebra early in their school careers. That said, the same Californians are much more divided regarding exactly when students should be expected to take algebra and how to ensure they have a reasonable chance for success.
This division was reflected in strong reac¬tions to a State Board of Education decision made last July–blocked by a California court ruling that is currently under appeal–that called for the state’s Algebra I test to become the “sole test of record” in grade 8 mathemat¬ics for federal accountability purposes. This would have set California apart from virtually all other states by effectively making Algebra I the default math course in grade 8…
Many more 8th graders now take Algebra I
Early student participation in Algebra I has increased greatly in recent years. In the first year that California administered course-specific math tests in grade 8 (1999), only 16% of 8th graders took the test for Algebra I. By 2003, this percentage had increased to 32%. In 2008, more than half (51%) of 8th graders took the California Standards Test (CST) in Algebra I. Some 7th graders–5% in 2008–now take the test as well.
Participation has increased among 8th graders of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. The percentage of African American 8th graders taking the test nearly doubled between 2003 and 2008 (24% to 47%). The same is also true for Latino 8th graders (26% to 48%)…”
The report continues with information about Algebra I CST performance data, as well as necessary teacher professional development and credentialing requirements. It discusses CCTC’s advisory panel on teaching mathematics, the Mathematics and Reading Professional Development Program, and the California Mathematics Project (CMP).
The summary concludes with the following: “Ongoing debates about the State Board of Education’s decision last July could serve as a catalyst for a deeper look at math instruc¬tion in California, including two specific questions related to grades 5-8 in particular. Could California strengthen its approach to mathematics standards, curricula, and assessment; and if so, what steps should be taken next? Do California’s teachers have the content knowledge and pedagogical skills they need to teach most effectively?
“This state’s ambition to improve the math proficiency and understanding of all its K-12 students deserves support and invest¬ment. Perhaps this is an opportune time for a thoughtful review and candid discussion of math education in California.”
To access a listing of the useful references cited in the report above, click on the link, “California Math-Related Organizations and Initiatives References in the May 2009 EdSource Report” at http://www.edsource.org/pub_algebra09_ES.html or go to the resources page directly at http://www.edsource.org/iss_secondary_md_algbib.html)
EdSource has also produced a parent/student guide entitled, “Why is it Important to Learn Algebra?” It is available in both English and Spanish:
Lastly, EdSource has published “Math and Science Education for the California Workforce: It Starts with K-12.” This document is available at http://www.edsource.org/pub_mathscience1-08_report.html A Web site description of this publication follows below:
Tomorrow’s workforce is in California’s public schools now. How well these students are educated in math and science will help determine the quality of not only their lives, but also the state’s future. Performance data indicate some progress in math and science enrollments and performance, but the magnitude of the challenge ahead is also clear.
This report looks at current projections for California’s workforce needs in several important STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. It also provides a comprehensive examination of how California’s standards-based reforms have affected student achievement in math and science. It focuses in on higher-level courses students take beginning in 8th grade and includes data on Algebra 1 enrollment and proficiency rates, comparisons of students’ proficiency based on the standards-aligned math course-taking path, and enrollment and achievement data for science courses. It also reviews the performance of traditionally low-achieving student subgroups and of the highest-achieving students. And it takes a look at the extent to which California’s postsecondary system ultimately is producing graduates in these key fields.
ARTICLES & ANNOUNCEMENTS (NATIONAL FOCUS)
(1) Social Networking for Mathematics Education Professionals
Source: National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM)
Whether you are a newbie to technology, or one who could not teach, work or live without it, sooner or later you may find yourself participating in one or more online social networks. Social networking tools include (but are not limited to) blogs, micro-blogs, chats and messaging. These tools provide a way to “hear” or “be heard” by an audience of one’s choosing.
The following free web tools can help you keep connected with your fellow mathematics education leaders:
Twitter is a micro-blogging tool that has received much attention in the media lately… Twitter is a free social messaging utility which provides a means for “staying connected” in real-time.
This quote from the About Us page of twitter.com explains the “result of using Twitter to stay connected with friends, relatives, and coworkers, is that you have a sense of what folks are up to, but you are not expected to respond to any updates unless you want to. This means you can step in and out of the flow of information as it suits you and it never queues up with increasing demand of your attention.”
Here are two resources specifically targeted to educators for exploring and discovering the value of Twitter as a social networking tool:
“A Teacher’s Guide to Twitter”: http://onceateacher.wordpress.com/2009/02/18/a-teachers-guide-to-twitter/
This blogpost by Kate Klingensmith provides very comprehensive “how to” information for posting, searching, replying and following others.
“Top 100 Tools for the Twittering Teacher from BestCollegesOnline”: http://www.bestcollegesonline.com/blog/2009/04/02/top-100-tools-for-the-twittering-teacher/
“It’s no wonder, then, that teachers have also found success on Twitter, using the tool to connect with students, share information with parents, and find useful resources. Here, we’ll take a look at 100 tools that can help twittering teachers make the most out of this helpful microblogging tool.”
Ready to Twitter? Visit www.twitter.com and create an account to join the conversations!
Follow NCSM on Twitter! Go to http://twitter.com/MathEdLeaders
“LinkedIn is an interconnected network of experienced professionals from around the world, representing 170 industries and 200 countries. You can find, be introduced to, and collaborate with qualified professionals that you need to work with to accomplish your goals.”
Visit www.linkedin.com/about to join the Linkedin network and connect with your fellow mathematics education leaders.
If you are already a member of LinkedIn and are a member of NCSM, join the NCSM group created for members to keep in touch with those that share common interests: http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=1858533
RSS is an acronym for Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication. It is the technology that allows Internet users to subscribe to or “pull” information from various web sites and web services into an aggregator, a page or software that is specifically designed to pull together information.
This short video from CommonCraft, “RSS In Plain English,” explains how to subscribe to RSS information: http://www.commoncraft.com/rss_plain_english
If you have an RSS Newsreader program, you might want to add the feeds:
– Monitor discussions on the NCSM listserv: feed://mathforum.org/kb/rss/rssmessages.jsp?forumID=204
-_Mathedleaders links on delicious.com: feed://feeds.delicious.com/v2/rss/tag/mathedleaders?count=15
“Delicious is a social bookmarking service that allows users to tag, save, manage and share web pages from a centralized source. With emphasis on the power of the community, Delicious greatly improves how people discover, remember and share on the Internet” (from www.delicious.com/about).
Visit www.delicious.com to begin saving and sharing your bookmarks online.
Find resources tagged for mathematics education leaders at http://delicious.com/tag/mathedleaders/ To add to this list, simply tag resources with “mathedleaders” when you save them to Delicious.
(2) U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan Speaks about Data-based Education Reforms at Annual Institute of Education Sciences Conference
Source: U.S. Department of Education
URL (Press Release): http://www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2009/06/06082009.html
URL (Speech): http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/2009/06/06082009.html
URL (IES Conference): http://ies.ed.gov/director/conferences/09ies_conference
The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) hosted the Fourth Annual IES Research Conference on June 7-9, 2009 in Washington, DC. “The conference is the broadest assemblage of grant and contract recipients conducting education research funded by IES and the Department of Education.” The conference Web site (http://ies.ed.gov/director/conferences/09ies_conference) contain links to pages containing the conference program, speaker biographies, and presentation files. Two such files include Powerpoint presentations entitled (a) “Achievement Effects of Four Early Elementary School Math Curricula: Findings from First Graders in 39 Schools” by Roberto Agodini, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. and (b) “Describing the Academic Content of International Mathematics and Science Assessments & Their Relationship To State Academic Content Standards & Assessments” by John Smithson, Wisconsin Center for Education Research.
During a keynote address at the conference on Monday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that school reforms should be monitored and judged by results that can be backed up by research proving their effectiveness.
Speaking at the fourth annual conference of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Duncan told an audience of education researchers that supporting states’ efforts to build warehouses of data on student achievement is one of his top priorities.
“Education reform is not about sweeping mandates or grand gestures,” Duncan told the group of researchers who conduct research for IES, which is an independent section of the Education Department. “It’s about systematically examining and learning, building on what we’ve done right, and scrapping what hasn’t worked for kids.”
Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, states must make assurances that they are making progress in four key areas of school reform:
— Adopting rigorous standards that prepare students for success in college and the workforce;
— Recruiting and retaining effective teachers, especially in classrooms where they’re needed most;
— Turning around low-performing schools; and
— Building data systems to track student achievement and teacher effectiveness.
States must report their progress toward completing these assurances in their applications to receive money under the $48.6 billion State Fiscal Stabilization Fund. The Department of Education will evaluate states’ success in meeting the four assurances when considering states’ applications for competitive grants under the $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund.
Duncan told the researchers that the data systems should inform education policies that will improve practices. He urged them to work on improving accountability models based on the growth of student test scores and developing fair models of compensating teachers and other school staff based on the achievement of their students. Ultimately, he added, the data should be used to ensure that students are on track to graduation and success in college.
“Hopefully some day we can track kids from pre-school to high-school and from high school to college and college to career,” Duncan said. “Hopefully we can track good kids to good teachers and good teachers to good colleges of education.”
Duncan’s speech is the first in a series over four weeks in which the secretary will detail the Department of Education’s policies on each of the four assurances.
(3) Letter to President Obama from the STEM Coalition, Urging Support of STEM Education
Source: The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News
URL (letter): http://www.stemedcoalition.org
On May 27, over 60 scientific and education organizations (including the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, signed a letter to President Barack Obama that noted his recent comments on basic and applied research and education at the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), and urged the President to make additional federal investments in science and mathematics education. The letter appears below:
Dear President Obama:
The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Coalition commends you for your dedicated and impassioned support of STEM education and the steps your Administration is taking to reinvigorate basic and applied research and education.
We applaud your April 27 address to the National Academy of Sciences and your call to dramatically improve student achievement in math and science. We support your efforts to encourage states to improve the quality and supply of math and science teachers and modernize and renovate high school labs. We also appreciate your call for rigorous content standards in math and science and your support of the Robert Noyce Scholarship program.
Our Coalition stands ready to assist with the Administration’s efforts to create partnerships among stakeholders to support K-12 and undergraduate STEM education and to engage in a public awareness and outreach campaign to inspire young people to excel in STEM and pursue careers as scientists, engineers and innovators.
As we go forward on these and other initiatives to increase student achievement in the STEM areas we hope you, Secretary Duncan, and OSTP Chief John Holdren will renew the promise to all students that they have a right to a world class education in STEM that begins with common standards, researched-based curricula, and teachers and administrators prepared to provide them with the most effective 21st Century content and teaching strategies.
We also strongly urge you to pursue efforts to encourage more women and minorities to pursue STEM careers.
For more than five years now the STEM Education Coalition has worked aggressively to raise awareness in Congress and with other organizations about the critical role that STEM education plays in enabling the U.S. to remain the economic and technological leader of the global marketplace of the 21st century. The Coalition advocates for strengthening of STEM-related programs for educators and students and increased federal investments in STEM education. We also support robust federal investments in basic scientific research to inspire current and future generations of young people to pursue careers in STEM fields. Members of the STEM Coalition believe that our nation must improve the way our students learn science, mathematics, technology and engineering and that the business, education, and STEM communities must work together to achieve this goal.
If we can provide you with any additional information on our Coalition, please contact Coalition Co-
chairs, James Brown with the American Chemical Society at 202-872-6229 or Jodi Peterson with the
National Science Teachers Association at 703-312-9214.
[List of supporting organizations]
(4) Science and Mathematics Teacher Imperative (SMTI) National Conference
Source: The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU)
URL: SMTI Conference Web site: http://www.teacher-imperative.org/archives/435
The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU, formerly NASULGC) convened its first Science and Mathematics Teacher Imperative (SMTI) National Conference on May 17-18, 2009. The conference, hosted by the University of Colorado at Boulder, drew representatives from 72 of the 83 universities plus 5 of the 11 university systems (e.g., California State University) that have committed to SMTI’s goal of dramatically increasing the production of mathematics and science teachers. The agenda for this conference can be found at http://www.teacher-imperative.org/archives/435 Presentation files are available as hot links from the session titles. More information about SMTI can be found at http://www.teacher-imperative.org/archives/category/press-releases
(5) MATHCOUNTS 2009 National Competition Results; Math-Based Ride at Disney’s Epcot Center Scheduled to Open this Fall
Bobby Shen of Sugar Land, Texas, was crowned the winner of the 2009 Raytheon MATHCOUNTS National Competition last month at Walt Disney World’s Swan and Dolphin Resort. This year’s winning Mathlete answered the following math problem in less than 45 seconds: “How many 2 x 2 x 2 cubes must be added to an 8 x 8 x 8 cube to make a 10 x 10 x 10 cube?”
The 8th-grader from First Colony Middle School competed against 227 other middle school students in this prestigious competition, hosted by Danica McKellar. McKellar is best known as Winnie Cooper on “The Wonder Years” and Elsie Snuffin on “The West Wing” and now as author of the New York Times best-selling books, Kiss My Math and Math Doesn’t Suck, which are targeted at middle school girls. Visit http://mathcounts.org/Page.aspx?pid=1460 to view a video of competition highlights.
Shen was victorious in the intense, one-on-one oral Countdown Round where the top 12 Mathletes competed for the title. David Yang, a 7th grader homeschooled in California, was awarded second place with Maximilian Schindler of St. Louis, Mo., and Alan Zhou of Lexington, Mass., advancing to the semi-finals.
As National Champion, Shen won the $8,000 Donald G. Weinert Scholarship and a trip to the U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala. Additionally, he and his winning team were invited by William H. Swanson, Chairman and CEO, Raytheon Company, to the Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., to be his guests for the official opening of “The Sum of All Thrills,” an interactive, math-based ride developed by Raytheon to help instill a lifelong passion for math, science and technology. Part of Raytheon’s MathMovesU initiative, “The Sum of All Thrills” will open this fall at INNOVENTIONS within Disney’s Epcot Center.
In the team competition, Texas captured the title of National Team Champions. In addition to Shen, team members are Yury Aglyamov and Steven Chen of Austin, and Lily Shen and coach Jeff Boyd of Sugar Land. The Missouri team took second place, and the Washington team placed third.
“Every one of the participating Mathletes should be recognized for his or her outstanding achievements following months of dedication and hard work,” said Swanson, 2009 MATHCOUNTS honorary chairman. “We hope these students will build on their passion for math and be recognized for their outstanding efforts going forward. MATHCOUNTS and programs like Raytheon’s MathMovesU are working to motivate the country’s brightest students with the idea that with math, there are no limits.”
David Yang also won an $8,000 scholarship as the Written Round Winner, and Maximilian Schindler won a $6,000 scholarship as Written Round Runner-up. Schindler was also pronounced the Master Round winner and invited by Raytheon to attend “The Sum of All Thrills” ribbon-cutting ceremony. Each team member from first-place Texas won a $2,000 scholarship and trip to U.S. Space Camp.
For more information about MATHCOUNTS, visit http://mathcounts.org
(6) “Connecticut District Tosses Algebra Textbooks and Goes Online” by Winnie Hu
Source: The New York Times – 8 June 2009
Math students in this high-performing school district [in Westport, Connecticut] used to rush through their Algebra I textbooks only to spend the first few months of Algebra II relearning everything they forgot or failed to grasp the first time.
So the district’s frustrated math teachers decided to rewrite the algebra curriculum, limiting it to about half of the 90 concepts typically covered in a high school course in hopes of developing a deeper understanding of key topics. Last year, they began replacing 1,000-plus-page math textbooks with their own custom-designed online curriculum; the lessons are typically written in Westport and then sent to a program in India (http://www.heymath.com/) to jazz up the algorithms and problem sets with animation and sounds.
“In America, we run through chapters like a speeding train,” said John Dodig, the principal of the 1,728-student Staples High School here. “Schools in Singapore and India spend more time on each topic, and their kids do better. We’re boiling down math to the essentials.”
That means Westport students focus only on linear functions in Algebra I, taught in seventh, eighth or ninth grade depending on student ability, and leave quadratics and exponents to Algebra II, eliminating the overlap and repetition typical of most textbooks and curriculum guidelines. Westport has also scaled back exercises like long formal proofs in geometry, revising lessons and homework assignments to teach students to defend their answers to math problems as a matter of routine rather than repeatedly writing them out.
Westport’s curriculum overhaul joins other recent critiques of mile-wide, inch-deep instruction in the long-running math wars within American education. In 2006, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics called for a tighter focus on basic math skills. Two years later, a federal panel appointed by President George W. Bush urged that pre-kindergarten to eighth-grade math curriculums be streamlined after finding that math achievement for American students was at “a mediocre level” compared with that of their peers worldwide.
Westport school officials say their less-is-more approach has already resulted in less review in math classes, higher standardized test scores and more students taking advanced math classes. The percentage of the district’s 10th graders receiving top scores on state exams rose to 86 percent last year from 78 percent in 2006. Advanced Placement calculus and statistics classes enrolled 231 students this year, from 170 in 2006, and a record 44 students will be able to take multivariable calculus this fall, up from four in 2006…[see the article for textbook publisher reactions].
Here in Westport, the math curriculum has been compiled from original lessons and assignments as well as material adapted from Web sites, books, training sessions and conferences. Math teachers say their curriculum seeks to balance traditional teacher-directed instruction with student-exploration exercises, and in some cases diverges from Connecticut standards, which, for instance, call for quadratic equations to be taught in Algebra I…
Frank Corbo, the head of Staples’ math department, said the district spent about $70,000 to develop the new math curriculum–half to pay two dozen teachers to work on it over the summer, and the other half to pay HeyMath!, whose Web server in Singapore gives students 24-hour, 7-day-a-week access to class lessons, tutorials and homework assignments. He said that the district will soon save at least $25,000 a year on textbooks.
In interviews, several Westport teachers and parents said the slower pace has helped their children focus more deeply on difficult concepts, and students say the shift online has made math easier to understand with cool graphics, animation and real-world context …
In precalculus class the other day, Sarah White taught a dozen juniors and seniors about sine and cosine curves by inviting them to “play around with graphs” in a HeyMath! lesson. As a student touched an on-screen graph, the curves jumped and slid – an exercise that used to take 10 minutes or more on graphing calculators. “Kids would punch in wrong numbers and use the wrong mode,” Ms. White said.
Jahari Dodd, 17, a junior who earns B’s in math, said the online lessons were a welcome change from the dense pages of numbers and equations in his precalculus textbook. “I’m much more of a visual learner,” he said. “If I can’t see it or have some kind of image with it, it’s much harder to grasp.”
Kirk Massie, 15, a sophomore, said that he prepared for his midterm in Algebra II by replaying class lessons at home. “You don’t have to ask questions, you just rewind,” he said. “If you forget or it’s late at night, or you don’t have time to talk to the teacher, it’s right there and it takes a minute to log on”…
(7) “Online Games Spark Girls’ Interests in Science and Technology” by Robert Sanders
Source: University of California, Berkeley
Ruby Knight and Tiffany Farmer, sixth and seventh grade Girl Scouts at the ASA Academy in West Oakland, have never met Susan Murabona, an educator and astronomer in Nairobi, Kenya. Nor have they visited the Ironwood North Observatory (INO) in Queen Creek, Ariz., or talked to Lech Mankiewicz, an astrophysicist in Warsaw, Poland.
But Ruby, Tiffany, Susan and Lech all got together via the Internet earlier this month to begin assembling an online game that will help girls around the world explore the cosmos and perhaps steer them toward careers in software development and information technology.
“The Universe Quest Game,” an immersive game similar to the popular multi-user virtual world called “Second Life,” is being made possible by a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to the University of California, Berkeley.
“Girls have traditionally been left out of the pipeline to technology careers, and African Americans as well, and there is a strong sense that we need to reach these very talented populations,” said Carl Pennypacker, UC Berkeley principal investigator of the “Universe Quest” project. “We know we can inspire the students, and we know from research that inspired children learn more and achieve more.”
“These children are beginning to have some of the most profound, powerful and useful educational experiences that we can provide,” said colleague Hakeem Oluseyi, a Florida Institute of Technology professor and former UC Berkeley scientist who is helping coordinate the after-school class producing the game.
When they met online recently, the girls poured over images of the galaxy M51, a collection of stars about 35 million light years from our own galaxy. The images were taken by Murabona from her lab in Kenya using the remote INO telescope in Arizona.
From his home in Warsaw, Mankiewicz coached Murabana, taking her step by step through the intricacies of using the telescope and acquiring images. Murabona then taught the girls to use a free French software program known as Salsa to combine three images, taken with red, green, and blue filters, to make a true color image of the galaxy.
Ruby Knight and Tiffany Farmer videoconference with astronomer Susan Murabona in Nairobi, Kenya, to learn how to remotely operate a telescope in Arizona. The M51 images will become part of “The Universe Quest Game” that the Oakland Girl Scouts will build and populate to learn about astronomy while interacting with other students from around the world, who will be creating their own games and journeys. Ninety girls from Kenya High in Nairobi, for example, are eagerly awaiting the chance to play Tiffany’s and Ruby’s games, and also to create their own games and share them with the ASA girls.
In the process, the students all will learn how to use remote telescopes, process images, search databases and discover and monitor such astronomical puzzles as quasar variability. They will even be able to find and name their own asteroids.
“It is widely believed that serious gaming technology could prove to be of value in formal and informal education,” said Pennypacker. “We are at the edge of this research, and trying to find a way to make it succeed. And so far, it is succeeding–the girls are making great games, they’re engaged, they are enthusiastic, they are learning things. It is a breakthrough for the girls and me and, hopefully, society.”
“It’s amazing how the girls are captivated by game authoring,” Pennypacker said. “People say that kids like games, but it is extraordinary how they become engaged. They really like the detailed creative part of game authoring, not the shoot-’em-ups like ‘World of Warcraft.'”
So far, a dozen girls meet to work on the game two afternoons a week for two hours at the ASA Academy & Community Science Center, a small, urban, hands-on school that helps traditionally underrepresented youth prepare to move into the ever-changing scientific and technological world. The 3-D online environment the girls are now constructing will eventually be open to girls around the world to explore and build upon.
The three-year grant from NSF’s Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program was the result of a strong collaboration between the ASA Academy, the Girl Scouts of Northern California, and UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory (SSL), according to Pennypacker, who has a position at both SSL and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Now in the pilot stage, Pennypacker and his colleagues hope to expand the program to 30 or more girls from Oakland, El Cerrito and Richmond before offering it to teachers around the world.
Ironwood North Observatory, which consists of a 10-inch telescope operated by amateur astronomer Frank Pino, delivers more than 1,000 images a month to students all over the world. Many of these students are participants in Hands-On Universe, an international education program started by Pennypacker more than a decade ago and centered at UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science.