COMET • Vol. 10, No. 20 – 29 September 2009


California Mathematics Teachers are Sought to Pilot an Online Professional Development Course

Source: Stephen Helgeson, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards –

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) is seeking middle and high school mathematics teachers from California to participate in a pilot online mathematics professional development course. (Teachers do not need to be National Board Certified to participate.)

The first part of the course runs from October 7-November 25, 2009, and the second part will be offered February-March 2010.  Teachers may participate in one or both parts of the course (see below for content). A stipend of $315 will be paid to participants for each part of the course (including follow-up surveys) that they complete.

The course is organized around the Five Core Propositions (the basis of the NBPTS teaching standards) and will focus on challenging areas identified in aggregated National Board Certification results for mathematics teachers.  The course will have an experienced facilitator who is a specialist in K-12 mathematics.

The first part of the course will focus on math goals (factual, procedural and conceptual), building knowledge packages (learning progressions) to sequence the learning for such goals, and defining evidence of student learning for each of these types of goals.  The second part of the course (which is independent of the first) will focus on creating and using learner profiles, creating a classroom culture that supports mathematics instruction, being intentional about instructional methods, and checking for understanding during the lesson (with emphasis on what the teacher is trying to learn about student thinking and what the teacher will do based on what is learned).

For more information and to express interest in participating, contact Stephen Helgeson at no later than this Thursdayevening (October 1).  Interested teachers should identify which part(s) of the course they wish to participate in, their instructional grade level(s), the course(s) that they teach, and their school district.




(1) National Town Hall Meeting with Teachers about Reforming Education: Join the Discussion!

Source:  U.S. Department of Education

In last week’s major speech about the future of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (see next article), Secretary Arne Duncan urged stakeholders to “build a law that respects the honored, noble status of educators–who should be valued as skilled professionals–rather than mere practitioners, and compensated accordingly.”

To help advance that discussion, Secretary Duncan will engage teachers across the country in a national town hall in a special edition of the department’s television program, Education News Parents Can Use, on October 20 at 5:00 p.m. PDT.  Secretary Duncan will take comments and questions from teachers in the studio audience and via telephone, email, and video.

Throughout the hour-long program, teachers will have a chance to offer the Secretary their suggestions and their hopes about reforming education. The conversation will cover ways to improve the Elementary and Secondary Education Act; better methods for recruiting, preparing, and rewarding teachers; ideas for elevating the teaching profession; and much more.

Details about the special town hall for teachers on Education News, including directions for viewing the webcast of the program live, online, are at

Teachers can contribute to the conversation right now by submitting a question or posting answers to one or more of these questions:

– How can we recruit, support and retain excellent teachers in all our schools?
– What are the best ways to measure and reward excellence in teaching?
– How can we ensure that our most challenged schools have the most effective teachers?
– In what ways does No Child Left Behind need to change in order to support effective teaching?

The show will feature as many responses as possible on the October 20 live broadcast. You may also call the show at 1-888-493-9382 from 5:00-6:00 p.m. (PDT).  You may submit original video comments and questions by Wednesday, October 14, 2009.  (To learn how you can submit an original video, visit:


(2) Secretary Duncan Says Rewrite of “No Child Left Behind” Should Start Now

Source: U.S. Department of Education
URL (Speech):

Last Thursday (September 24), U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that the $24.8 billion in federal funds available annually to the nation’s schools should support reforms that prepare students for success in college and careers.

“Today, I am calling on all of you to join with us to build a transformative education law that guarantees every child the education they want and need–a law that recognizes and reinforces the proper role of the federal government to support and drive reform at the state and local level,” Duncan told more than 200 leaders of major education groups in his first major speech about the future of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA).

The ESEA was reauthorized most recently in 2002 in what is known as the No Child Left Behind Act.

In his speech, Duncan said that the NCLB law has significant flaws and that he looks forward to working with Congress to address the law’s problems. He said the law puts too much emphasis on standardized tests, unfairly labels many schools as failures, and doesn’t account for students’ academic growth in its accountability system.

“But the biggest problem with NCLB is that it doesn’t encourage high learning standards,” Duncan said. “In fact, it inadvertently encourages states to lower them. The net effect is that we are lying to children and parents by telling kids they are succeeding when they are not.”

Duncan credited NCLB for highlighting the achievement gap in schools and for focusing accountability on student outcomes, and said he is committed to policies that work toward closing that gap while raising the achievement of all children.

He said he wants the next version of ESEA to create tests that better measure student learning and to build an accountability system that is based on the academic growth of students. He also wants the law to create programs to improve the performance of existing teachers and school leaders, to recruit new effective educators, and to ensure that the best educators are serving the children that are the furthest behind.

“Our role in Washington is to support reform by encouraging bold, creative approaches to addressing underperforming schools, closing the achievement gap, strengthening the field of education, reducing the dropout rate and boosting college access,” Duncan said.

After Duncan’s speech, the two senior staff members who will coordinate the department’s effort to reauthorize the ESEA invited members of the audience to outline proposals for the next version of the law.

The session was the first in a series of events where education stakeholders will offer input about the law. Carmel Martin, assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and program development, and Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana, assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, will host the events in the Barnard Auditorium at the department’s headquarters in the Lyndon Baines Johnson Building, 400 Maryland Ave. S.W., Washington, D.C.

The dates and times for upcoming ESEA stakeholder meetings are as follows:

Wednesday, Oct. 7 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Oct. 21 from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Nov. 4 from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 20 from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Dec. 2 from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

The forums are part of the department’s “Listening and Learning” tour seeking public input about changes to the ESEA. By the end of the year, the secretary or a senior staff member will have led a listening and learning event in all 50 states.

Secretary Duncan’s remarks are available at


Related stories:

(a) “ESEA Action High Priority, Duncan Says” and “Department Kicks Off NCLB Discussion at Packed Forum,” both by Alyson Klein
Source: Education Week – 24 September 2009
URL: (article charge for nonsubscribers) and (free of charge)

(b) More School: Obama Would Curtail Summer Vacation
Source: The New York Times – 27 September 2009


(3) NAEP-Mathematics Results will be Released on October 14

Source: IES (Institute of Education Sciences) Newsflash – 29 September 2009

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) will release the 2009 Nation’s Report Card in mathematics on October 14, 2009 at 7:00 a.m. PDT. The Nation’s Report Card will present scores for fourth- and eighth-graders from all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Department of Defense schools, and the nation.

A webcast of the release event will be broadcast live at 7:00 a.m. at

Then at noon, join Associate Commissioner Peggy Carr for Ask NAEP, an hour-long, online Q&A session about the results. Submit your questions online either during the chat or in advance at

For more information about the report and to view recent results from the 2007 assessment, visit

NAEP is administered by the National Center for Education Statistics within the Institute of Education Sciences.


(4) President Honors Nation’s Top Scientists and Innovators

Source: National Science Foundation

Next Wednesday (October 7), a White House ceremony will honor nine researchers as recipients of the National Medal of Science. Four inventors and one company will be honored as recipients of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. These are the highest honors bestowed by the United States government on scientists, engineers and inventors.

“These scientists, engineers and inventors are national icons, embodying the very best of American ingenuity and inspiring a new generation of thinkers and innovators,” said President Obama. “Their extraordinary achievements strengthen our nation every day–not just intellectually and technologically but also economically, by helping create new industries and opportunities that others before them could never have imagined.”

“Each year we are proud to help select the National Medal of Science recipients, gifted individuals who have contributed to America and to science with superb research,” said Arden L. Bement, Jr., director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). “These 2008 laureates have impacted our lives by enhancing understanding of the human brain, mapping the human genome and uncovering the basis of human diseases to designing influential astronomical telescopes that further reveal the properties of matter, and establishing a scientific basis for Moon landings and today’s widely used GPS [Global Positioning System]. Their accomplishments reflect the great import of this award.”

The National Medal of Science was created by statute in 1959, and is administered for the White House by NSF. Awarded annually, the Medal recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to science and engineering. Nominees are selected by a committee of Presidential appointees based on their advanced knowledge in, and contributions to, the biological, behavioral/social and physical sciences, as well as chemistry, engineering, computing and mathematics.

This year’s National Medal of Science recipients are:

Berni Alder, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, CA
Francis Collins, National Institutes of Health, MD
Joanna Fowler, Brookhaven National Laboratory, NY
Elaine Fuchs, The Rockefeller University, NY
James Gunn, Princeton University, NJ
Rudolf Kalman, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich
Michael Posner, University of Oregon, OR
JoAnne Stubbe, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MA
J. Craig Venter, J. Craig Venter Institute, MD & CA

The National Medal of Technology and Innovation has its roots in a 1980 statute and is administered for the White House by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The award recognizes individuals or companies for their outstanding contributions to the promotion of technology for the improvement of the economic, environmental or social well-being of the United States. Nominees are selected by a distinguished independent committee representing both the private and public sectors.

This year’s National Medal of Technology and Innovation recipients are:
Forrest M. Bird, Percussionaire Corp., ID
Esther Sans Takeuchi, University at Buffalo, SUNY, NY
Team: John E. Warnock and  Charles M. Geschke (Adobe Systems Inc., VA)
Company: IBM Corporation, NY


(5) A Trillion Triangles

Source: American Institute of Mathematics

Last Wednesday, the American Institute of Mathematics (AIM) announced that mathematicians from North America, Europe, Australia, and South America have resolved the first one trillion cases of an ancient mathematics problem.

According to Brian Conrey, Director of AIM, “Old problems like this may seem obscure, but they generate a lot of interesting and useful research as people develop new ways to attack them.”

The problem, which was first posed more than a thousand years ago, concerns the areas of right-angled triangles. The surprisingly difficult problem is to determine which whole numbers can be the area of a right-angled triangle whose sides are whole numbers or fractions. The area of such a triangle is called a “congruent number.” For example, the 3-4-5 right triangle which students see in geometry has area 1/2 bh = 1/2 x 3 x 4 = 6, so 6 is a congruent number. The smallest congruent number is 5, which is the area of the right triangle with sides 3/2, 20/3, and 41/6.

The first few congruent numbers are 5, 6, 7, 13, 14, 15, 20, and 21. Many congruent numbers were known prior to the new calculation. For example, every number in the sequence 5, 13, 21, 29, 37,…, is a congruent number. But other similar looking sequences, like 3, 11, 19, 27, 35,.., are more mysterious and each number has to be checked individually.

The calculation found 3,148,379,694 of these more mysterious congruent numbers up to a trillion.

For more details about the history of the problem (including contributions by Diophantus, al-Karaji, Fermat, Fibonacci, and Heegner), modern results, and implications, visit the Web site above.