COMET • Vol. 10, No. 04 – 12 February 2009


(1) Mathematics Specialist Credential Advisory Panel: Application Deadline Extended

Source: Terry Janicki, Commission on Teacher Credentialing

The Commission on Teacher Credentialing has extended the deadline for submitting an application for service on the Mathematics Specialist Advisory Panel to Friday, February 20. Selected members will consider the need for, and, as appropriate, propose recommended standards for a preparation program for the Mathematics Specialist Credential. At its January meeting, the Commission requested that this panel also discuss issues related to the teaching of mathematics in K-12 classrooms. (See for some of the topics discussed.)

The advisory panel will consist of individuals who are California K-12 teachers, IHE (Institutions of Higher Education) teacher educators, multiple subject and single subject content area experts, and individuals with deep mathematics content knowledge. The first of two panel meetings are scheduled for March 30-31.

Download the application from


(2) Foundational-Level General Science Regulations Approved

Source: California Commission on Teacher Credentialing – 11 February 2009

The amendments to Section 80004 of Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations pertaining to the authorization for the Single Subject Teaching Credential have been approved by the Office of Administrative Law and are now in effect. The amendments to section 80004 add an authorization for Foundational-Level General Science (FLGS)…

The new authorization allows for mobility for the self-contained elementary level teacher to serve in a middle or high school departmentalized level assignment as well as the middle and high school departmentalized level teacher in one subject to earn an additional authorization in FLGS to expand their employability…

Someone with this authorization can teach introductory and general science, introductory life science, and introductory physical science in grades pre-K-12 and in classes organized primarily for adults, as well as integrated science in grades pre-K-8…


Individuals with a single subject teaching credential in a different subject matter area (mathematics, social science, English, art, etc.) may add the authorization to their credential by completing the appropriate subject matter requirement. An individual with a multiple subject credential may earn a single subject credential in FLGS with verification of appropriate subject matter knowledge (e.g., passing CSET Science Subtests I and II; see plus passing a teaching methodology course. The FLGS credential is a pathway to earning a full science authorization in Science: Biological Science, Chemistry, Geosciences and Physics.

For more information, contact the Commission’s Information Services Unit: 888-921-2682, 1:00-4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday;


(3) State Board of Education Advisory Committee Openings

Source: Kathy Sumida (, California Department of Education

The deadline for receipt of applications to serve on any of the following State Board of Education advisory committees is February 17, 2009:

African American Advisory Committee – The Committee is charged with providing the Board ongoing advice on a variety of issues related to the education of African American students.  For more information and a copy of the application, please visit:

Title I Committee of Practitioners – The purpose of the Committee is to review any State rules, regulations, and policies relating to Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to ensure they conform to the purposes of Title I. For more information and a copy of the application, please visit

Curriculum Commission – The Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission, commonly called the Curriculum Commission, advises the board on curriculum and instructional materials in accordance with Education Code Section 33530-33540. For more information and a copy of the application, please visit:
Mathematics and Reading Professional Development Program Review Panel – This panel is responsible for reviewing professional development training curricula that are submitted to the SBE for approval. For more information and a copy of the application, please visit



(1) Archived Webinar: Making Algebra Easier

SourceEducation Week

Education Week’s February 10 webinar, “Why Students Struggle With Algebra and How Schools Are Helping,” has been archived and will be available at until August 11, 2009. Audio and presentation files are both available.

This webinar brought together experts who have examined students’ experiences with algebra. One of the goals was to explore the fundamental question: Why do so many students find algebra so difficult? The webinar examined efforts by districts and private curriculum developers to help these students. It also touched on major developments at the national level in this area, such as the release last year of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel report, which called for more coherent math curricula at early grades as a foundation for algebra.


(2) Adolescents Involved with Music Do Better in School

Source: Blackwell Publishing (publisher of Social Science Quarterly)

A new study published in the journal Social Science Quarterly (March 2009) reveals that music participation, defined as music lessons taken in or out of school and parents attending concerts with their children, has a positive effect on reading and mathematics achievement in early childhood and adolescence. Additionally, socioeconomic status and ethnicity affect music participation.

Darby E. Southgate, MA, and Vincent Roscigno, Ph.D., of The Ohio State University reviewed two nationally representative data sources to analyze patterns of music involvement and possible effects on math and reading performance for both elementary and high school students.

Music is positively associated with academic achievement, especially during the high school years, the researchers found, even when prior achievement levels are accounted for.

However, not all adolescents participate in music equally, and certain groups are disadvantaged in access to music education. Families with high socioeconomic status participate more in music than do families with lower socioeconomic status. In addition to social class as a predictor of music participation, ethnicity is also a factor. Asians and Whites are more likely to participate in music than are Hispanics. While young Black children attended concerts with their parents, they were less likely to take music lessons.

“This topic becomes an issue of equity at both the family and school levels,” the authors conclude. “This has major policy implications for federal, state, and local agencies, as well as knowledge that can help families allocate resources that are most beneficial to children.”


The article abstract can be found at


(3) Learning Science Facts Doesn’t Boost Science Reasoning

Source: The Ohio State University

A study of college freshmen in the United States and in China found that Chinese students know more science facts than their American counterparts–but both groups are nearly identical when it comes to their ability to do scientific reasoning.

Neither group is especially skilled at reasoning, however, and the study suggests that educators must go beyond teaching science facts if they hope to boost students’ reasoning ability.

Researchers tested nearly 6,000 students majoring in science and engineering at seven universities–four in the United States and three in China. Chinese students greatly outperformed American students on factual knowledge of physics–averaging 90 percent on one test, versus the American students’ 50 percent, for example.

But in a test of science reasoning, both groups averaged around 75 percent–not a very high score, especially for students hoping to major in science or engineering.

The research appears in the January 30, 2009 issue of the journal Science.

Lei Bao, associate professor of physics at Ohio State University and lead author of the study, said that the finding defies conventional wisdom, which holds that teaching science facts will improve students’ reasoning ability.

“Our study shows that, contrary to what many people would expect, even when students are rigorously taught the facts, they don’t necessarily develop the reasoning skills they need to succeed,” Bao said. “Because students need both knowledge and reasoning, we need to explore teaching methods that target both.”

Bao directs Ohio State’s Physics Education Research Group, which is developing new strategies for teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. For this study, he and his colleagues across the United States and in China decided to compare students from both countries, because the educational systems are so different.

In the United States, only one-third of students take a year-long physics course before they graduate from high school. The rest only study physics within general science courses. Curricula vary widely from school to school, and students can choose among elective courses.

Bao explained that STEM students need to excel at scientific reasoning in order to handle open-ended real-world tasks in their future careers in science and engineering.

In China, however, every student in every school follows exactly the same curriculum, which includes five years of continuous physics classes from grades 8 through 12. All students must perform well on a national exam if they hope to enter college, and the exam contains advanced physics problems.

“Each system has its strengths and weaknesses,” Bao said. “In China, schools emphasize a very extensive learning of STEM content knowledge, while in the United States, science courses are more flexible, with simpler content but with a high emphasis on scientific methods. We need to think of a new strategy, perhaps one that blends the best of both worlds.”

The students who participated in the study were all incoming freshmen who had just enrolled in a calculus-based introductory physics course. They took three multiple-choice tests: two which tested knowledge of physics concepts, and one which tested scientific reasoning.

The first test, the Force Concept Inventory, measures students’ basic knowledge of mechanics–the action of forces on objects. Most Chinese students scored close to 90 percent, while the American scores varied widely from 25-75 percent, with an average of 50.

The second test, the Brief Electricity and Magnetism Assessment, measures students’ understanding of electric forces, circuits, and magnetism, which are often considered to be more abstract concepts and more difficult to learn than mechanics. Here Chinese students averaged close to 70 percent while American students averaged around 25 percent–a little better than if they had simply picked their multiple-choice answers randomly.

The third test, the Lawson Classroom Test of Scientific Reasoning, measures science skills beyond the facts. Students are asked to evaluate scientific hypotheses, and reason out solutions using skills such as proportional reasoning, control of variables, probability reasoning, correlation reasoning, and hypothetical-deductive reasoning. Both American and Chinese students averaged a 75 percent score.

Bao explained that STEM students need to excel at scientific reasoning in order to handle open-ended real-world tasks in their future careers in science and engineering.

Ohio State graduate student and study co-author Jing Han echoed that sentiment. “To do my own research, I need to be able to plan what I’m going to investigate and how to do it. I can’t just ask my professor or look up the answer in a book,” she said.

“These skills are especially important today, when we are determined to build a society with a sustainable edge in science and technology in a fast-evolving global environment,” Bao said.

He quickly added that reasoning is a good skill for everyone to possess–not just scientists and engineers.

“The general public also needs good reasoning skills in order to correctly interpret scientific findings and think rationally,” he said.

How to boost scientific reasoning? Bao points to inquiry-based learning, where students work in groups, question teachers and design their own investigations. This teaching technique is growing in popularity worldwide.

Ohio State is exploring inquiry-based learning in its physics classes. Here students use hand-held electronic devices called clickers to answer multiple-choice questions during lectures. They work together to answer questions, and professors use the clicker interaction to guide student learning towards a more investigative style. The department is also adopting an inquiry-based curriculum for undergraduate physics courses.


(4) Gender Bias Found in Student Ratings of High School Science Teachers

Source: Clemson University

A study of 18,000 biology, chemistry and physics students has uncovered notable gender bias in student ratings of high school science teachers.

Researchers at Clemson University, the University of Virginia, and Harvard University have found that, on average, female high school science teachers received lower evaluations than their male counterparts even though male and female teachers are equally effective at preparing their students for college. The findings appear in Science Education online in the research paper, “Unraveling Bias from Student Evaluations of their High School Science Teachers.”

Most notably, say the researchers, the physics students in the survey showed the largest bias toward female physics teachers. In biology and chemistry, male students tended to underrate their female teachers, but female students did not. In physics, both male and female students tended to underrate their female teachers.

“The importance of these findings is that they make it clear that students have developed a specific sense of gender-appropriate roles in the sciences by the end of high school,” said Geoffrey Potvin, assistant professor in the Department of Engineering and Science Education and the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Clemson.

“Such a sense of what are and what are not appropriate roles for males and females in science likely impacts the choices students make when they consider their college studies,” said Clemson researcher Zahra Hazari, also an assistant professor at Clemson. “Such a bias could negatively impact female students and contribute to the loss of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

Potvin and Hazari collaborated on the study with Robert H. Tai of the University of Virginia and Phillip M. Sadler of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The survey was conducted at 63 different colleges and universities across the United States while students were beginning their college science studies. It asked students to reflect on their high school science experiences. Most of the questions focused on the content coverage in their high school classes, the classroom techniques used by their teachers, and the nature and type of laboratory experiences as well as students’ academic and family backgrounds.

Other factors also contributed to higher teacher ratings. Some were connected to the ways in which teachers presented material to their classes. For example, in each subject area, teachers who related the course material to real-world examples tended to receive higher student ratings. The authors were able to show that while a few differences in teaching style do exist between male and female teachers they had no correlation with the gender-bias ratings.

The authors also found evidence that male and female teachers are equally effective at preparing their students for college. Students in the survey performed equally well in college science whether they had a female or a male high school science teacher. Also, the rate at which female teachers produce students bound for college-level science study appeared to be identical to the rate of their male counterparts.

The survey data were drawn from a four-year study funded by the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation.