COMET • Vol. 11, No. 20 – 8 October 2010


New Digital Library Offers Informal Learning Fun in Science and Math

Contact: Linda Devillier (202) 362-4429
URL (Press Release):

On Monday, October 4, the University of California, Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science (LHS) announced the launch of, an online collection of thousands of hands-on interactive science and mathematics activities dedicated to making learning exciting and engaging for everyone. All activities on this Web site are freely accessible without a subscription., funded by the National Science Foundation as part of the National Science Digital Library (NSDL), brings together a consortium of science museums across the country to empower educators working with school-aged children in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (STEM). provides a digital infrastructure to allow “informal science” institutions to broaden their reach to informal educators across the United States. is a joint project of UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science, the Exploratorium, the New York Hall of Science, Science Museum of Minnesota, Children’s Museum of Houston, and the Association of Science-Technology Centers.

National partners and collaborators ( provide STEM activities to In addition to science centers, partners include federal agencies, professional membership organizations, community-based groups, public television stations, and other organizations with a focus on out-of-school education.

According to Darrell Porcello, the Director of the Center for Technology Innovation at LHS and Project Director of the project, “The major innovation of is the variety of ways to search and discover STEM activities across the Web, including popular characteristics like age level, subject, materials costs, and preparation time, to name just a few of the search options. Our goal is a one-stop shop for out-of-school educators searching the web for excellent hands-on science and math activities.”

Sherry Hsi, Research Director of LHS’s Center for Technology Innovation and Co- Director of, explains the genesis of the project. “We began with the idea that science centers have some of the best kids’ science and math activities that can be made with simple and low-cost materials. We thought that creating a place to share these activities with each other–along with teaching tips, ratings, and comments–would greatly enhance out-of-school learning opportunities.”

Mr. Porcello continues, “We talked to science museum educators, front-line staff of afterschool programs, and homeschoolers across to country to find out the most important criteria they used to choose activities for their learners. Then we built a digital library around those criteria. Now that we have a great collection, we want the Web site to become the home for a rich and diverse community of educators who search, use, collect, and comment on their favorite hands-on activities.” spotlights hands-on and interactive activities, both physical and virtual, that involve doing and learning. Activities take many forms, from downloadable lesson plans, to field trip activities, how-to videos and online interactive games (e.g., virtual surgery). Built using open source tools, also includes an open infrastructure to allow institutions to contribute links to useful activities and a free widget to embed search results on any Web page.



(1) Tenth Annual International Powers Of Ten Day

Source: Eames Office – Santa Monica, California
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The Eames Office in Santa Monica has announced that the Tenth Annual International Powers of Ten Day will be celebrated this coming Sunday, October 10, 2010 (10/10/10). Powers of Ten Day promotes and encourages Powers of Ten thinking, a form of rich, cross-disciplinary thought that approaches ideas from multiple interrelated perspectives, ranging from the infinitesimal to the cosmic–and the orders of magnitude in between.

Powers of Ten Day is inspired by the classic film Powers of Ten by designers Charles and Ray Eames (view online at The film, a nine-minute visual journey of scale, takes the viewer from a picnic out to the edge of space and then back to a carbon atom in the hand of the man sleeping at the picnic. Every 10 seconds the view is from 10 times further away. In all, more than 40 Powers of Ten are visualized seamlessly. One of the most widely seen short films of all time (playing at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum for years and still frequently used in schools around the world), Powers of Ten has influenced pop culture from The Simpsons to the rock band Coldplay, from Hummer commercials to the movie Men in Black. In 1998, the Library of Congress selected it for the National Film Registry, one of the 25 films of great cultural value chosen each year.

Eames Demetrios, director of the Eames Office, has said: “Scale is the new geography. So many of our challenges today are ultimately matters of scale. To be a good citizen of the world and have a chance to make it a better place, a person must have a real understanding of scale.” The goal of the Eames Office is for as many people as possible to watch the Powers of Ten video on Sunday to extend the boundaries of their thinking.

With the help of the DVD, Scale is the New Geography, as well as a Powers of Ten Box Kit, teachers can lead engaging workshops for students and/or adults that let participants create their own scale journeys. Although those materials may be purchased at, as Eames Office Education Director Carla Hartman notes, “We’ve set aside some sets to be available at no charge for inquiring schools and teachers.” “Those supplies are limited–and some are already being put to use. To inquire about availability of Powers of Ten supplies at no charge, email

The Eames Office also encourages you to create and share your contributions. Over the years, art has been created, music shared, global pilgrimages performed, and more. Events can be registered, and photographs, drawings, and writings uploaded and then sorted by power and event.

Those living in or visiting Southern California are welcome to visit the Powers of Ten Exhibition at the Eames Office in Santa Monica until the end of the year. There will be an event each day the exhibition is open during the month of October (Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.). The exhibit includes such things as a box that can hold one million pennies. All the pennies collected will be given to TreePeople, an environmental nonprofit.

Powers of Ten Thinking extends beyond this unique date of 10/10/10. As Demetrios says, “There is a little bit of the numerologist in all of us, so we love celebrating this date, but empowering people to explore and make connections between scales is a year-round goal of ours.” The Eames Office looks forward to tracking and inspiring another decade’s worth of Powers of Ten events. Toward that end, a map of the Earth on the website (and at the Office) will track events around our world.


The Eames Office is dedicated to communicating, preserving, and extending the work of Charles and Ray Eames. Additional information is available online at, as well as at and

Footnote: “Husband and wife, Charles and Ray Eames, are arguably the most influential and pioneering designers of the mid 20th century movement with work spanning furniture design, film making, architecture and even toy development” ( You might recall the relatively recent USPS release of Eames-inspired postage stamps:


Related Link:

U.S.A. Science and Engineering Festival Opening Day is 10/10/10 and Kicks off with a Powers of Ten Concert

On Powers of Ten Day, 10/10/10, join composer David Haines and more than two hundred young people and adults at the University of Maryland, College Park, on an amazing voyage through the magnitudes from the human scale right down to string theory via fingers, fleas, amoebae, bacteria, viruses, atoms and quarks–then back up the magnitudes via landscape, tectonic plates, Earth, Moon, Sun and Solar System, black holes and galaxies…


(2) Former “The Wonder Years” Actress Danica McKellar Interviewed on Discovery News Show

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Discovery News produces “Friday News Feedbag,” an audio podcast of science and technology news. “Feedbag” topics can be found at

Former “The Wonder Years” actress Danica McKellar was interviewed on last Friday’s show. Danica majored in mathematics, graduating summa cum laude from UCLA. She has authored several books on mathematics targeted at middle school girls.

The entire show can be downloaded free of charge at iTunes (link from Danica’s segment can be found between the times 03:35 and 17:22. Portions of her interview follow below:

“…When I went to UCLA, my plan was to be a film major… I was lured in by math. I really just loved the challenge of it and I had a couple of teachers who said, ‘Hey, you should be a math major’…

“I coauthored a paper with a professor and another student. We actually proved a new theorem and that was really exciting… And then when I graduated I started a Web site where I answered people’s math questions.

“[I find math exciting] because of the challenge of it, I think, and also the beauty of math, which you really don’t have a chance to get to until you get to precalculus–that’s when you start to set things like limits and play with infinity…and you can solve problems with it. I always thought that was really, really great! And that love for the beauty of math and the patterns just increased as I studied more advanced math…

“The ability, or lack of ability, to master math is really tied to self-esteem. Even the most confident people you talk to will often have a dark closet about their insecurity about math…

“Hollywood has such a narrow-minded and even a backwards way of looking at math… If you look at how mathematicians are portrayed on television or in the movies, they follow the Einstein stereotype way more than you find in real life… Hollywood is really just holding us back a little bit”…


(3) “It’s Time to Stamp Out the Phrase “I’m Bad at Math” by J. Michael Shaughnessy
 (President, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics–NCTM)

Source: NCTM Summing Up – October 2010

As mathematics teachers, we hear “I was never any good at math” more than any other sector of our society. Rather than sympathizing with people who publicly–and proudly–make this pronouncement, it’s time for us to take them to task. The social acceptability of not being good at math has now reached epidemic proportions in our country. It has even been nationally broadcast in a recent popular film, escaping from the lips of a famous movie star. Enough, I say! It is not OK to proclaim that “I was never any good at math.” The “bad at math” self-concept then gets passed from one generation to the next like a flu virus, and it infects the attitudes of future generations. One never hears people say that “I was never any good at English” or “I don’t do vowels.” We need to fight back on two fronts–in the public arena and in our classrooms.

In the public arena, we need to speak up. We need to remind parents, guardians and caregivers that saying “I was never any good at math” is unacceptable. When we meet during family conferences, we can encourage them to help us spread the message to delete this offending statement from any social discourse. Boasting about this deficiency turns our students off mathematics and damages their attitudes toward it. When we hear this phrase at a social gathering or while sharing our backgrounds with new acquaintances, we can alert people to the harm that such statements can do to future generations. Collectively, we all need to protect and preserve our nation’s mathematical environment, sustain the power of mathematics and keep our nation’s attitude toward mathematics from eroding.

In our classrooms, the most important thing we can do for our students is to instill in them how wonderful our subject is–that “math is cool.” Mathematics is powerful. It helps us interpret and understand our world in new and exciting ways. Isn’t it amazing that there are some numbers that factor multiple ways and others that don’t? Isn’t it interesting that there are only five solids that can be built with faces that have just one regular polygon? Isn’t it remarkable that .999999999… is equal to 1? Sometimes we forget that true wonders can be found within the mathematical ideas that we teach everyday.

To instill positive and productive attitudes toward mathematics lies within our own hands–in our teaching. No standards on earth–be they state or national–no testing or assessment procedures, no Race to the Top or mandates from above can make as much of a difference as we can every day through our own instructional practices. NCTM’s positions on teaching practices and instructional approaches can be found in our documents, Professional Standards for Teaching Mathematics and in the recent update, Mathematics Teaching Today. Among the goals for our practice for all our students, as promoted in Mathematics Teaching Today, are these:

– Design and implement mathematical experiences that stimulate student’s interests and intellect.
– Orchestrate classroom discourse in ways that promote the exploration and growth of mathematical ideas.
– Use, and help students’ use, technology and other tools to pursue mathematics.
– Promote active student engagement in problem solving, reasoning, communicating, making connections and using multiple representations of mathematical ideas.

Each of these practices–introducing interesting mathematical questions, promoting discourse, using technology and empowering students to be actively engaged–can help us stamp out the national bad-at-math comment. We need to provide opportunities for our students to become excited about mathematics while acknowledging and applauding their successes. These are necessary conditions that must be in place before we can make any progress on improving mathematical achievement.

I believe that we are at a point in our nation’s mathematics education where we need to fight back and launch a national campaign to raise the national image of our subject. As president of NCTM, I want all our students to have the best chance at becoming excited about learning mathematics. As a start, let us all agree to work to convince our students that “math is indeed cool.”


(4) Hard Problems Moves to Television

Source: Mathematical Association of America – 5 October 2010
URL (HP): 

Hard Problems, the MAA-produced documentary about the extraordinarily gifted students who represented the United States in 2006 at the world’s toughest math competition, the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO), will be broadcast on many public television stations beginning in October.

Hard Problems focuses on the dedication to mathematics shown by the coaches and team members, as well as the importance of the support of the student’s parents. The film also gives the general public a glimpse of the hard work and pressure that the students face at the IMO.

Local PBS stations across the country will show the film at different times over the next few months, and those interested are encouraged to check their local listings for local dates and times. (See for a partial list, including Eureka and Los Angeles in California.)


(5) Broadcom Foundation Partners with Society for Science & the Public, Announces Broadcom MASTERS National Middle School Science and Engineering Competition

Source: Society for Science & the Public

On September 21, Broadcom Foundation and the Society for Science & the Public (SSP) announced a six-year, $6 million partnership to launch a new national middle school competition focusing on science, technology, engineering and math.

The Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars), a program of Society for Science & the Public, is designed to inspire and reward interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) among students in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

In the program’s first year, Broadcom and SSP expect that more than 7,500 middle school students will be nominated from the United States and Puerto Rico to compete in the Broadcom MASTERS program. Students receiving nominations will be top winners from the more than 350 SSP-affiliated science fairs and programs across the country. Judges will select 300 Semifinalists and 30 Finalists to compete for regional and national recognition. The 30 Broadcom MASTERS Finalists will meet in Washington, D.C. in the fall of 2011 for a week of conducting projects together, visiting significant scientific sites and judging. The competition culminates in awards and prizes, including a $25,000 education grand prize from the Samueli Foundation, a gift of Susan and Henry Samueli, a founder of Broadcom Corporation.

“We are delighted to partner with SSP to inspire students to envision careers that can be theirs if they stay engaged in mathematics, science, and engineering throughout high school and college,” said Scott McGregor, President and CEO of Broadcom Corporation, and President of the Broadcom Foundation. Broadcom Foundation was founded in 2009 to support advancement of science, technology, engineering and math.

“Those of us in leadership positions in the technology world have a responsibility to devote time, energy and resources to providing students with opportunities that encourage students to excel in these critical pillars of innovation,” McGregor said. “We invite all middle schools and after-school organizations from every community to become involved and offer their students the opportunity to compete in the Broadcom MASTERS.”

Society for Science & the Public, a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to public engagement in scientific research and education, has run some of the world’s most prestigious science competitions for more than seven decades (e.g., the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair).

“President Obama said that ‘our success as a nation depends on strengthening America’s role as the world’s engine of discovery and innovation,'” said Elizabeth Marincola, president of Society for Science & the Public. “The Broadcom MASTERS will jump start that engine by reaching future innovators at a vital age when an interest in scientific inquiry often takes root, inspiring middle school students to achieve their full potential. Together with the Broadcom Foundation, SSP strives to invigorate student engagement in science and engineering for their advancement and for ours.”

SSP and Broadcom are seeking additional partnerships for the Broadcom MASTERS competition with business and organizations that share their goal of inspiring and motivating middle school students to continue their interest in science, technology, engineering and math.

For more information on the Broadcom MASTERS program, please visit