COMET • Vol. 13, No. 03 – 9 March 2012


Pi Day at San Francisco’s Exploratorium


URL (Pi Day)

On March 14 (“3.14”), the Exploratorium in San Francisco is hosting its 24th annual Pi Day (and Einstein’s birthday) celebration. “Founded at the Exploratorium by our own Prince of Pi, physicist Larry Shaw, Pi Day has become an international holiday, celebrated live and online all around the world.

“If you can’t join us in person, watch our webcast on ( beginning at 1:00 p.m. PDT or celebrate with us in Second Life (”

Some Pi Day activities and links can be found at

Note: Next week is also Brain Awareness Week. Visit to learn more.


“Ignite” Videos Now Posted from 2011 Conferences

Contact: Key Curriculum Press

Last year, Key Curriculum Press sponsored “Ignite” sessions at four conferences: California Mathematics Council (CMC)-North, CMC-South, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), and Wisconsin Mathematics Council. Each speaker was given five minutes to share a topic he or she was passionate about while 20 presentation slides automatically advanced every 15 seconds.

The videos from all four sessions have now been posted online. Please see below for a list of speakers and topics, accompanied by a direct link to each conference’s Ignite page:

CMC-South and CMC-North (

– Harold Asturias: 
”Mathematics English Language Development”
– Kyndall Brown: 
”The Economic Case for Equity: Getting to the COR”
– Ivan Cheng: “Messages We’d Like to Send to Students”
– Ruth Cossey: 
”Ode to the Common Core State Standards”
– Elizabeth DeCarli:
 “Making Math Memorable? Lessons from the Classroom, the Internet, and the CCSS-M”
– Jared Derksen: 
”Tell a Story”
– Scott Farrand: “Do-It-Yourself Professional Development” (Note: Scott was honored at the CMC-N conference as the recipient of the 2011 Edward Begle Memorial Award:
– Susie Hakansson: “Advocate for High Quality Mathematics AND Access and Equity”
– Judith Jacobs: 
”Mathematical Practices: An Iconic View”
– Dan Meyer: “When Will I Ever Use This In Real Life?”
– Dan Teague: 
”The Residue of Mathematics”

NCTM 2011–Indianapolis (

– Corey Andreasen: 
”Grading Scales”
– Harold Asturias: 
”Why is Language Important?”
– Annie Fetter: 
”Ever Wonder What They’d Notice? (if Only Someone Would Ask)”
– Sonja Goerdt: 
”Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About!”
– Arjan Khalsa: 
”Music and Math: Exploring Fractions in Music”
– Edward Nolan: 
”How Good Instruction is the 
Best Test Prep”
– Tim Pope: 
”The Race for the Checkered Flag”
– Max Ray: 
”Why 2 > 4: A Proof by Induction”
– Dan Teague: 
”Calculus is a Toad”
– Steve Weimar: 
”Why Did You Do That? 4 Out of 50 Ways to Love Your Learner”

Wisconsin Mathematics Council (

– Sandy Atkins: 
”Are We Causing the Results We Don’t Want?”
– Dave Ebert: 
”One Word”
– DeAnn Huinker: 
”Fractions: Making Sense or Making Nonsense”
– Hank Kepner: 
– Jennifer Kosiak: 
”Igniting Student Learning through Math and Literacy”
– Kevin McLeod: 
”Let’s Stop Asking:  ‘What Mathematics Do Students Need to Know?'”
– Dan Meyer: 
”When Will I Ever Use This in Real Life?”
– Stuart J. Murphy: 
”Telling Math Stories Internationally”
– Billie Earl Sparks: 
”Viewing Mathematics Education through the Rear View Mirror”


Opportunity to Provide Feedback: SMARTER Balanced Item Specifications Released for Third Round of Review

Source: California Department of Education

The SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) announces one final opportunity for teachers, administrators, and the general public to review and provide feedback on the SBAC item writing specifications and guidelines.  These are documents that SBAC will use to develop test items for the assessment.  The review window closes on Friday, March 16.

This gives individuals in California an excellent opportunity to (a) further their understanding of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and how the Standards can be assessed, (b) gain insight into the SMARTER Balanced assessment system, and (c) be involved in the development process.

The documents are posted at For the survey, visit



Applications for the Mathematics Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee (CFCC) are due by 3 p.m. PDT on April 18. The CFCC will provide input on the initial draft of the revised framework in accordance with guidelines approved by the State Board of Education. See for more details.


“UC Berkeley Professor Alan Schoenfeld Awarded Highest International Distinction in Mathematics Education” by Kathleen Maclay

Source: UC Berkeley News Center – 15 February 2012

Alan Schoenfeld, a professor at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education, has received the 2011 Felix Klein Medal for Lifetime Achievement from the International Commission on Mathematics Instruction (ICMI). The award is the highest international distinction in math education.

Schoenfeld is the second American scholar to receive the honor since it was instituted in 2003, and the fifth winner of the prize. He will be honored by the committee later this year in ceremonies in Seoul, South Korea.

“I love mathematics, and I love helping teachers and students learn about the riches of mathematical thinking and problem solving,” said Schoenfeld, the Elizabeth and Edward Connor Professor of Education and an affiliated professor of mathematics.
“It’s great to be recognized for working on things I’m passionate about.”

In its awards citation, the International Commission recognized the outstanding achievements made in the past 30 years by Schoenfeld in mathematics education research and development.

“Schoenfeld developed a keen interest in mathematics education early in his career, and emerged as a leader in research on mathematical problem solving,” according to the commission citation. “He shows a lifelong pursuit of deeper understanding of the nature and development of mathematical learning and teaching. His work has helped to shape research and theory development in these areas, making a seminal impact on subsequent research.”

Schoenfeld also was commended for his fundamental theoretical and applied work connecting research and practice in assessment, mathematical curriculum, diversity in mathematics education, research methodology and teacher education.

For more information about Schoenfeld’s work and background, visit the Web site above as well as


“Experts Say Math Preparation Should Begin in Preschool” by Matthew Rosin

Source: EdSource Extra – 26 January 2012

Education leaders in California are turning their sights to making sure students have a strong foundation in mathematics when they enter kindergarten. And that means introducing students to math in preschool.

 Preschool math was the focus of a meeting of leading educators and researchers from around the state at Stanford University earlier this year.

Participants included Michael Kirst, the president of the California State Board of Education, Catherine Atkin, president of Preschool California, and Kris Perry, executive director of First 5 California.

The meeting was led by Deborah Stipek, former dean of the Stanford University School of Education, and Alan Schoenfeld, a professor of education at UC Berkeley.

Historically, there has been little coordination or discussion among the numerous California organizations, educators and researchers involved with early childhood education about how to develop strategies for incorporating math into the preschool experience. Last week’s convening was intended to start that conversation.

Stipek told EdSource that while reading and writing skills have gotten a good deal of attention in preschool, math has not gotten the attention it deserves.

In fact, research led by Greg Duncan, currently at UC Irvine found that mastery of math concepts in preschool are “the most powerful predictors of later learning” (see

A 2009 National Research Council report called lack of high-quality preschool math instruction a major problem, particularly for disadvantaged children who will begin school already behind (Mathematics Learning in Early Childhood: Paths Toward Excellence and Equity;

The report underscored the capacity of preschoolers to master early math skills. “In fact, well before first grade, children can learn the ideas and skills that support later, more complex mathematics understanding,” the report noted, with basic understandings of number, geometry, and measurement being especially important…

[Visit to read more about the goals of the conference.]


Puzzle Play Improves Math Skills

Source: National Science Foundation – 16 February 2012

An important context for figuring out problems through reasoning is puzzle play, say researchers at University of Chicago.

Psychologist Susan Levine and colleagues recently found that 2- to 4-year-old children who play with puzzles have better spatial skills when assessed at 4 1/2 years of age.

After controlling for differences in parents’ income, education and overall amount of parent language input, researchers say puzzle play proved to be a significant predictor of spatial skills–skills important in mathematics, science and technology and a key aspect of cognition.

“As early as the preschool years and persisting into adulthood, there are individual and gender differences on certain spatial tasks, notably those involving mental rotation [of objects],” the researchers write in their report, published in Developmental Science. “These variations are of considerable interest because of their reported relation to mathematics achievement.”

Improvements in math education are a point of emphasis for the National Science Foundation, which partly funded the study. “This study brings greater awareness of the learning opportunities for children in everyday activities,” said Soo-Siang Lim, program director for the NSF’s Science of Learning Centers Program. “It is important because this and follow-up studies could potentially lead to relatively easy and inexpensive interventions to improve spatial skills important for STEM education.”

STEM education involves science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Activities such as early puzzle play may lay the groundwork for development in these areas. In particular, the ability to mentally transform shapes is an important predictor of STEM course taking, degrees and careers, say researchers.

“The children who played with puzzles performed better than those who did not on tasks that assessed their ability to rotate and translate shapes,” said Levine, a leading expert on mathematics development in young children.

The study was the first to look at puzzle play in a naturalistic setting. The researchers followed 53 child-parent pairs from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds for a two-year period. Researchers recorded parent-child interactions on video during 90-minute sessions that occurred every four months between 26 and 46 months of age.

The researchers asked the parents to interact with their children as they normally would and about half of the children in the sample played with puzzles at least one time. Higher income parents tended to engage children with puzzles more frequently. Both boys and girls who played with puzzles had better spatial skills, but boys played with more complicated puzzles than girls, and the parents of boys provided more spatial language during puzzle play and were more engaged in the play than the parents of girls.

The boys also performed better than the girls on a mental transformation task given at 54 months of age.

“Further study is needed to determine if the puzzle play and the language children hear about spatial concepts actually causes the development of spatial skills and to examine why there is a sex difference in the difficulty of the puzzles played with and in the parents’ interactions with boys and girls,” said Levine. “We are currently conducting a laboratory study in which parents are asked to play with puzzles with their preschool sons and daughters, and the same puzzles are provided to all participants.

“We want to see whether parents provide the same input to boys and girls when the puzzles are of the same difficulty,” Levine said. “In the naturalistic study, parents of boys may have used more spatial language in order to scaffold their ability to put more difficult puzzles together.”

Alternatively, the difference in parent spatial language and engagement may be related to a societal stereotype that males have better spatial skills. “Our findings suggest that engaging both boys and girls in puzzle play can support the development of an aspect of cognition that has been implicated in success in the STEM disciplines,” Levine said.


“Teacher-Prep Accreditor Names Standards-Setting Panel” by Stephen Sawchuk

Source: Education Week – 28 February 2012

An external panel that includes several prominent critics of teacher education has been tapped to craft the performance standards for the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, the new organization’s leaders announced last week.

Among the standards under consideration: how programs ensure that candidates know their content; the programs’ ability to recruit an academically strong pool of candidates; their success in training teachers to use assessment data effectively; and the performance of their graduates in classrooms.

“We’re really going to up the ante with respect to how programs use data,” said CAEP President James G. Cibulka. “There will be a lot of focus on new sources of data: longitudinal databases, teacher evaluation, the teacher-effectiveness measures coming out of the [Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s] Measures of Effective Teaching Project, teacher-performance assessments.

“It’s not only a question of setting new, more rigorous standards, it’s also creating performance measures within these new databases to measure performance more effectively than ever before,” he said.

For a list of the 28 individuals selected to serve on the CAEP Commission on Standards and Performance Reporting, please visit the Web site above. (More appointments are expected.)

CAEP was created in late 2010 by the merger of two separate accreditors, the Teacher Education Accreditation Council, or TEAC, and the far larger and older National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, or NCATE. Both will operate until the merger is completed by the end of this year.

The commission tapped to write the new body’s standards will be chaired by Camilla Benbow, the dean of education and human development at Vanderbilt University, and Gene Harris, the superintendent of the Columbus, Ohio, public schools…

Many teacher-educators are putting their faith in new performance assessments, such as the one being developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, and Stanford University scholars, that aim to let programs know when a teacher is ready for the classroom. Such tests require candidates to plan and teach a lesson, demonstrating proficiency in specific skills.

About 25 states are in various stages of piloting the CCSSO group’s assessment, even as other observers raise questions about its cost and relationship to student achievement.

And “value added” methods are perpetually controversial, even for looking at program outcomes. Two states, Louisiana and Tennessee, now release data on how the candidates from teaching programs fare in the classroom, and 12 more plan to do so in the near future…

CAEP’s own board will need to certify the performance standards before they go into effect. The accreditor will begin reviewing some 900 programs next year.


Virtual Conference Showcases NSF Math and Science Partnership (MSP) Projects

Source: National Science Foundation (NSF)

URL (Showcase)

The Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program is a major research and development effort that supports innovative partnerships to improve K-12 student achievement in mathematics and science. MSP projects are expected to raise the achievement levels of all students and significantly reduce achievement gaps in the STEM performance of diverse student populations. All STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields supported by NSF may be involved in this work, with special encouragement to areas that are gaining increased traction at the K-12 level, such as computer science and engineering, in addition to mathematics and science.

The next MSP proposal due date is December 18. See for more information about the solicitation, as well as links to two helpful archived webinars designed to aid in the preparation of MSP proposals.

Each year, MSP projects present their posters at the MSP Learning Network Conference held in Washington, DC (  This is the first year that a follow-up poster showcase is being held online…

The 2012 Poster Showcase was held during the past week, and over 60 current MSP projects were represented. Viewing project overviews may be helpful in generating ideas for future proposals. All posters (including 3-minute audio introductions) are still available to view, as are facilitator reflections (see A poster database helps in locating project types and subject matter areas of particular interest (