COMET • Vol. 13, No. 08 – 5 June 2012


State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson Creates STEM Task Force

Source: California Department of Education

On May 24, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced the creation of a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Task Force to look at how to improve learning and engage more students in scientific and technical fields, widely considered a key to the state’s economic future.

“California has always led the way in science and technology–and our future success depends on fostering an interest in these fields among our students,” Torlakson said. “Our classrooms are filled with the leaders of tomorrow, and we need to give them every opportunity to reach their potential.”

The STEM Task Force will be co-chaired by Herb Brunkhorst, Chair of the Department of Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education at California State University, San Bernardino; and Susan Hackwood, Executive Director of the California Council on Science and Technology.

The Task Force’s volunteer members will be charged with exploring the status of STEM education in California’s curriculum, instructional practices, professional development for teachers, student testing, existing infrastructure, and partnerships with the community and business. The Task Force members will then assess the state’s future needs, as well as recommend a blueprint on how to improve teaching, learning, and equal access to STEM-related courses and careers for students in kindergarten through grade twelve.  

The resultant blueprint will provide guidance on ways to include career technical education, and newly developed national Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards in California’s kindergarten through grade twelve classrooms. (A “standard” is defined as the knowledge, concepts, and skills that students should acquire at each grade level.)

A 2011 U.S. Department of Commerce study, “STEM: Good Jobs Now and For the Future” ( found that over the past 10 years, growth in jobs involving STEM fields was three times greater than that of non-STEM occupations. The report also forecast that STEM jobs are expected to continue to grow at a faster rate than others in the coming decade. STEM-related industries are a major economic component in California’s economy.


For related legislation, see


Common Core State Standards Online Resources

Numerous resources exist for California educators interested in learning more about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for (a) Mathematics and for (b) English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. In addition to the California Department of Education’s CCSS Web site (, the following Web sites contain CCSS resources that you may find useful:

– Association of California School Administrators:

– California Mathematics Council:

– California Mathematics Project:

– Fresno County Office of Education:

– Los Angeles County Office of Education:

– Los Angeles Unified School District:

– Orange County Department of Education:

– Riverside County Office of Education:

iTunes Audio Podcasts:



Common Core State Standards Conferences and Institutes to be Held in California This Summer

There are a number of conferences/workshops/institutes being held in California this summer that incorporate the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Most sites of the California Mathematics Project will be hosting summer institutes that highlight the CCSS. See for regional contacts. Also of interest may be the following:

– The UCLA Curtis Center for Mathematics and Teaching will host five summer workshops for K-12 math teachers. Each 20-hour workshop will include (a) an overview of the structure of the new Common Core Standards, (b) a detailed look at the focus standards for the course, and (c) classroom-ready lessons to help teachers understand and teach some of the most challenging content standards. Course curricula are designed by Curtis Center staff serving on national and statewide Common Core leadership teams. Visit for dates and more information.

– The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) is hosting a High School Institute on Reasoning and Sense Making in Los Angeles on July 24-26. Teaching approaches related to the CCSS will be highlighted in the sessions. A recent addition to the program is a session on TI-Nspire CX activities designed to enhance teaching and learning by Mayim Bialik (actress on The Big Bang Theory who holds a Ph.D. in Neuroscience) and Katie Martinez, a mathematics teacher from Canyon Crest Academy in San Diego. To learn more and to register, visit 

– The American Statistical Association is offering a workshop for middle and high school teachers related to the CCSS statistics concepts on July 31-August 1 at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront in conjunction with the Joint Statistical Meetings. Optional graduate credit and limited lodging reimbursement is also available. More information and registration for the MWM workshop is available at

– On July 15-20, “Teaching that Emphasizes Mathematical Practices for K-8 Teachers” will be held at Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA. Participants will explore the changes represented by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), particularly related to the Standards for Mathematical Practice (SMP), and consider how best to integrate CCSS in their classes for future and practicing K-8 teachers. Visit for more information.

– The National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics is sponsoring a retreat in Santa Rosa, CA, on July 31-August 2 to assist educators in implementing the CCSS. Speakers for “Moving the Common Core State Standards from Vision to Action” include Diane Briars, Skip Fennell, Timothy Kanold, Suzanne Mitchell, Jonathan Wray, Beth Kobett, and Kit Norris. For more information, visit  


Reminder:  Free 3-Part Webinar on Elementary and Middle School Science in California Begins Tomorrow


SchoolsMovingUp at WestEd is hosting a free 3-part webinar entitled “Advancing STEM Education K-8 in California” in partnership with the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd and California State University. The first webinar, “The Status of Elementary and Middle School Science in California,” will be held tomorrow, June 6, from 10:30 a.m.-noon. To register, visit 



Today’s Transit of Venus — Last Occurrence for over 100 Years



Skywatchers have the opportunity to witness history today (5 June 2012), as the planet Venus rambles across the face of the sun in a rare event that will not be visible again for 105 years.

Astronomers call this orbital encounter the “transit of Venus,” when the planet passes between Earth and the sun, appearing as a tiny black blemish as it travels across the solar disk.

Transits of Venus are some of the rarest skywatching sights because they happen so infrequently. Transits occur in pairs eight years apart, once every 100 years or so. Today’s transit is paired with a previous one that occurred on June 8, 2004. Before that, the last pair of Venus transits wowed astronomers and explorers in 1881 and 1889… The next two transits of Venus will not occur again until the years 2117 and 2125.

How to watch

The transit will begin around 3 p.m. PDT, and will last approximately seven hours… To safely view the transit, special solar filters should be fitted over binoculars or telescopes, and eclipse glasses or No. 14 welder’s glasses should be used as protective eyewear…

The safest and simplest technique is to view the transit indirectly using a solar projection. Skywatchers can use telescopes or one side of a pair of binoculars to project a magnified image of the sun’s disk onto a shaded white piece of cardboard…

For those who are unable to witness the transit of Venus in person, NASA and several observatories will be broadcasting live footage online from telescopes around the world. Members of the public can tune into the webcasts to see real-time views of the transit, coupled with commentary from astronomers and transit experts:

… Senior writer Mike Wall will be covering the transit of Venus from NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, CA. Editor’s note: If you snap photos of the 2012 transit of Venus across the sun and would like to share them with, send images and comments to managing editor Tariq Malik at:


“Improving Mathematical Problem Solving in Grades 4 Through 8” — New Guide from the U.S. Department of Education

Source: California Commission on Teacher Credentialing

The latest practice guide from the U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse, “Improving Mathematical Problem Solving in Grades 4 Through 8,” offers teachers five recommendations for regularly incorporating mathematical problem solving into their classroom instruction. More information is available via the following link: The guide can be downloaded as a PDF file from

Excerpt from the guide:

“Students who develop proficiency in mathematical problem solving early are better prepared for advanced mathematics and other complex problem-solving tasks. Unfortunately, when compared with students in other countries, students in the U.S. are less prepared to solve mathematical problems. For example, recent Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) data suggest that, when compared to other industrialized countries such as the Netherlands, China, and Latvia, U.S. 4th-graders rank tenth and 8th-graders rank seventh out of 41 countries in problem solving.

“Problem solving involves reasoning and analysis, argument construction, and the development of innovative strategies. These abilities are used not only in advanced mathematics topics…but also throughout the entire mathematics curriculum beginning in kindergarten, as well as in subjects such as science. Moreover, these skills have a direct impact on students’ achievement scores, as many state and national standardized assessments and college entrance exams include problem solving.

“Traditional textbooks often do not provide students rich experiences in problem solving. Textbooks are dominated by sets of problems that are not cognitively demanding, particularly when assigned as independent seatwork or homework, and teachers often review the answers quickly without discussing what strategies students used to solve the problems or whether the solutions can be justified. The lack of guidance in textbooks is not surprising, given that state and district standards are often less clear in their guidelines for process skills, such as problem solving, than they are in their wording of grade-level content standards.

“The goal of this practice guide is to give teachers and administrators recommendations for improving mathematical problem-solving skills, regardless of which curriculum is used. The guide offers five recommendations that provide teachers with a coherent approach for regularly incorporating problem solving into their classroom instruction to achieve this end. It presents evidence-based suggestions for putting each recommendation into practice and describes roadblocks that may be encountered, as well as possible solutions…”


ASCD’s “Get to the Core” Webinar Series — Final Episode will be Webcast Tomorrow


The Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) presents the 11th webinar in its “Get to the Core” series tomorrow (June 6) at noon PDT. This episode is entitled, “Common Core State Standards: Where Does Differentiation Fit?” To register for this free webinar, visit the website above. Links to the previous ten CCSS webinars are also located on this Web page.


The transcript for last month’s EdWeek chat entitled “Common Standards: The Professional-Development Challenge in Math” is available at


NCTM 2012 Annual Meeting Webcasts

Source: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)

Videos of several sessions from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ annual meeting (April 2012, Philadelphia, PA) are now available on the Web site above. Included are videos of the following sessions:

– Opening Session: “Will Current School Reforms Improve Education?”   

Speaker: Diane Ravitch

– Lifetime Achievement Awards — These awards honor NCTM members who have exhibited a lifetime of national achievement in mathematics education. This year’s awardees are Gail F. Burrill and Francis (Skip) Fennell.

– “Continuing Challenges for NCTM in Teaching and Learning Mathematics” — This session by NCTM President J. Michael Shaughnessy addresses challenges faced when working to improve mathematics teaching and learning for all students (e.g., NCTM’s Reasoning and Sense Making Initiative, support in the implementation and assessment of the CCSS-Mathematics, and efforts to reverse the persistently poor attitude toward mathematics in North America).

– Iris M. Carl Address: “Equitable Practices in Mathematics Classrooms”
Speaker: Judit Moschkovich

– “Helping Our Students Become Mathematical Thinkers”
Speaker: NCTM President-Elect Linda Gojak