COMET • Vol. 18, No. 02 – 7 February 2017



2017 Mathematics Symposium: Beyond Buzzwords 

Information about the 2017 California Mathematics Council (CMC) Central Section Symposium is now available on CMC-Central’s website: The leadership session for administrators and lead teachers will be held on Friday, March 10, at the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education from 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. On Saturday, March 11, sessions designed for K-12 teachers and administrators will be held from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. at Arroyo Grande High School. A conference flyer is available at

Unlocking Learning: Science as a Lever for English Learner Equity – Webinar on February 15

Source: WestEd

WestEd invites you to attend a free webinar that explores The Education Trust-West’s new report, Unlocking Learning: Science as Lever for English Learner Equity. The webinar, which will be held on February 15 from 3:30-4:30 p.m., will include an overview of the report and panel discussion. To register, visit

Ed Trust-West’s website includes the following information about the new report:

Based on in-depth site visits and featuring real world examples of high-performing schools, high-quality professional development, and innovative classroom practices, Unlocking Learning: Science as a Lever for English Learner Equity lays out a blueprint for increasing access and achievement in science for California’s 1.37 million English learners. Key takeaways of the report include the following:

– Research shows that weaving together science and language development can increase students’ academic performance in reading, writing, and science simultaneously.

– Some promising practices are resulting in achievement levels that are double and even triple the state average for English learners who met or exceeded proficiency.

– LCFF (Local Control Funding Formula) and the implementation of the CA Next Generation Science Standards provide districts an opportunity to overhaul their approach to science education and language development.

The report concludes with district-level and state-level recommendations, along with a series of questions for community stakeholders to ask in their advocacy for closing English learner achievement gaps in science. Download the report at

State Teacher Credentialing Test Period of Validity Increases from 5 to 10 Years Effective April 1

Source: Commission on Teacher Credentialing

The CaliforniaCommission on Teacher Credentialing announced that the Office of Administrative Law approved changes to the Education Code to increase the validity period of teacher examination scores (e.g., CSET, CBEST) from the current five years to ten years effective 1 April 2017. (Exception: Specialized Science examinations passed by educators will remain valid for their initial certification use for five years according to the term of validity in force at the time the examinations were taken and will no longer be valid for this purpose after August 1, 2020.) Visit the website above for more details.


Senate Vote to Confirm Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary Expected Today (7 Feb. 2017); Democratic Senators Speak All Night Against Confirmation

On January 31, President Trump’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, received enough votes from members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee to advance for a final confirmation vote in the full Senate (

Last Friday (Feb. 3), the Senate considered DeVos’s nomination; the proceedings can be viewed at At that meeting, the Senators voted to resume consideration of her nomination yesterday around 9:15 a.m. PT. Throughout the day, a series of impassioned presentations by Democratic Senators argued against the confirmation of DeVos. These presentations continued through the night and will conclude when the vote on DeVos’s confirmation takes place, most likely around 9:30 a.m. PT today.

Senate Democrats are expected to be joined by two Republican Senators (Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska) in voting against the confirmation of DeVos. This outcome would result in a tie vote in the Senate, which would force Vice President Pence to cast a vote to break the tie, resulting in DeVos being confirmed as Secretary of Education. (This would be the first time in history that a vice president would be needed to break a tie vote for a presidential cabinet nominee.)

The marathon of presentations against the confirmation of Betsy DeVos was championed by the ranking member of the HELP Committee, Senator Patty Murray, who stated yesterday morning: “I come to the floor today to kick off the final day of debate on this nomination. I spoke at length on Friday making my case for why the Senate should oppose Betsy DeVos. Democrats will hold the floor for the next 24 hours until the final vote to do everything we can to persuade just one more Republican to join us…” Many Democratic senators reported that they have received tens of thousands of emails, letters, and telephone calls from constituents strongly urging them to vote against Betsy DeVos’s confirmation.

Around 5:15 p.m. PT yesterday, California’s recently-elected U.S. Senator Kamala Harris rose to express concerns that many other Senators mentioned in their statements (e.g., Betsy DeVos’s views on Title IX, IDEA, guns in schools, charter and private school accountability, public vs. private schools, vouchers, Pell grants, and federal funding levels for PK-12 education). She also drew a sharp connection between lack of education and crime/incarceration, arguing against a reduction of federal funds for education.

Some who rose to speak were in support of DeVos. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) noted that he refers to the children who others refer to as “at-risk kids” as “high potential kids”and that “when [their] parents have a choice [oftype of school—public, private, etc.], students have a chance, not just in education, but a better chance at life.” Betsy DeVos’s support of vouchers, private schools, and school choice gave him hope for all children’s success.

Those interested in viewing the Senate proceedings and confirmation vote can go to and click on “Watch Live Floor Proceedings.” (Archived proceedings are also available on this page.)

Related articles: 

“See Betsy DeVos’ Responses to a Key Democrat on Common Core, ESSA, Civil Rights”

Source: Alyson Klein – Education Week – 30 January 2017

Education Week writer Alyson Klein summarized DeVos’s responses to Sen. Patty Murray’s questions. (The 140 questions and responses appear in their entirety at Klein’s summary is available at

“From a Sea of Senate Questions: 6 Key Takeaways in Betsy DeVos’s Answers”

Source: Matt Barnum – T74 – 31 January 2017

“[Senator Lamar] Alexander: Senate Poised to Confirm Betsy DeVos and ‘Swap a National School Board for a Local School Board’”

Source: Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee – 3 February 2017

Senate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said the Senate was poised to confirm Betsy DeVos on Tuesday, “swapping a national school board for a local school board,” after the Senate [on Friday, February 3] voted to end debate on her nomination and move to a vote.

“She believes what 85 of us voted for in the law that President Obama called a ‘Christmas Miracle’ in December 2015–and that is to reverse the trend from a national school board and restore control of our children and our schools to those closest to the children,” Alexander said. “There will be no mandates for Common Core, no mandates for teacher evaluation, no mandates for vouchers from the United States Department of Education headed by Betsy DeVos.”

“Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers”


“Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers” is a biweekly web video series that profiles one current (or future) scientist, mathematician, or engineer per episode, highlighting a “secret” that he or she possesses. Produced by PBS’s NOVA, these short (1- to 5-minute), engaging videos are archived at

In one episode (, actress Danica McKellar shares her shock at scoring significantly higher than her classmates on her first calculus exam at UCLA and being encouraged by the instructor to major in mathematics. She began tutoring calculus and co-authored a research paper sharing what is now known as the Chayes-McKellar-Winn theorem.

The most recent interviews are with Simon Singh, who holds a doctorate in particle physics and has produced a number of STEM-related documentaries, reports, and books. He shared that singer/songwriter Ed Robertson had just read Singh’s book Big Bang when he was asked to write the theme music for The Big Bang Theory television show. The book inspired him to agree to do so.

Singh shares in one episode of “Secret Life” that he was “just amazed at the volume of mathematical content that is in The Simpsons.” This spurred him to write the popular book, The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets. Visit to view this interesting 4-minute video.

National Geographic Promotes New Series on Albert Einstein in Super Bowl Commercial

After Lady Gaga’s halftime performance at Sunday’s Super Bowl, National Geographic aired a 45-second commercial to promote its first scripted anthology series, GENIUS, which “charts how Albert Einstein, an imaginative, rebellious patent clerk who struggled to land an academic post in his early years, went on to become the greatest scientific mind of the 20th century, all while juggling volatile, passionate and complex personal relationships” ( In the commercial, Einstein plays Gaga’s “Bad Romance” on his ever-present violin.

The series is based upon the book, Einstein: His Life and Universe and first airs on April 25. For more information, please visit

Related article:

Geoffrey Rush Explains Why Playing Einstein is ‘Scary’ Yet ‘Delicious’



Active Learning in Higher Education Mathematics Classrooms

The latest issue of Notices of the American Mathematical Society includes the article, “What does Active Learning Mean for Mathematicians?” This timely piece provides an overview and discussion of key topics related to active learning in college/university mathematics courses. It follows an August 2015 call to action from the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences (CBMS) for “institutions of higher education, mathematics departments and the mathematics faculty, public policy-makers, and funding agencies to invest time and resources to ensure that effective active learning is incorporated into post-secondary mathematics classrooms.”

The authors write about “definitions of active learning, examples of active learning techniques and environments used by individual faculty or teams of faculty, things to expect when using active learning methods, and common concerns.” They provide short summaries of various techniques used to engage students such as think-pair-share, full-class response systems, flipped classes, inquiry-based learning (with a link to, the math emporium model, and modeling and computer laboratories.

The “things to expect” and “common concerns” section of the article can serve as useful points for discussion among mathematics department faculty. The authors acknowledge that change takes time, teamwork, and support. They note that it’s especially important for master’s and doctoral candidates to have experience in teaching using an active learning approach, in addition to the more traditional lecture approach. They conclude by saying that “our mathematical training has prepared us as problem solvers to hone our intelligence, our diligence, our spirit of curiosity, and our love of learning in order to develop meaningful and effective ways of teaching. These qualities are directly related to who we are as mathematicians, and they give us hope for success in our continued endeavor of improving mathematics teaching and learning for all.”

The article is available online at

StarTalk with Host Neil deGrasse Tyson


Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium, strives to bring science to life in an entertaining way as host of a family of StarTalk radio, TV, and road shows.

A few days before Super Bowl LI, StarTalk aired the first episode of StarTalk Playing with Science, which “teases out the science behind some of sport’s most iconic moments to explore how and why the play happened. The show explores the seldom-considered marriage of science and sport.” New episodes are broadcast every Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET. Visit to learn more about this series.

StarTalk TV is “the first late-night show focused on science.” Now in its third season, it airs on the National Geographic Channel. On February 28, George Takei (“Sulu” on the original Star Trek TV series) will be interviewed. “Comedian co-host Leighann Lord and special guest astrophysicist Charles Liu discuss Star Trek’s legacy as a series that pioneered the virtues of diversity, science and optimism in American culture” (

StarTalk Radio (radio show and podcast) airs at 7 p.m. ET every Friday. Visit for links to the various episodes, including “The Beauty of Mathematics with Jeremy Irons”: “In this episode of StarTalk, Neil Tyson explores the language of the universe through the lens of self-taught math genius and college dropout Ramanujan, the subject of the recent movie, The Man Who Knew Infinity. Neil interviews one of the stars of that movie, Jeremy Irons, who plays the great Cambridge University mathematician G.H. Hardy, and the movie’s director, Matt Brown. He also has the movie’s consultant, mathematics professor Ken Ono, as his in-studio guest.”

The Science of NFL Football: 10-Part Video Series

Source: National Science Foundation
URL: and 

NBC News’ educational arm, NBC Learn, teamed up with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Football League (NFL) to release the “Science of NFL Football”–an informative 10-part video series that explores the science behind football.

National Engineers Week


National Engineers Week (EWeek), which will be held this year on February 19-25, was founded by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) in 1951 to help raise awareness of the engineering profession and increase recognition of the importance of the contributions of engineers and those in technical fields. It is hoped that this awareness will help spark students in pursuing a career in a STEM field.

“Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day” will be held on February 23. “Started in 2001 as a joint effort between NSPE, IBM, and National Engineers Week Foundation, ‘Girl Day’ 2017 marks the 16th year of a special focus whereby women engineers and their male colleagues have the opportunity to introduce more than one million girls and young women to engineering. More than just one day, ‘Introduce a Girlto Engineering’ is a national movement that shows girls how creative and collaborative engineering is and how engineers are changing our world.” A free kit is available at

The National Engineers Week Foundation is now known as DiscoverE. The leadership of this foundation includes corporations such as ExxonMobil, Lockheed Martin, Bechtel, and Shell Oil. The DiscoverE website includes dozens of searchable “Cool Content & Activities” related to all types of engineering for students:

The “Resources and Downloads” page includes a collection of free videos, logos, slideshows, and kits to help explain and promote engineering in schools. See One example is a 3-minute video of a mathematics teachers who describes his transition to teaching engineering courses:,5

A “Year-Round Engineering” page provides ideas about how to utilize the Dream Big movie and its free related activities to engage students in engineering year-round.

Related information:

Dream Big: Engineering Our World


Beginning this month, the new movie Dream Big: Engineering Our World will be shown in IMAX theaters throughout the nation. A number of communities will be premiering the movie free of charge. The movie, which was developed in partnership with the American Society of Civil Engineers and presented by the Bechtel Corporation, “gives people of all ages a fresh perspective on the world of engineering and the imagination it takes to create a sustainable future.”

In addition to the movie, the Dream Big project also offers free teacher activities and resources, lesson plans design challenge exhibits, and more. Ten hands-on engineering activities that are related to topics in the movie are available at

The trailer for Dream Big is available at

Siemens Foundation and Discovery Education Announce New ‘Siemens STEM Day’ Online Program to Spark Students’ Interest in Real-World Applications of STEM

On January 30, Siemens Foundation and Discovery Education launched Siemens STEM Day, an expanded version of the Siemens Science Day website that includes a new K-12 online STEM experience. In addition to more than 130 elementary and middle school activities, the Siemens STEM Day site now offers high school resources designed to support STEM curriculum and instruction with digital content. To celebrate the initiative’s launch, Siemens STEM Day is also hosting the Possibility Grant Sweepstakes, which offers schools the chance to win up to $10,000 for STEM education equipment.

Available at no cost, Siemens STEM Day materials emphasize the importance of STEM through standards-aligned, engaging hands-on classroom activities and videos designed to support the development of students’ ability to investigate, question, and understand how the world works within STEM principles. Interactive student activities can be searched by grade level, category or career path; topics include healthcare, engineering, IT, science, math, technology, energy and manufacturing. Siemens STEM Day also offers a Teacher Support Center ( that provides educators with 5-minute prep videos, live demonstrations of activities, downloadable handouts, and how-to guides.

The Possibility Grant Sweepstakes awards one grand prize winning school $10,000, which could be used by school leaders to purchase STEM-related equipment, supplies or technology or to refurbish existing science labs. K-12 educators in the United States are eligible to enter their school once daily until 28 April 2017.

To learn more about Siemens STEM Day and download the program’s free resources, visit

By Age 6, Gender Stereotypes can Affect Girls’ Choices


Women account for more than half the U.S. population, but only 30 percent of those employed as scientists and engineers in the country. Researchers are investigating several possible factors that contribute to this disparity — including the societal stereotype that associates intellectual talent more closely with men than women, according to a new study.

This stereotype affects girls as young as 6 years old, influencing their activity choices, said the study, published in the journal Science. The study’s authors used a series of experiments to evaluate the beliefs of 5-, 6- and 7-year-old boys and girls about gender and “brilliance.”

Researchers used the phrase “really, really smart” as a child’s way of understanding the concept of brilliance. In one experiment, children heard a story about a gender-neutral protagonist described as “really, really smart.” They then selected the most-likely protagonist from among pictures of two men and two women. Separately, researchers asked the children to pair certain words like “smart” with either a man or a woman. Using these and similar tests, researchers were able to assess children’s stereotypes about gender and intellectual ability.

The scientists also asked girls and boys to evaluate their preferences for two games — one for “really, really smart” children, the other for children who try “really, really hard.”

By age 6, girls were already significantly less likely than boys to say that members of their own gender were “really, really smart,” the findings indicated. Those same girls were more likely to avoid games described as for children who are “really, really smart.” At age 5, these differences had not yet appeared, and both boys and girls associated brilliance with their own gender similarly.

The research team’s previous work, focused on adults, found that women are most underrepresented in fields whose members perceive “brilliance” or innate talent as crucial for success — fields that include many of the sciences. The new research highlights the possibility that these disparities have deep developmental roots…

Talking to Children about STEM Fields Boosts Test Scores and Career Interest

Source: University of Chicago – 17 January 2017

A new study finds parents who talk with their high schoolers about the relevance of science and math can increase competency and career interest in the fields.

The findings, published Jan. 17 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show a 12 percentage point increase on the math and science ACT for students whose parents were provided with information on how to effectively convey the importance of science, technology, engineering and math. The samestudents also are likely to be more interested in pursuing STEM careers, including taking STEM classes in college and having a favorable impression of the fields.

The research by Christopher S. Rozek, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago, and his colleagues provides new insights as policymakers in the United States look to increase the number of students going into STEM fields.

“Parents are potentially an untapped resource for helping to improve the STEM motivation and preparation of students,” said Rozek, lead author of the research. “We could move the needle by just encouraging parents to have these conversations about the relevance of math and science.”

The latest findings challenge widely held assumptions, including that parents already are effectively talking with their children about the importance of math and science, and that by high school, the views of students have solidified.

“By the time students are teenagers, many parents don’t think there is much they can do to change their children’s minds or help them be motivated. This research shows that parents can still have a substantial effect,” Rozek said.

Want to Ace an Exam? Tell a Friend What You Learned


Students who are given information and tell someone about it immediately recall the details better and longer, says a Baylor University researcher.

“This has to be actively replaying or re-generating the information — for example, by telling someone the particulars, as opposed to just simply re-reading the textbook or class notes and studying it again later,” said Baylor psychologist Melanie Sekeres, lead author of the study, which was published in the journal Learning & Memory.

“A week later, the memory was just as good,” she said. “Telling someone else about what you’ve learned is a really effective way for students to study instead of just re-reading the textbook or class notes.”

In the study, students were shown 24-second clips from 40 films over a period of about half an hour. The study focused on their retention of both the general plot of the films as well as such details as sounds, colors, gestures, background details and other peripheral information that allow a person to re-experience an event in rich and vivid detail, said Sekeres.

Researchers also found that giving students a brief visual cue from the movie later — even a simple glimpse of the title and a sliver of a screenshot taken from the film — seemed to jog the memory.

“With a cue, suddenly, a lot of those details will come back,” Sekeres said. “We don’t permanently forget them, which would indicate lack of storage — we just can’t immediately access them. And that’s good. That means our memories aren’t as bad as we think.”

Much research on memory examines how brain damage or aging affects recall, but “we wanted to look at the normal course of forgetting in healthy brains — and if anyone should have a good memory, it’s healthy young adults,” Sekeres said.

“While the strategy of re-telling information — known as ‘the testing effect’ — has been shown to be a really effective study technique time and again, this study is novel in looking at how our memories change over time for a specialized group.”

Researchers studied three groups of undergraduate students, each with 20 participants, who were on average 21 years old. After viewing the film clips, researchers asked what they remembered about the films after delays ranging from several minutes after the showings up to seven days later.

“We chose mostly foreign films and somewhat obscure clips that we thought most undergraduates would not have seen,” Sekeres said. “The clips all contained brief scenes of normal, everyday events that mimicked the kind of events you might experience in a day, such as a family having dinner or kids playing at a park.”

Researchers found that:

– Not surprisingly, all participants recalled less about both the details and the substance of the films over a longer gap of time. But they forgot the perceptual or peripheral details from the films more quickly, and to a greater degree, than the films’ central themes.

– Significantly, the second group of students, who were given cues before being asked to recall the films, did better at retrieving the faded memory of the peripheral details. However, their retention of central information was not much different from the first group, who did not have such cues.

– Most noteworthy was that the third group — who retrieved the memory of the films by telling someone about them soon after viewing — remembered both central and peripheral information better over time.

The “replaying” method takes considerable effort, but it can be worth it, Sekeres said.

“We tell students to test yourself, force yourself to tell someone about the lecture. Even by writing out some questions for yourself about the information, then later answering them yourself, you are more likely to remember the information. Unfortunately, simply re-reading or passively listening to a recording of your lecture in the hopes of remembering the information isn’t a great study strategy by comparison.”

Sekeres noted that forgetting some details is to be expected — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“The brain is adaptive,” she said. “We remember the important things, for the most part, and we forget the unimportant details. You don’t want your brain to search through tons of useless information.”

But clearly, in certain situations — such as giving eyewitness testimony or taking a test — details and context can be vital for more accurate memory, she said. And on a personal level, details make for a richer store of such memories as family times.

While researchers focused on how cuing and active retrieval of memories affected students, those actions also could be helpful to others in reactivating memories, Sekeres said.

“If there’s something you really want to remember, test yourself — like saying names and recalling, for example, that Jim had the green cap and Susan wore the red dress and brought a casserole,” she said.

Sekeres said further research would be valuable to determine how the effects of cuing and active retrieval hold up over a period of months or years.

Her research team currently is using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look into how brain activity changes over time as memories age and lose those peripheral details.

“Identifying changes in patterns of brain activity that accompany normal forgetting in the healthy brain will help us to understand differences between normal and abnormal memory processing,” Sekeres said. “As researchers, we have to first understand how something normally works before we can try to fix it.”

STEM Snippets

“The ‘Hidden Figure’ You Still Don’t Know…”

Source: Lawrence Toppman – The Charlotte Observer – 5 February 2017

“Balancing The Equation: This Athlete Simultaneously Plays in the NFL and Pursues an MIT Mathematics Ph.D.”

Source: Soloman David – SportTechie – 12 January 2017

Video: Perseverance in Mathematics


“New AP Computer Science Course Proves Popular With Students, Teachers”

Source: Marva Hinton – Education Week – 3 February 2017

Mathematics Educator James Hiebert to Receive Lindsey Award for Distinguished Research at AACTE Conference on March 4

Source: Kristen McCabe – EdPrep Matters – 2 February 2017

“March for Science” will be Held on Earth Day (22 April 2017)


How States Can Step Up for Science (Interview with Jerry Brown)

Source: Science Friday – 21 January 2017

“Total Solar Eclipse 2017: When, Where and How to See It (Safely)” by Mike Wall

Source: – 6 January 2017

COMET is sponsored in part by a grant from the California Mathematics Project.

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