COMET • Vol. 7, No. 13 – 5 April 2006

[The targeted time and date for this week’s COMET was 01:02:03 04/05/06. (In many countries outside the U.S., however, the day precedes the month when writing the date, so this interesting phenomenon will occur on May 4!)]

[COMET will resume following next week’s spring break.]


(1) The 2006 California Mathematics Framework is Now Available Online and in Print

URL (Framework):

On Monday (April 3), State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell announced that the 2006 edition of the Mathematics Framework for California Public Schools, Kindergarten through Grade Twelve is now available to view online or in hard copy.

The Framework is based on the math content standards adopted by the State Board of Education in 1997 and provides guidance for curricula development, instructional materials, instructional practices, assessment, and staff development.

Recognizing that districts need a variety of math instructional materials, the Framework calls for three types of programs: basic grade level (K-8), intervention (grades 4-7), and algebra readiness (grade 8 or above). By providing local educational agencies with additional choices in selecting instructional materials, O’Connell expects these new intervention and algebra readiness materials will help all students successfully complete algebra I. Appendix E of the Framework describes in further detail the content of these two new types of specialized instructional math materials.  In November 2007, the State Board of Education will be adopting math instructional resources for grades K-8.

The Framework is available on the California Department of Education Web site at To order copies of the Framework, please call the CDE Press Office at 800-995-4099.

(2) California State University (CSU) Math Success Web Site

Source:  Jeff Gold, CSU Chancellor’s Office

The CSU Math Success Web site offers a number of online resources to help high school students prepare for college-level mathematics classes at California State University campuses. The site has been designed to achieve three major goals related to mathematics readiness:

  1. To provide high school students, teachers, counselors, parents, and other interested parties with clear and authoritative advice about the CSU math placement requirement and how to meet it;
  2. To motivate high school students to take steps to satisfy the CSU math placement requirement in the most efficient and expeditious manner; and
  3. To provide students with the necessary educational tools and planning resources to enable them to take advantage of their high school years in preparing effectively for college math

The CSU Math Success Web site offers a personalized roadmap tool that informs students of the steps they need to take to prepare for college math.  Additionally, it provides students with online math quizzes and the opportunity to sign up for a web-based math tutorial that relies on assessment-driven instruction to dynamically introduce only those mathematical concepts that students are ready to learn.

Helpful information about the Entry Level Math (ELM) exam, as well as the Early Assessment Program (EAP), is also available on this Web site (see

For more information, please visit

(3) Who Wants to Be a Mathematician?

Source:  Arne Jensen (

The American Mathematical Society (AMS) and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) present “Who Wants to Be a Mathematician” today (April 5), from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 pm in MSRI’s Simons Auditorium at Chern Hall (for directions, visit This popular AMS game brings together top Bay Area students in an exciting competition for prizes. All are welcome to attend this free event.

Visit for more information about “Who Wants to Be a Mathematician?” The site includes a video of a game played at Danver’s High School in Massachusetts two years ago. The site recommends that watching and playing along with the game would be a “great activity for a math club or for individuals who want to match wits with the contestants. Each game lasts approximately 30 minutes.”

(4) “The Nature of Roughness in Mathematics, Science, and Art”–Public Lecture by Benoit B. Mandelbrot

URL (poster):

The American Mathematical Society, The Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, and San Francisco State University present the AMS Einstein Public Lecture in Mathematics: “The Nature of Roughness in Mathematics, Science, and Art” by Benoit B. Mandelbrot. The presentation will be held on Saturday, April 29, at 8:00 p.m. at the Jack Adams Hall in the Cesar Chavez Student Center at San Francisco State University (SFSU).

Benoit Mandelbrot, Sterling Professor of Mathematical Sciences at Yale University, is world famous for his work on fractal geometry and chaos theory. He is universally acknowledged as the “father of fractals,” a subject that has its roots in the work of Weierstrass, Cantor, Klein, and Poincaré. Professor Mandelbrot has proposed fractal models for the study of coastlines, clouds, lungs, trees, arteries, etc. In a special issue of “Le Nouvel Observateur,” he was listed as one of the ten most influential scientists of our time. For his fundamental discoveries, Professor Mandelbrot has been awarded numerous prizes and honors, including the 1994 Wolf Prize for Physics.

This event is part of the AMS 2006 Spring Sectional meeting at San Francisco State University (SFSU), and is sponsored by AMS and MSRI.

Visit for more information about the Einstein lecture series.


(1) New Report Released: Teaching Science in Five Countries: Results From the TIMSS 1999 Video Study

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

On April 4, the National Center for Education Statistics in the U.S. Education Department’s Institute of Education Sciences released a report entitled Teaching Science in Five Countries: Results From the TIMSS 1999 Video Study. This report draws on analyses of 439 randomly selected videotaped classroom lessons from five participating countries: the United States, Australia, the Czech Republic, Japan, and the Netherlands.

The results of the newly released science study highlight variations across the countries in how science lessons are organized, how the science content is developed for the students, and how the students participate in actively doing science work. Although the study found that science lessons in the four higher-achieving countries and the United States had some common aspects, there were many differences.

In Japan, the lessons included fewer and less theoretical science content ideas, but presented the content in coherent ways that emphasized identifying patterns in data and making connections among ideas and evidence. Although Japanese lessons addressed few ideas, each idea was treated in depth, with multiple sources of supporting evidence provided for each idea.

Australian lessons developed in depth a small number of basic science content ideas through inquiry. The lessons drew from examples of real-life issues while also providing multiple types of activities that had the potential to engage students’ interest.

Science lessons in the Netherlands emphasized science content in a different way, holding students accountable for independent learning of science ideas. Homework and independent seatwork were central features of Dutch science lessons. Students used the textbook and generated written responses to questions (beyond one-word answers or multiple choice). Homework was typically observed to be worked on independently during class or reviewed during whole-class discussions, and students often kept track of a long-term set of assignments, checking their work in a class answer book as they proceeded independently.

In the Czech Republic, students were held accountable for mastering challenging and often theoretical science content in front of their peers through class discussions, work at the blackboard, and oral quizzes.

In the United States, lessons covered a broad range of science content topics and kept students busy on a variety of activities such as hands-on work, small group discussions, written activities, and other “motivational” activities such as games, role playing, physical movement, and puzzles. The various activities, however, were not typically connected to the development of science content ideas. Instead, content was organized as discrete bits of factual information or problem-solving procedures rather than as a set of connected ideas. More than a quarter of the U.S. lessons did not develop science content ideas at all, but instead focused almost completely on carrying out activities.

The science report is the second released by TIMSS 1999 Video Study. The first report, focused on 8th grade mathematics teaching, was released in 2003.

This 24-page report is currently only available online (print version forthcoming) and can be downloaded from

(2) “Inspiring Excellence: Great Teachers, Great Principals”–Webcast on Tuesday, April 18

Source: U.S. Department of Education via Kathy Kelly (IBM)

“You never lose hope in a child. And as a nation, we’re learning what you have always known. With a great teacher, every child can learn.”

— U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings

Every child in America deserves a high-quality teacher. This has never been more important than today, when teachers–and the principals that guide them—are leading the charge to prepare America’s students for an ever-changing, increasingly high-tech world outside of the classroom. White- and blue-collar employers alike, responding to the changing demands of the global economy, are seeking workers with “pocket protector” skills–practical problem-solvers across the world fluent in today’s technology. To meet this challenge and advance our economic and national security, America must continue to invest in and improve the skills and abilities of our nation’s teaching corps and the principals who lead them.

Recent studies offer compelling evidence that confirms what parents have always known: the quality of a teacher is one of the most critical components of how well students achieve. Studies also show that verbal ability and content knowledge are the most important attributes of highly qualified and effective teachers. And teachers need to be equipped to teach and understand today’s students–our future. But, preparation, recruitment and compensation systems developed during the 20th century do not fully address the classroom challenges of the 21st century.

The April edition of “Education News Parents Can Use” will be Webcast live on Tuesday, April 18, 5:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m. PDT. It will showcase award-winning educators and schools, explore how effective teaching is at the core of America’s long-term economic competitiveness, highlight alternative strategies to recruit, train, and reward effective teachers and principals and reveal how programs like the Adjunct Teacher Corps, Teacher-to-Teacher, and the American Competitiveness Initiative are strengthening our nation’s teachers, schools, and students. Educators, policymakers, and practitioners will discuss such key questions as:

*  What does “effective teaching” mean and what is the Department doing to promote it?

*  What is a “highly qualified” teacher and why are teachers so important to student achievement?

*  What can we do to better recruit, train, and reward teachers, especially those in critical subjects like math and science?

*  What programs does the Department of Education offer to help improve teaching and learning?

*  What is an “instructional leader”? How can we develop and sustain good principals?

*  How can parents ensure that a high-quality teacher teaches their child? What questions should they ask of their teachers and school administrators to ensure effective teaching?

One profiled teacher will be Kathy Kelly, who will appear both on video and live on the April 18 show. Kathy is a participant in IBM’s Transition to Teaching program and plans to teach middle school math (see the TIME article, “Not Quite Ready to Retire” for more information:

Web Casts

To view live web casts of “Education News” or archived Webcasts of past programs, please visit  Also visit for a list of “ways to watch” the live or taped broadcast (e.g., on a PBS station or The Learning Channel).

(3) Live Web Chat with Cathy Seeley

Source: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)

[Note: NCTM President Cathy Seeley’s last Presidential Web Chat will be held on Tuesday, April 11 at 1 p.m. PDT. Her topic will be “Seek First to Understand.”]

In his best seller, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey states that effective people “seek first to understand.” Understanding, communicating, and working together across communities can help us generate better ways of providing every student with the highest quality mathematics education possible. Students, in particular, benefit when mathematics educators work collaboratively with mathematicians, scientists, policymakers, school administrators, business people, and families of students. Likewise, in their efforts to improve mathematics education, it is crucial that these groups stay connected to those who work with students on a daily basis.

Mathematicians can help educators stay focused on mathematical content as we work to improve our mathematics teaching. Educators can help mathematicians see that students can become proficient in mathematics by using mathematical activities that engage them in solving problems that go beyond memorized procedures. Mathematics education researchers can offer insights that help mathematicians understand why certain approaches may be instructionally preferable to others that seem more mathematically defensible. Policymakers and business people can help educators realize the importance of documenting student achievement and can raise awareness about the future that students face. Families can give those who are working to improve mathematics education a more complete view of students’ particular needs and challenges.

Building on the commonalities and respecting important differences within these points of view can help us shape a stronger vision for school mathematics. We must reach out within and across our communities if we are going to improve students’ mathematical learning. As we make these connections, the following guidelines may prove useful:

*  Acknowledge that not everyone within a community thinks the same way. Among mathematicians, there are as many differences of opinion as there are among educators; the same is true among policymakers, parents, and administrators. Discussions about how to improve mathematics teaching inevitably involve more than two sides.

*  Clarify as you listen, until you understand and can let the other person know that you have heard not only the words but the underlying concerns and ideas. In particular, clarify specialized language that you may use or understand differently from others. Describe with examples rather than labels, especially when those labels may communicate extreme points of view that may or may not represent what you or someone else is trying to say.

*  Suggest rather than criticize. No program, test, or classroom will ever be perfect, whether it reflects what you recommend or something different. Focus on constructive suggestions to improve what is being done instead of focusing on errors or shortcomings.

*  Notice differences in communication style. Building trust among collaborators evolves over time. Some mathematicians and scientists may argue with each other as a routine part of their academic discourse. Some business people and policymakers may want short and direct answers to problems. Some educators may want to broaden discussions to include factors beyond mathematical content. Recognizing such differences in style can help assure that both those sending messages and those receiving them do not become disengaged or offended by someone else’s approach.

*  Consider balance and emphasis, and avoid advocating absolutes or extremes. What you support may not have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Likewise, what someone else advocates may not be absolute. Perhaps more important than whether to include a particular topic in the math program, for example, are issues of how to engage students in learning the topic, how students can connect it to other knowledge, and how students will develop the depth of learning necessary to solve problems.

In our work to improve school mathematics, we must understand and respect the voices of mathematicians, educators, and students. To inform and ground our discussions, we must also understand and respect the perspectives of parents, policymakers, and the public at large. Understanding does not mean giving up what we believe; it is not realistic to think that we all can or should agree. Healthy differences of opinion are not only inevitable, but are also valuable, especially when we are committed to learning from each other with an eye to our shared goal of better mathematics for all students.

So let us meet together, talk with each other, listen to each other, and learn from each other. Let us seek to understand as we work side by side. Let us voice our differences constructively, come to consensus where possible, and agree to constructively disagree when necessary. Let us not make the status quo a life sentence for our students because of our inability to communicate. Let us, rather, commit to the goal of constantly improving what we are doing. Understanding each other is where we must begin.

Have you formed collaborations that support improving the way that you teach mathematics? What have you learned about mathematics teaching from someone who has knowledge or a background that is different than yours? How can we overcome barriers that interfere with working across communities? Join me for my last President’s chat, April 11 at 4:00 p.m. EDT or submit your comments beforehand (