COMET • Vol. 7, No. 32 – 19 November 2006


(1) Five Educators are Named California Teachers of the Year for 2007

Source: California Department of Education

Last Thursday State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell named five outstanding educators as California Teachers of the Year for 2007. Of these five, O’Connell nominated one to compete for the National Teacher of the Year honor.

“It is never easy to choose only five individuals from the vast number of capable, committed educators in California, but these extraordinary teachers symbolize what teaching can be and must be in order for all children to succeed,” O’Connell said. “These multi-faceted educators empower and inspire their students to overcome challenges and defeatist attitudes resulting in higher achievement levels and a renewed appreciation for learning.”

The competition is open to educators who teach pre-kindergarten through grade twelve. County offices of education nominate winners of their regional Teacher of the Year competition.  A state selection committee reviews the candidates’ applications and conducts site visits to evaluate the teachers’ rapport with students, classroom environment, presentation skills, use of teaching methods, among other criteria. Following interviews held in Sacramento, the State Superintendent then selects the awardees. They will be honored at a dinner January 8, 2007 in Sacramento made possible by donations from corporate sponsors. Ten Semi-finalists will also be honored.

The five teachers selected for this honor are the following:

 Helen Papadopoulos of Diamond Bar teaches Algebra A and Algebra I at Suzanne Middle School in Walnut Valley Unified School District.

 Rick LeVan of Redlands teaches Pre-Algebra and Life Science at Canyon Middle School in Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District in Yucaipa.

 Charles Reynes teaches science to fourth and fifth graders at five elementary schools in the Castro Valley Unified School District.

 Dawna Countryman of Saugus teaches fifth grade at Tesoro del Valle Elementary School in Saugus Union School District in Valencia.

 Alan Sitomer of Beverly Hills teaches English, AVID, and Creative Writing at Lynwood High School in the Lynwood Unified School District.

O’Connell is nominating Sitomer to represent California in the National Teacher of the Year competition because of his unique approach to teaching reading and writing in high school. He implemented an innovative program using hip-hop to engage students’ interest and direct it to “classic” literature based on standards. The winner will be selected in the spring by a panel convened by the Council of Chief State School Officers. All candidates for the National Teacher of the Year program will be honored at a White House ceremony.

Profiles of each teacher can be found at the above Web site. Excerpts from the profiles of math teachers Papadopoulos and LeVan are included below:

Helen Papadopoulos — “Helen Papadopoulos is an energetic, motivated, and funny math teacher who often brings levity to this challenging subject to make it less daunting for her students,” O’Connell said. “She endeavors to make algebra real and worthwhile in a way that captures their attention and imaginations.”

In her application for California Teacher of the Year, Mrs. Papadopoulos wrote: “We are a community of engaged and enthusiastic learners. Through technology, working collaboratively, and even singing math songs, math ceases to be a spectator sport. We don’t just lean math, we do math. We need to discover how our students learn best. What their strengths and weaknesses are, and what motivates them to do well. Armed with this knowledge, we can help turn their challenges into successes.”

One of her students wrote: “I have never had a teacher quite like Mrs. Papadopoulos. I looked forward to sitting in her class everyday, listening to her funny jokes and how she could make math understandable. She was excellent in giving real-life examples to her students to help them understand the many different math concepts.”

Mrs. Papadopoulos expressed concerns about the future of the teaching profession as experienced educators are retiring in greater numbers than ever before. Efforts must be redoubled to recruit new, eager teachers and the earlier the better, she said.

“We often ignore our own profession as we encourage our students to seek out and follow their interests. I cannot think of a better way for students to learn about our profession than from us. Reinforcing with even our youngest students how much we value what we do and what an important job we have is a first step,” she wrote.

Rick LeVan — “Rick LeVan is a second-career teacher who brings a wealth of real-life experience into the classroom,” O’Connell said. “He has known success and failure and has vowed he’d never let a student fall short. He’s enthusiastic, imaginative, resolute, and compassionate, and he loves his job.”

Mr. LeVan wrote in his application for California Teacher of the Year:  “My teaching is never the same from year to year. This way my teaching remains fresh and challenging, which makes me look forward to the next class, the next day, and the next year. Our profession needs competent, enthusiastic team players, who are unafraid of change and new ideas, and who can adapt instruction to meet the needs of an ever-changing culture.”

Prior to becoming a teacher, Mr. LeVan was a flight navigator in the Air Force, and has flown C-141 transports all over the world; he was also a flight instructor and evaluator.

Mr. LeVan was faced with certain failure during a crucial evaluation as a young Air Force officer until the booming voice of a “crusty old flight instructor” ordered him not to give up. “That experience had a great impact on the direction and focus of my life. I never quit on myself or any of my students. My students know that there is nothing they can do, nothing they can say that will ever make me give up on them. I do not quit on any child, for any reason.”

He volunteers as a math tutor for students studying for the California High School Exit Exam, assists a volunteer fire department, coaches the Mentone Little League, and has taken a Destination Imagination team to the state finals.


(2) Mathematics Content Review Panel (CRP) Members Recommended to the State Board of Education

Source: Kathy Dobson, California State Board of Education

In last week’s issue of COMET, it was noted that the PDF file containing the names of those recommended by the California Department of Education to serve on Content Review Panels (CRPs) for the 2007 mathematics adoption is not currently included in the online State Board of Education (SBE) agenda ( The SBE is now aware of this and plans to post the file (“Attachment 2” for Item 42) this coming week.

Each of the five individuals recommended to serve on a CRP has a doctorate in mathematics and is a professor of mathematics at his or her respective university. See below for their names and institutions:

— Wayne Bishop, CSU, Los Angeles

— Eric Hsu, San Francisco State University

— Yat Sun Poon, UC Riverside

— Linda Valdes, San Jose State University

— Bruce Yoshiwara, Los Angeles Pierce College

The Curriculum Commission is still accepting applications to serve on a CRP or an IMAP (Instructional Materials Advisory Panel). See

(3) Public Meeting Notices from the Curriculum Commission

Source: Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission (Curriculum Commission)

#1:  The Mathematics Subject Matter Committee will hold a telephone conference on Monday, November 20, 4 – 5:30 p.m., to discuss the agenda for the Publisher Briefing on December 1.

#2: The Curriculum Commission and Subject Matter Committees will meet on Thursday, November 30 from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the California Department of Education in Sacramento.

#3: A Publisher’s Briefing for the 2007 Mathematics Primary Adoption is scheduled for Friday, December 1, 10 a.m.- 3:30 p.m. (1500 Capitol Ave. Auditorium, Sacramento, CA).

The meeting will focus on the Standards Maps for the three types of program submissions. Each program type will be discussed separately. Standards maps for Basic Grade-level programs will be discussed in the morning and standards maps for Mathematics Intervention and Algebra Readiness programs will be discussed in the afternoon.

The standards maps and more detailed information may be downloaded from (Item 43).

For more information, contact Mary Sprague at or 916-319-0510.


(4) “Report Faults Community Colleges” by Richard C. Paddock

Source: Los Angeles Times – 17 November 2006
URL (Report):

California community colleges are falling short in educating a changing student population that needs greater remedial education and better English skills to join the state workforce, according to a report released Thursday by a policy analysis group.

In particular, the community college system is not doing a good enough job of retaining students who set out to obtain a degree, concluded the report by the San Francisco-based Public Policy Institute of California.

Only 10% of students who intend to get a two-year degree and only 26% of those hoping to transfer to a four-year university achieve their goals, the study found. The success rate of black and Latino students is even lower.

“This is sobering because a primary function of community college is to broaden access to higher education,” said Ria Sengupta, lead author of the study. “Unfortunately, the groups that are gaining the least from community college are the same ones that are historically underserved by other higher education systems.”

The community college system, with 110 colleges and 2.5 million students, has long prided itself on providing affordable, quality education to any adult Californian who wants to take a class or obtain a college degree.

But educators have begun to question whether those goals are sufficient in an era when California’s workforce is increasingly undereducated and has a growing number of Latinos and Asians who speak English as a second language.

Community Colleges Chancellor Marshall “Mark” Drummond welcomed the group’s report, which he said highlights problems the system is already attempting to address.

“We have a great front door,” he said. “The back door doesn’t work so well.”

Drummond said part of the problem is that students are not as well prepared for community college as they were a generation ago. When students enroll today, 90% need remedial math and 75% need remedial English and writing.

The community colleges, which accept any Californian over the age of 18, are largely unprepared to deal with the large influx of students who need remedial help before they can begin taking college courses.

“We are set up to deal with the students of the ’80s,” Drummond said. “The students of 2006 are not like those students. The people who come to us are not that well prepared, and there is a wider diversity.”

Nancy Shulock, director of Cal State Sacramento’s Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy, said her group is conducting a similar study that shows “some very frightening projections” for the California workforce if the level of education does not improve.

“It’s really important that more of the students who enroll in a community college come out with a degree or transfer to a four-year institution,” she said.

The study by the Public Policy Institute of California found that half the students who enroll in community college for basic skills courses stay in the system for a year or less.

In addition, black, Latino and Native American students who enroll with the intention of transferring to a four-year school drop out at twice the rate of Asians and Pacific Islanders.

The poor outcome for community college students stems in part from poor preparation in elementary and high schools.

In addition, community colleges are not set up to assist students who need help in designing their program for a two-year degree or transferring to another institution. For every 1,200 students, there is only one counselor, Drummond noted.

“Most people never get to see a counselor because we have so few of them,” he said.

Drummond said the community college system adopted a series of measures earlier this year to try to help more students obtain a degree or transfer, but state officials will need to consider more far-reaching steps.

“At the end of the day, there is a major policy question for the state of California,” the chancellor said. “Currently, community colleges are not capable of remediating 70 or 80 or 90% of the people who come to us.”


Note: The report referenced above–“California’s Community College Students” by Ria Sengupta and Christopher Jepsen–is available for free download from a link on the following page:

Brief Description: California’s community college system is the largest postsecondary education system in the country, with more than 2.5 million mostly part-time students enrolled in more than 100 campuses. This issue of “California Counts” takes an in-depth look at this population. It finds an extremely diverse student body in terms of race/ethnicity, age, educational level, and academic goals in school. However, few students accomplish their goals, such as transferring to a four-year institution or earning an associate’s degree. This is a major challenge for the system and the state because community colleges enroll over 70 percent of all public higher education students in California.


(5) “Bersin Resigns as Secretary of Education” by Grace Rauh


State Secretary of Education Alan Bersin is leaving his Sacramento post to spend more time with his family, his spokeswoman said Thursday. His last day is December 15.

It is unclear what prompted Bersin to resign 16 months after his appointment by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He splits his time between his home in San Diego and Sacramento and the travel is wearing on him, spokeswoman Michelle Orrock said.

“It’s kind of a combination of things. He’s got two teenage daughters and he’s been commuting. Not being able to see his family, that was kind of a big issue for him,” Orrock said.

Bersin began as Secretary of Education on July 1, 2005, replacing former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan, who resigned after less than two years.

“Every time, every administration goes through the same thing,” Schwarzenegger said about the resignation during a visit to the Bay Area. “After a certain amount of time in Sacramento or Washington or any capital, they get burned out. There’s two or three positions where people will leave. I say, be my guest. I wouldn’t want to be holding people back.”

Before his Sacramento appointment, Bersin spent seven years as superintendent of the San Diego school district. He was a U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California from 1993 to 1998.

A news release from Bersin’s office did not explain his reasons for leaving.

“I am honored to have served Governor Schwarzenegger and am exceptionally proud of what we have accomplished under his leadership together with the Legislature and the Educational Coalition,” Bersin said in a statement. “This past year, we fully funded education, revitalized the arts, music and physical education programs and provided additional counselors for schools across the state.”

Schwarzenegger also released a statement, praising Bersin for his work. He called the secretary a reformer and dedicated public servant. Schwarzenegger said his administration is beginning to search for his replacement.

Beginning in January, Bersin will sit on the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, Orrock said. He was appointed by San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders.



(1) “Technology Helps Teachers Home In on Student Needs” by Sean Cavanagh

Source: Education Week – 15 November 2006

Like many teachers, Jim Pukys is accustomed to posing a fundamental question to students at the end of each algebra lesson: Did you understand?

Unlike most teachers, though, he believes he has a reliable way of knowing whether his students are telling him the truth. It begins when he writes out a function and asks students to find its value. He then collects their answers, which they send electronically from calculators at their desks. Within seconds, an image appears on a screen at the front of the class, showing how many students picked the right answer: about two-thirds of them on one recent occasion.

Not good enough, he decides. He goes over the problem again, in greater detail.

That interplay has become routine in the Canton city school district, and it is becoming increasingly common in mathematics classrooms across the country, as teachers turn to interactive technology that provides them with instant information about student progress.

Technologies like TI-Navigator, sometimes called “personal response” systems, enable teachers to gauge whether students–not just as a group, but also individually–have grasped a math concept. Teachers then can adjust their lessons in midstream when problems persist.

“As a teacher, you find that in any class there are two or three kids who can get every answer, and those are the kids you hear from,” Mr. Pukys said last month during a break from his 8th grade algebra class at Crenshaw Middle School. “I have a class of 25 students,” he said, and with the technology, “I can hear answers from all 25, rather than just two or three of them.”

The approach seems to be showing results. Two years ago, this 11,000-student, largely working-class district launched a program in its middle schools to use graphing calculators in combination with TI-Navigator, both designed by Dallas-based Texas Instruments. Graphing calculators, sold by a number of companies, have been fixtures in math classes since the early 1990s. Texas Instruments officials estimate TI-Navigator is used in 2,300 of the nation’s nearly 15,000 districts; other companies have developed similar technologies, industry experts say.

Since schools here began using the technology, Canton’s math scores in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades on the Ohio achievement test, which previously lagged well below state standards, have risen, nearly doubling at some schools. Canton officials were sufficiently encouraged by those results to add TI-Navigator in the district’s two high schools.

Educators have long debated the proper role of calculators and technology in math classes. A federal advisory panel commissioned by President Bush this year is discussing calculator use as part of a broader review of effective strategies for improving teaching and learning in the subject. Critics have complained that schools promote those tools, especially at earlier grade levels, at the expense of cultivating students’ basic computational skills and their ability to solve problems using paper and pencil. A 2005 report by the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, for instance, concluded that students’ ability to graph linear functions by hand are “easily camouflaged by the obsessive use of graphing technology.”

Teachers in Canton, however, believe technology is sharpening students’ skills. The district introduced TI-Navigator and graphing calculators in the 2004-05 school year as part of a broader attempt to change the way math is taught, aimed at making teachers less reliant on textbooks and more focused on addressing crucial math concepts found in Ohio’s state standards. Those standards in turn serve as the basis of the state’s achievement test.

A central change was the desire to test students skills’ more often–not necessarily through graded exams at the end of courses or units, but rather though smaller, ongoing quizzes and problems to help teachers determine whether students were learning. That smaller-scale testing is sometimes called “formative assessment”–an approach that has drawn increased interest from educators nationwide in recent years as a way to raise student test scores.

“Teachers always used to tell us in school, ‘Show your work,’ ” said Elliot Soloway, a professor of computer science at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor… “They did that for one reason,” he said, “to see if you understood the material. Unfortunately, they might not know that until four days later. Moment-by-moment assessment is a very new capability.”

Technological innovation does not come cheap. TI-Navigator costs about $9,500 per class in Canton, when the price of all equipment is included, said Pam Bernabei-Rorrer, the district’s math coach. The district launched the technology with a combination of about $360,000 in federal funding…

Mr. Pukys, in his 16th year in the district, is one such convert. He and other teachers went through extensive training sessions led by Ms. Bernabei-Rorrer, who, along with a few Canton teachers, was coached on TI-Navigator by Texas Instruments’ staff in Dallas…

Mr. Pukys displays an image of the x- and y-axes on the big screen, with a line crossing through them, then asks: Is the line a function, yes or no? Students respond by clicking buttons on their calculators, through a Navigator program called Quick Poll.

From her seat near the back, Samantha Knisely, 13, enters “yes” on her calculator. A moment later, Mr. Pukys collects the results, which he displays on the overhead screen. All 24 students gave the same answer as Ms. Knisely–the correct response.

The next task is tougher. The teacher gives the students four separate questions on functions and graphing, then asks them to respond, through a Navigator device called Learning Check. Mr. Pukys could have sent them the questions electronically, but instead hands them out on a piece of paper, asking the students to write down their work, then enter their answers into their calculators.

When the responses have come in, Mr. Pukys takes the class through each problem, answering questions, correcting mistakes. He then posts students’ scores on the four-question quiz on the screen. Students are identified by user names, rather than their real names..

Mr. Pukys sometimes enters students’ scores from Learning Check in their course grades. He can also have the students type their homework answers into the Navigator system and score the results.

TI-Navigator allows students to see their mistakes and correct them, he says. Mr. Pukys likes to put a computer image of the St. Louis Gateway Arch on the screen, then ask students to write a quadratic equation describing its shape. Students’ individual answers appear as separate, colored arches on the wide screen. He then asks students whose arches are off to modify their equations until they have the correct arch.

Like many Canton teachers, Mr. Pukys uses a touch-screen designed by SMART Technologies Inc., which can connect with the Navigator. Some teachers use a more basic projector screen…

Canton received separate grants for $250,000 and $110,000 to launch the TI-Navigator and calculator program, both from the U.S. Department of Education. Melendy Lovett, the president of educational and productivity solutions for Texas Instruments, said her company has helped other districts find grants from public- and private-sector sources…


(2) The NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) Program

Source: National Science Foundation (NSF)

The NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) program provides institutions with funds for student scholarships to encourage and enable academically talented but financially needy students to enter the workforce following completion of an associate, baccalaureate, or graduate degree in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. The program was established by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in accordance with the American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998… The Act reflects the national need to increase substantially the number of American scientists and engineers.

Participating institutions are expected to support the goals of the S-STEM program including:

— Improved educational opportunities for students;

— Increased retention of students to degree achievement;

— Improved student support programs at institutions of higher education;

— Increased numbers of well educated and skilled employees in technical areas of national need.

S-STEM grants may be made for up to five years (four scholarship years and an optional initial planning period) and may provide individual scholarships of up to $10,000 per year, depending on financial need. Grantee institutions may elect to support individual student scholars for four years or may elect to support several cohorts of students for a shorter duration within the award period.

The number and size of awards will vary depending upon the scope of projects and availability of funds. Approximately $50-$70 million is expected to be available to support approximately 90-130 new S-STEM awards.

Awards are normally not expected to exceed $600,000 in total. Annual budgets are limited to $225,000. The award duration may be up to five years (four scholarship years and an optional initial period for planning), within the annual and overall budget limits. The limits include the funds for administrative and support functions as well as the scholarship funds.

Proposals may only be submitted by institutions of higher education. The Principal Investigator must be a faculty member currently teaching within one of the S-STEM disciplines who can provide the leadership required to ensure the success of the project.

For more information, visit


(3) InvenTeams National Grants Initiative


The Lemelson-MIT Program ( aims to enable and inspire young people to pursue creative lives and careers. It particularly encourages young people to engage in invention and to pursue sustainable new solutions to real world problems. It was founded by the prolific inventor Jerome H. Lemelson and his wife Dorothy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994, and is funded by The Lemelson Foundation.

Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams is a national grants initiative of the Lemelson-MIT Program to foster inventiveness among high school students. InvenTeams–composed of high school students, teachers and mentors–are asked to collaboratively identify a problem that they want to solve, research the problem, and then develop a prototype invention as an in-class or extracurricular project. Grants of up to $10,000 support each team’s efforts. InvenTeams are encouraged to work with community partners, specifically the potential beneficiaries of their invention.

InvenTeams was launched in 2002 as a pilot program that awarded grants to three New England high school teams for the 2002-03 academic year. It has expanded each year since its inception–see for current grant recipients and inventions.

 InvenTeams’ Mission:

— EXCITE high school students about science, math, engineering, entrepreneurship and invention

— EMPOWER students through problem solving

— ENCOURAGE a sustainable culture of invention in schools and communities

The InvenTeams experience is intended to generate excitement about the rewarding process of identifying a problem or need, brainstorming solutions, and working hands-on to develop a prototype. “Learning by doing” is a central tenet of InvenTeams. Students are exposed to current engineering design methods and teamwork. InvenTeams projects empower students to work collaboratively on a problem and create an environment ripe for “Eureka!” moments, where answers are discovered and lessons are learned.

Applying for an InvenTeams grant is a two-tiered process: the initial application is available online each fall (for grants awarded the following academic year) and is due the following spring (currently, the deadline is April 27, 2007). Selected finalists are notified in the summer and asked to complete a final application due the following September. Small project development grants (up to $500) are available to help develop final applications.

Given this timeline, teachers often begin the application process without knowing who will participate in the InvenTeams grant project. While student input is not required for the initial application, it is certainly encouraged, and it is required for the final proposal. Teachers can hold after school meetings to recruit interested students and get their input on the initial application…

InvenTeams projects have spanned many fields from assistive devices to environmental technologies and consumer goods. Applicants are encouraged to consider the problems or needs of the world’s poorest people (those earning $2/day) in brainstorming project ideas. Many applicants have combined their InvenTeams grants with other educational opportunities such as Project Lead the Way and skills obtained from programs such as FIRST Robotics.

For more information, please see