COMET • Vol. 8, No. 13 – 22 April 2007


(1) “Developing a Statewide Community of Mathematics Teacher Educators: The California Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (CAMTE)”

Source: Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE)

An article on the development of the California Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (CAMTE) appears on pp. 10-11 of the Spring 2007 issue of the AMTE Connections newsletter. CAMTE is a statewide organization for professionals providing preservice and inservice education for K-12 mathematics teachers. Information on joining CAMTE can be obtained from the organization’s treasurer, Shuhua An:

Past issues of AMTE Connections can be downloaded from


(1) “Sun Microsystems Chair Touts Open-Source Education for K-12 Kids” by Jordan Robertson


Since Sun Microsystems Inc. co-founder Scott McNealy stepped down as CEO to focus on his chairmanship full-time, he’s been spearheading a side project to transform education the way digital music upended the recording industry.

Though it’s not part of his official duties at Santa Clara-based Sun, McNealy is spending a lot of time as pitchman for a project called Curriki–short for curriculum and wiki, which is a Web site allowing users to add and modify content and claim a piece of authorship.

In the case of Curriki, parents, teachers and students can post and download free lesson plans, sample tests, book chapters and other materials. McNealy said the site has strict copyright protections, requiring intellectual property releases for all the original material it publishes.

He said the idea is to lower the barrier to basic educational materials as more students get access to the Internet worldwide.

McNealy said he is particularly concerned about developing countries where network infrastructure is sparse, and is encouraging local governments to boost network spending and adopt Curriki’s open-source education model.

That’s why he chose China to launch the second phase of the site last week. McNealy [served as keynote speaker at] a Sun education conference Wednesday in Beijing, where he announced added features to the site,, including the ability to create personalized pages and a function allowing users to upload and review documents in real time.

The site currently has some 3,000 posted items and some 35,000 members.

“The two hot-button issues every CEO would put at the top of their list are health care costs and better-educated employees – everybody agrees that if we haven’t gotten them by the 8th or 9th grade we might lose them,” McNealy said. “Getting kids excited about learning is at the top of our lists, and this is just one little piece of the puzzle.”

McNealy came up with the idea three years ago while helping one of his sons with a third-grade science project. McNealy struggled to find basic information online about how electricity works, and thought free academic resources would help kids and teachers find information while saving schools money.

California spends more than $400 million annually on educational materials for kindergartners through 12th graders, he said. While he wants to cooperate with textbook publishers, McNealy still hopes the site will cut costs for teachers to flesh out lesson plans.

However, some textbook publishers are wary, arguing the materials offered by a site like Curriki are not as comprehensive.

Charlene Gaynor, CEO of the Association of Educational Publishers, said large textbook companies are experimenting with ways to put their content online, but are moving slowly because it takes years to produce a text.

“It’s like turning the Titanic–it’s very understandable why the notion of stopping and adapting would be much more difficult,” she said.

Ten years ago, the California State University system started a similar online community called Merlot for exchanging university-level materials. The site now has more than 16,000 posted items.

Charles Reed, the CSU chancellor, said a site like Curriki will help bridge the technology gap between teachers and students. However, the site faces a big challenge in cataloging the information to match the material to ever-evolving state standards.

“It’s very urgent–there is a whole new generation of students out there that are wired up differently than the people teaching them,” Reed said. “This will give that new generation an opportunity to access information in a way they want, which will help them learn and be successful in public education.”

(2) Free Subscriptions to eSchool News are Available


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(3) “China, U.S. Taking Notes on Education” by Mitchell Landsberg

Source: Los Angeles Times – 8 April 2007

The classroom at the Gaoyakou Central Primary School, about an hour outside Beijing and not far from the Great Wall, was as austere as it was cold. Little more than a Chinese flag and a blackboard served for ornamentation. Yet the students, bundled in colorful parkas and scarves, were bubbling excitedly as they sat in knots of twos and threes, trying to come up with answers to a series of grammar exercises.

An American teacher walking into this room might be put off by the lack of creature comforts, but surely would recognize the teaching methods being deployed by Cai [Limei], an enthusiastic 27-year-old in a puffy, shin-length blue coat.

And with good reason. Although she teaches at a school that outwardly appears little changed from the days of Maoist indoctrination, Cai is on the cutting edge of Chinese educational reform, using methods based on those used in the United States.

“In my time as a student,” she said, “we accepted only what we were taught.” Now, as a teacher, she tries to encourage “more active thinking,” letting students figure out answers for themselves.

“It’s better now,” she said.

The Best of Both Worlds

In many ways, China and the United States represent the yin and yang of international education. Whereas China’s top-down system places supreme emphasis on tightly structured, disciplined learning, the United States has a highly decentralized system that places greater importance on critical thinking and “student-centered” learning.

Still, in recent years, the Chinese and American systems have been taking baby steps toward each other, learning and adapting what the other does best.

American educators have been exploring why Chinese and other Asian students do so well in math and science, and trying to apply some of their findings to U.S. classrooms.The Chinese, in turn, are trying to distill the American genius for innovation, recognizing that, for all its faults, the U.S. educational system is unrivaled at turning out creative minds–inventors, filmmakers, rock ‘n’ roll stars and Nobel laureates among them.

“The two systems cannot totally merge,” said Zhou Mansheng, who studies the American educational system in his role as deputy director of China’s National Center for Educational Development Research. “What they can do is have a very deep understanding of each other’s educational systems and try to learn from them.”

Math, the Chinese Way

Thousands of American educators have visited China in recent years, meeting with education officials and shuttling to showcase schools selected by the government. These trips have led to changes in some American schools and a general consensus among education leaders that more change is needed, especially in the teaching of math.At the root of the difference is the idea, in Chinese and other East Asian math curricula, “that there is a very small body of factual mathematics that students need to learn, but they need to learn it really, really well,” said R. James Milgram, professor emeritus of mathematics at Stanford University and one of the authors of California’s public school math standards.

Last fall, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics adopted a policy that urges American schools to focus math studies on just three basic topics in each grade from pre-kindergarten through eighth. That idea, Milgram said, comes from Asian curricula. However, he said, American schools will have a difficult time emulating their Asian counterparts unless they sharply improve the math abilities of primary school teachers.

China has a powerful, millenniums-old tradition of education that is woven deep into its societal DNA. But just as that can’t be bottled and shipped, neither is it easy for a society such China’s to mine the best of the American educational tradition.That hasn’t stopping it from trying.

Under the leadership of Zhou and his colleagues, China’s educational system has been undergoing a major overhaul since 1999, when the government recognized that the country’s explosive economic growth could not be sustained without a better-educated workforce. It set out to improve the educational system from bottom to top–upgrading rural schools, quintupling the size of its university system and, perhaps most radically, bringing more critical thinking and creativity into its classrooms.

“China wants to become a big nation of innovation in the 21st century,” Zhou said in an interview in Beijing. “To meet this objective, China wants to cultivate more creative talent.”

To do this, the Education Ministry has revamped the national curriculum and begun training teachers in a more interactive style. There will be less rote learning, more give-and-take with teachers, and more exercises such as the one at the Gaoyakou Central Primary School, where the students learn in groups.”This is very difficult for them to do,” said Vivian Stewart, vice president for education at the Asia Society, a New York-based organization that promotes U.S. relations with Asia. “Given the class sizes that they have”–Chinese schools often have 50 or 60 students per class–“it’s very difficult to think about doing a lot of projects and discussion-oriented pedagogy.”

That said, “it’s a very organized society, and when they set their mind to go in a particular direction, they are able to drive things in that direction,” Stewart said.

New Textbooks for Old

The change is coming slowly to the Changping No. 2 Middle School. This high school is considered one of the best in the nation. The school, on an attractive, well-equipped campus in a modern, if heavily polluted, suburb of Beijing, it has 450 students, more than 95% of whom are expected to go to college.

Administrators and teachers say they are committed to reforming their curriculum, but they are clearly in no hurry. New textbooks are scheduled to arrive next year; in the meantime, “we are in themiddle of changing from the old way to the new way,” said Vice Principal Sun Li.

The difference is not immediately noticeable in classes, where students tend to sit in traditional-style rows of desks and listen to lectures. Math teacher Yang Guihong, a tall, willowy woman, said she had changed her teaching to make it “more practical,” more connected to everyday life.

“The point is, we make the students curious first,” she explained through an interpreter, “then we tell them what to do.”

By most measures, her students are well ahead of their U.S. counterparts. Her first-year students–the equivalent of American 10th-graders–are studying trigonometry and set theory; her second-year students have moved on to linear programming, among other concepts…

The Gaoyakou school sits at the bottom of an imposing hill in the modest farming village of Wayao.The slightly ramshackle school buildings and plain classrooms are a far cry from those at Changping. They bear little evidence that the calendar has flipped much past the 1970s. Whereas nearly all the students at Changping are expected to go to college, roughly a third of the students in Wayao are expected to drop out before high school.

But perhaps because they have less to lose, the mostly young staff at the Gaoyakou school has embraced the new curriculum with enthusiasm. Zhang Shuhong, a 31-year-old who is the equivalent of a vice principal, said the school adopted new textbooks and a new curriculum in 2004. Many of the teachers are fresh out of college, where they learned the new teaching methods, and needed no prodding to employ them.

“I think it’s better than before,” Zhang said. “It’s more adaptable to students’ development.”

The new way, he said, “encourages students’ open thinking…. Before, we just made kids memorize things. Now, they memorize less and think more.”

(4) “National Achievement Test Due Next Week” by Akemi Nakamura

Source: The Japan Times – 21 April 2007 (via Rick Hashimoto)

[On Tuesday,] the education ministry will conduct its first National Assessment of Academic Ability in 43 years. The nationwide test is designed to check academic achievement in elementary school sixth-graders and third-year junior high school students.

The results will give the ministry vital information on academic performance and will pressure both schools and students to improve. Some experts, however, are concerned that the results may allow the public to rank the schools and that the resulting competition will become excessive and produce negative effects.

Here are some questions and answers about the exam:

Why is the education ministry conducting the test?

The test is a response to public concern over the deterioration in academic skills seen since 2002, when textbook content was reduced 30 percent and the school week was shortened from six days to five.

In an international test conducted by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development in 2003, for example, Japanese 15-year-olds fell to sixth place in mathematics from first place in 2000, and to 14th place in reading from eighth in 2000.

To improve the situation, the Central Council for Education, a key government panel, proposed in October 2005 that a nationwide exam be held to help the ministry review education policy.

The government allocated about 6.2 yen billon for the project in fiscal 2007.

Why did the ministry wait for 43 years?

The ministry conducts smaller sampling tests periodically to get indications of academic performance. The national assessment, however, is much bigger and more expensive, and requires a perceived public consensus as well as prefectural and municipal boards of education to conduct, a ministry official said.

Why is the test conducted at these particular grades?

Students in these grades are in their final years of elementary and junior high school, so their scores will give a good indication of how much progress they have made at those stages of their education.

How many students and schools will take the test?

About 1.2 million sixth-graders at 22,000 elementary schools and some 1.2 million third-year students at 10,500 junior high schools are expected to take the test.

What subjects are tested?

The national assessment tests Japanese and mathematics. But students will also be required to answer a questionnaire on lifestyle habits, such as how many hours they study at home and whether they eat breakfast every morning.

Foreign students who take classes with Japanese nationals at Japanese schools are also required to take the test, but are allowed to receive support from interpreters.

Must all schools participate in the test?

No. Among public schools, all but 10 elementary schools and four junior high schools…agreed to carry out the exam.

Of the private schools, however, only about 60 percent — 117 elementary and 414 junior high schools — agreed to hold it.

The ministry was hoping all schools would conduct the test so it could look for regional gaps in academic abilities.

Why did some schools refuse the exam?

The Inuyama municipal board of education has focused on personal interaction rather than competition as the basis for education. In a book it published on the subject (“We Won’t Participate in the National Academic Achievement Test”), the board says the test may turn schools into places where students compete excessively for high scores.

This, according to the Inuyama board, is against its policy of helping students learn how to better interact with each other and nurture their personalities.

As for the private schools, some have said entrance exams are a good enough gauge of academic level and the national assessment test does not fit their education policies, a ministry official said.

Has the ministry conducted similar tests in the past?

Yes. The ministry has been holding academic assessments since 1956. But most were sampling tests that involved limited numbers of students at selected schools.

Nationwide tests of Japanese, mathematics, science, English and social studies were conducted on all public second- and third-year junior high school students each year — but only between 1961 and 1964.

Was there any opposition then?

Yes. In the early 1960s some teachers staged strikes against the exam because they were concerned that they and their schools would be evaluated and ranked in accordance with the results, said Koji Kato, a school education professor at Nagoya Women’s University.

In fact, in 1961, when teachers’ unions were more active, three teachers at a Hokkaido public junior high school threatened their principal, demanding he skip the test. They were convicted by the Supreme Court for obstructing the principal’s duties.

Moves like these virtually put a stop to the national exam, Kato said. But since many local governments conduct their own academic achievement tests anyway, the national exam is quite unnecessary, he said.

Kato said the results of Tuesday’s test could increase competition among schools and students and tighten the state control over schools.

On Monday, four junior high school students and five sixth-graders in Kyoto Prefecture filed a provisional disposition at the Kyoto District Court, demanding that the boards of education in the cities of Kyoto and Kyotanabe, Kyoto Prefecture, not conduct the test.

They said the ministry’s commissioning of two companies — Benesse Corp. and NTT Data Corp. — to mark their exam papers violates their right to privacy.

The ministry said it has told the schools and boards of education not to disclose the rankings of schools, classrooms and students and concluded contracts with the two companies to prevent personal data from leaking.

When will the results be disclosed and how will schools use them?

The ministry will disclose a rough set of results, including average scores, by the end of September and give detailed results to the local governments, boards of education and schools that participated in the test.

The students will get their papers back and other information, including charts illustrating statistical information on the test.

(5) The “Numb3rs” Add Up: Popular TV Show and Its Creators Receive Public Service Award

Source: National Science Foundation – 16 April 2007

The popular television drama series “Numb3rs,” about an FBI agent whose brother, a genius mathematician, helps solve crimes in the Los Angeles area by using mathematical problem-solving techniques, will receive a National Science Board group Public Service Award for 2007, along with the program’s co-creators, Nick Falacci and Cheryl Heuton.

The CBS Paramount-produced drama and its two collaborators will be honored for their contributions toward increasing scientific and mathematical literacy on a broad scale at a ceremony May 14 at the State Department in Washington, D.C.

“Numb3rs” is the first television series on which Falacci and Heuton have collaborated. Wisely bringing in several mathematicians as consultants, the producers were able to provide realism to the mathematical theories employed in the crime-solving cases of each episode. Experts say that the various theories and mathematical problems and equations used on the program are easily transferable to equivalent real-world situations. Cryptanalysis, probability theory, game theory, decision theory, principal components analysis, multivariate time series analysis and astrophysics are just some of the many disciplines employed in the series thus far.

“Nick and I felt that a mathematician could be an exciting TV character because many mathematicians are natural detectives and inventive problem-solvers,” Heuton said. “Because of their creativity and rigorous training in logic, they often have a unique way of looking at the world. CBS was quick to understand that the amazing things being done with math today could be the basis of a new kind of crime show. We designed it around a family to give it a strong emotional basis, and to show the audience the human side of both the mathematician and his FBI agent brother. The math gave people something new to think about, even though it’s already a constant and vital part of their lives. We hope the show brings home that reality, and encourages more people to be excited about math and science.”

“Numb3rs” is in its third season, and not only does it have a loyal audience, but the show has spawned a large fan base on the Internet with blogs and fan sites. The show has also led to the creation of other educational programs that explore topics employing scientific theory or processes. “Numb3rs” is currently the most-watched program on Friday nights, attracting nearly 12 million viewers.

The “Numb3rs” series has spawned many learning opportunities for students. Mathematics teachers are employing the lessons of “Numb3rs” in their classrooms. Also, Web-based programs have appeared. One of them, developed by Texas Instruments, in conjunction with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, provides a wide range of activities in “We All Use Math Every Day” ( The Texas Instruments program engages students with many of the concepts seen on “Numb3rs” to show how mathematics may be applied to their world.

As for Falacci and Heuton, creators of “Numb3rs,” both are now accomplished screenwriters, although they came from somewhat different backgrounds prior to pooling their talents for the series. Heuton studied literature at the University of California, San Diego, and for a time wrote for newspapers in Southern California. Falacci, a native of Massachusetts, attended the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, where he developed his screenwriting skills. Teaming up with Heuton, the two collaborators found more in common than writing, and eventually married.


Visit, which depicts the locations of the 19 regional CMP sites and provides a link to each site. At the regional site’s home page, teachers may learn of quality professional development opportunities for the summer and academic year.

Visit,  the California Subject Matter Project home page, for links to projects in all of the academic areas.