COMET • Vol. 8, No. 27 – 28 October 2007

URL (Invitation): lib/604/ctag_announcement.pdf?x-r=pcfile_d

Please join the California Department of Education and WestEd on October 29 – November 1 for a four-day, web-based dialogue–“Achieving Success for All Students:  A Statewide Initiative on Closing the Achievement Gap.”

The goal of the dialogue is to engage teachers, principals, superintendents, policy makers, students, parents, representatives of media and business, and others throughout California in important discussions related to supporting schools, districts, and communities to achieve success for all students. We need your input! Outcomes of the dialogue will be included in a report with an actionable set of recommendations for state-level activities to close the achievement gap.

The dialogue will focus on a different topic each day:

* access to learning opportunities (Monday, 10/29)
* building a climate and culture of achievement (10/30)
* setting and keeping high expectations (10/31)
* promising strategies and practices (11/1)

Web dialogues are Internet-based discussions with a purpose. They enable all of the participants to discuss issues using an organized online structure and process. They encourage conversation that respects all voices with goals of learning, sharing perspectives, exploring solutions, and weighing tradeoffs inherent in policy issues.

Each day’s topic will be introduced at 7:00 a.m. The dialogue does not take place in “real time.” People can come in and out of the conversations and post comments during the days and evenings as their schedules permit.

Please join this dialogue so you can contribute to this important discussion! Please share this announcement with others who might be interested in taking part.

Funding for this dialogue is provided by the James Irvine Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Register now to participate!  Go to


(1) “When It Comes to Math and Science, Mom and Dad Count” by Sean Cavanagh

Source: Education Week – 24 October 2007


… The connection between parental influence and children’s motivation and achievement in math and science has received increasing attention among researchers, as educators and policymakers search for ways to urge more students to pursue advanced studies and careers in those subjects.

A recent study by researchers at Pennsylvania State University, in University Park, and the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, for instance, found that fathers in particular have a major influence on whether their daughters develop an interest in math.

It also found that parents tend to do more to encourage their sons than their daughters to develop that interest, through such actions as buying them math- and science-related toys and voicing stereotypes about girls’ supposed shortcomings in those subjects…

The Michigan and Penn State study, originally published in 2005 and presented at a conference in Ann Arbor this past May, expanded on past research showing that parents’ opinions and behaviors are factors in determining boys’ and girls’ interest and confidence in math and science.

The study, “I Can, But I Don’t Want To: The Impact of Parents, Interests, and Activities on Gender Differences in Math” ( was based on information collected from several hundred elementary students, who were tracked as they got older, and their parents, from 1987 to 2000. It was published by Cambridge University Press as part of a book, Gender Differences in Mathematics: An Integrative Approach

“The point was to look at how parents’ attitudes might be [directed] to their children,” said Martha M. Bleeker, one of the study’s five authors. “We’re trying to look at behavior and attitudes.”

The researchers found that fathers’ gender stereotypes are especially strong predictors of children’s interest in math. The more entrenched the father’s gender stereotype, the less likely his daughter is to take an interest in the subject. Boys’ interest in math, perhaps not surprisingly, tends to be stronger, the researchers found, if the father’s traditional gender biases are stronger.

Mothers’ gender stereotypes about boys’ having more math talent, by contrast, tend to affect sons and daughters almost equally, Ms. Bleeker said. The stronger the mother’s stereotype, the study found, the less enthusiasm both sons and daughters had for math…

Parents can similarly sway children’s opinions of science, researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, discovered. A 2003 study published in the journalDevelopmental Psychology showed that parents of 11- to 13-year-olds were more likely to believe that science was more difficult and less appealing for their daughters than it was for their sons.

Authors Harriet Tenenbaum and Campbell Leaper also found that fathers, when teaching their children about science-related subjects, used more probing, sophisticated scientific language and questions with their sons than they did with their daughters. Those fathers could be “encouraging intellectual engagement” in science among their sons more than with their daughters, the authors concluded.

Research has shown that fathers are more likely than mothers to encourage gender stereotypes among children, and their tendency to use more demanding scientific language with boys, assuming they can handle it, may reflect that habit, Mr. Leaper said.

Teachers and school peers also convey gender stereotypes about math and science ability, often unintentionally, Mr. Leaper said. On the other hand, many stereotypes about males’ and females’ strengths have lessened, as professional opportunities for women have increased, he said.

Female students have more role models in math and science than they once did, the UC-Santa Cruz psychology professor noted. He often asks his students how many of them had a female math teacher in school. Twenty years ago, few had. Today, it’s much more common, he said.

A key to building girls’ involvement in math and science is “increasing teachers’ and parents’ awareness of what [prevalent] biases are, and their awareness that boys and girls are capable of doing equally well in these subjects,” Mr. Leaper said.

Selling the Subjects

Research on gender differences in students’ math and science achievement and motivation received considerable attention in the 1980s, and recent years have seen a resurgence in interest, possibly because of increasing concerns about the shortage of students, especially women, entering technical, engineering, and other such fields.

While both boys and girls tend to lose interest in math and science as they move from elementary to high school, females’ interest and confidence falls off more sharply, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, an arm of the U.S. Department of Education.

Boys outperform girls in math and science across grades on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and on several of the math- and science-related Advanced Placement exams. And relatively few women pursue postsecondary studies in fields such as engineering and computer science. That overall trend robs the United States of skilled workers and entrepreneurs, business leaders and others say.

Many parents want to encourage their children in math and science, but don’t know how, said Yul Inn, the founder of the Fun Math Club, a Cupertino-based company through which he offers specialized math lessons and emphasizes hands-on projects and activities to schools and individual students of all ability levels…

At “family math nights” he stages, where children and parents work on math activities together, Mr. Inn says he’s detected no real pattern in terms of which parents are more involved, though he thinks mothers are slightly more active than fathers. He urges parents to discuss math in less formal ways than their children are likely to encounter in school, an approach he tried with his own son and daughter, who are now 14 and 11.

“I try to do what the schools tend not to do,” Mr. Inn said, “make it interesting and fun.


(2) Can a Robot Get High School Students Interested in Studying Science and Engineering in College?

Source: National Science Foundation

URL: from=news

In a paper presented at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers conference in Las Vegas, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania outlined an effective way of getting students interested and excited about science and engineering–teaching them how to design, build and operate robots. This approach is a departure from traditional science and engineering education methods, and it suggests a new way of getting students attracted to these fields early in their academic lives.

Over the past three summers, the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics has developed and taught a three-week robotics summer course as part of the School of Engineering and Applied Science’s Summer Academy of Applied Science and Technology (SAAST).

The robotics camp, which was developed with funding by the National Science Foundation (NSF), attracted more than 20 students from across the world and from as far away as Turkey, China and the United Kingdom to Philadelphia.

NSF Principal Investigator Professor Vijay Kumar, doctoral students David J. Cappelleri and James F. Keller, and technical staff Terry Kientz and Peter Szczesniak designed an intensive program for the students that immediately got them into a robotics lab to learn what robots are capable of and how to build them. Throughout the three weeks, the students heard lectures from leading robotics experts and toured factories that use advanced robots. The students were also divided into teams and spent time each day designing and building their own robots.

Because robots are complex systems that integrate several different fields, including computer science, mechanical engineering and electronics, they are a good example of applied science and engineering. They can also be exciting and fun to build and operate. Robot design competitions are being used at the high school and undergraduate levels to help students understand how these fields can be used to produce real-world applications.

This top-down approach to science and engineering education is the reverse of how these fields are usually introduced to students. The authors note that typically students must go through years of learning theoretical concepts in mathematics, physics, and other fields before they are allowed to think about putting these concepts into practice. Many students, the authors believe, lose interest in these fields because they must wait so long before experiencing the excitement and creativity that comes from finding solutions to intriguing challenges.

To solve this problem, the authors state in the paper that they set out to create an approach to teaching science and engineering where “students are introduced first to the applications and systems concepts which then leads to the teaching of fundamentals.”

At the end of the camp, the teams’ robots competed against each other by navigating an obstacle course that tested how well the robots could maneuver and pick up and store various objects such as plastic eggs and hockey pucks. The competition not only gave the students the opportunity to put what they had learned into action, but also taught them how to work as a group to solve complicated challenges that have many possible solutions.

The authors say that some of the participants from the first camp are now studying engineering in college, including three former participants who are enrolled at Penn.

“This approach to teaching forces us, as educators, to develop lectures and homework exercises tailored to capstone projects as opposed to creating projects that support lectures in the classroom,” Kumar said.


(3) Student Challenge: MAA’s MathTube Contest

Source: Mathematical Association of America


Robert Vallin wants everybody to know that mathematics is fun. In fact, he’d like undergraduate students to capture the fun of math on video so that he can prove it to everyone. And he wants to pay students to do so.

With this in mind, the MAA is introducing its first-ever MathTube Contest. The contest, open to teams of up to three undergraduate students, calls for creative videos that show the entertaining side of mathematics in a style similar to that of other such videos found on the popular website YouTube.

“I want people to put tongue firmly in cheek and show us what they’ve got,” said Vallin, MAA’s Associate Director for Student Activities. One of Vallin’s favorite math-related YouTube videos, the popular Finite Simple Group (of Order Two) video by The Klein Four Group (, serves as a great example of the kind of creativity the panel of MAA judges will be looking for.

As a reward, each member of the creative team of the winning video will receive $100, complimentary registration for the Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Diego, and a collection of MAA products, including a flying disc, a deck of cards, a travel mug, and a stress-relieving icosahedron. The next three runners-up will receive the pack of MAA goodies for each member of the creative team and a $25 gift certificate for MAA products. Vallin would also like to show the winning entries at one of the MAA booths at the JMM in San Diego this January.

The entry deadline for the MAA MathTube Contest is December 7th at 11:00 p.m. Vallin emphasizes that all participants should look carefully at the rules and regulations of the contest and make sure that they sign the consent form that must accompany all entries. Any further questions about the MAA MathTube Contest should be directed to Vallin, at


(4) Online Articles Available from National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Journals


Selected articles from journals published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) are available free of charge online. Articles published in the September-November issues of these journals include the following:

(a) Teaching Children Mathematics

— “Talking Mathematics” by Stacy Fleming Amos (September 2007)
URL: &from=B 

— “Tying It All Together: Classroom Practices That Promote Mathematical Proficiency for All Students” by Jennifer M. Suh (October 2007)
URL: &from=B

— “Journeying into Mathematics through Storybooks: A Kindergarten Story” by Jane Murphy Wilburne, Mary Napoli, Jane B. Keat, Kimberly Dile, Michelle Trout, and Suzan Decke (November 2007)
URL: &from=B

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(b) Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School

 “C^2 = Creative Coordinates” by Shelley McHugh (September 2007)
URL: &from=B

— “Are We Golden? Investigations with the Golden Ratio” by Stacy L. Reeder (October 2007)

— “Mathematical Explorations: What if We Were Built Like the Dinosaurs?” by Sarah Quebec Fuentes, Patricia Garruto and Fran Lockard (November 2007)


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(c) Mathematics Teacher

— “Using Technology to Optimize and Generalize: The Least-Squares Line” by Maurice J. Burke and Ted R. Hodgson (September 2007)
URL: &from=B 

— “Who Will Win? Predicting the Presidential Election Using Linear Regression” by John H. Lamb (October 2007)
URL &from=B

— “A Writing Workshop in Mathematics: Community Practice of Content Discourse” by Linda A. Fernsten (November 2007)
URL: &from=B

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(d) Journal for Research in Mathematics Education

— “Connections Between Generalizing and Justifying: Students’ Reasoning with Linear Relationships” by Amy B. Ellis (May 2007)
URL: a&from=B

— “An Editorial Transition” [from Steve Williams to Kathy Hyde, Penn State University] (November 2007)