COMET • Vol. 8, No. 05 – 19 February 2007


(1) Humboldt State University Programs Support Mathematics Education

Source: Eureka Times-Standard

Two recent articles in the Eureka Times-Standard profile programs designed to recruit and educate prospective mathematics teachers, as well as to excite students about mathematics and help remediate deficiencies.

(a) “ Math Camp Equates Learning with Fun” by John Driscoll

“842,” third-grader Say-gep Brown pronounced joyfully.

The Arcata Elementary School student smiled, despite being knee-deep in math, upon solving a tricky subtraction problem. Brown is a student, but a teacher. His teacher, Erin Meserve, is also a student.

The full-circle learning takes place at Math Camp, an eight-week program of Humboldt State University’s Department of Education. It’s designed so that kids who have trouble with math get two hours of tutoring a week and that HSU teaching credential candidates learn how to help kids learn.

While the candidates are on the floor working with the children, their partner sits in an observation booth, listening to the instruction on headphones. They take notes on how the lessons–which include games and music to make math fun–meet goals…

Overseeing all of this are Susan Haase — from Lafayette Elementary — and Sarah Drisko — from Zane Middle School. They are the teaching staff. They are able to help the credential candidates apply theory to practice by helping them through the challenges of Math Camp.

A typical struggle is how to help the teachers help students fill in the gaps that can form during fast-paced elementary math classes. Haase and Drisko are also able, during part of the class, to be a “bug in their ear.” They can use an FM transmitter and receiver placed in the teacher’s ear to communicate to them, offering suggestions in real time on how they might better get across a concept to a kid.

Program director [and HSU Assistant Professor] David Ellerd said that the forum allows for the application of research-based techniques to develop specific skills in teachers. That more technical side of Math Camp is blended with a much broader tone: Fun.

“It’s a Saturday … it has to be fun,” Ellerd said.

Lorenzo Merlin has a son and two foster children in the program… Lorenzo also is an observer. He’s interested because these HSU students will be teaching his children someday. A member of the coastal Miwok tribe, he wants his kids to be well rounded and hopes these teachers may make a difference in their lives.

(b) “Math Nerds: Add this One to Your Calendars”

Think you are good at solving Sudoku puzzles and Rubik’s cubes? Plan on attending Humboldt’s first Math Festival next month and get set for a challenge.

The festival, spearheaded by Ken Pinkerton, science teacher at Zane Middle School, will take place at the Bayshore Mall on March 17, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

Sponsors are calling the event “a community celebration of mathematics and how math weaves throughout cultures, history, art, science and every day life.”

The festival will include demonstrations, make-and-take activities, contests, artists, career and college information, student work and much more.

A host of local teachers from preschool through university professors, representatives from not-for-profit organizations, artists, students and other professionals will be hosting tables, booths and activities.

“The mall is a great location as it is centrally located, easy to get to and is covered in case of bad weather,” Pinkerton said. “Once we had venue, other elements of the festival started to fall into place.”

The Northcoast Math and Science Initiative at HSU provided funding to get the project started. NMSI is helping pay for materials for presenters and assisting teachers with connecting their presentations to the state math standards, which will be shared with other teachers at the festival.

One of the goals of the Northcoast Math and Science Initiative is to recruit students into careers as math, and science teachers. The Bear River Band of Rohnerville Ranceria , the Indian Community of the Trinidad, the Discovery Museum and Hostgis Web services are also festival supporters…

How math, art and history join together will be showcased in student work. A Math Art Show will be display and include items like tessellations, origami and grid enlargements…

For more information about presenting, contests, sponsorship of the festival, visit


(2) Commission on Teacher Credentialing Strategic Plan Stakeholder Meetings

Source: California Commission on Teacher Credentialing

The Commission on Teacher Credentialing is in the process of developing a new five-year Strategic Plan and is seeking stakeholder input into the design of that plan. The Commission invites you to participate in one of two Commission Strategic Plan Stakeholder Meetings in order to provide that input. All those interested in or affected by the work of the Commission are encouraged to participate.

Each meeting will consist of a summary presentation on the work of the Commission and activities it engages in, and an opportunity to share your own thinking about future possibilities for CCTC’s work. Come prepared to contribute to building a positive future for educator preparation and licensing in California.

Dates, Locations, and Times:

March 7, 2007 — CTC, 1900 Capitol Avenue, Sacramento

Time:  3:00-5:00 PM


March 20, 2007 — California State University, Dominguez Hills–Extended Education Building 103

Time: 3:00-5:00 PM

If you plan to attend, please contact Hai-Jue Theriault at with your name, organization, and which meeting you plan to attend.  If you are unable to attend either meeting, please write to us at: CTC Executive Office, 1900 Capitol Avenue, Sacramento, CA 95814.



(1) A Top Physicist Turns to Teaching” by Burton Bollag

Source: Chronicle of Higher Education – 9 February 2007

On an upper shelf in Carl E. Wieman’s campus office here are a dozen framed awards representing the highest honors in his field, crowned by the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics. Yet despite his prominence, Mr. Wieman is not guiding the research of admiring young scientists. In fact, he has not done a physics experiment himself for months.

Having reached the pinnacle of his field, he has given up his research career to devote himself to improving the way college science is taught. On January 1, Mr. Wieman moved away from the University of Colorado at Boulder, which he felt had not sufficiently committed to that cause, and joined the University of British Columbia, where he has been given the job of transforming the way it teaches science.

The project at this major Canadian research institution is one of the most ambitious since isolated science-faculty members at various institutions began speaking about a failure of traditional teaching methods more than two decades ago. The university has committed $10.2-million (U.S.) over the next five years, which it intends to raise from donors.

And just to make sure potential donors and skeptical faculty members do not forget about the project’s prestigious leader, the university has named it the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative.

Jeanne L. Narum, director of Project Kaleidoscope, an independent alliance promoting improvements in undergraduate science education, says many institutions, even as far afield as India, have made efforts in this area. But she says British Columbia’s well-financed project will get an extra amount of attention: “Carl Wieman is a visionary. He has the clout to make this happen.”

She says the project “will set benchmarks as to what can be done on the institutional level. It’s something we’ll all be watching.”

Mr. Wieman will lead the university’s science departments in testing alternative teaching methods, especially in introductory courses. They will try such measures as varying class size, introducing new types of group work, adding interactive computer simulations, and refining the use of “clickers” –wireless devices that allow students to answer professors’ questions during a lecture.

As at other institutions trying to reform science teaching, the guiding principle is to move away from the traditional lecture in which students listen passively. Reformers say lectures still predominate at the majority of institutions. “Most students,” Mr. Wieman told a packed auditorium of British Columbia faculty members shortly before he decided to move here, “are learning rote memorization of facts and problem-solving recipes…only useful to passing the class.

“They’re also learning,” he added, “that science is uninteresting and irrelevant.”

Mr. Wieman, 55, says he misses his scientific research. But, he says, a number of the biggest challenges the world faces, like global warming, genetic modification, and pollution, “are basically technical.” Without a better understanding of the scientific issues, he adds, society is less likely to come up with good responses.

He would love to just go off and tinker in his lab, Mr. Wieman says. But “along with the Nobel Prize comes a lot of responsibility that I feel I can’t ignore.”

Mr. Wieman’s mission is to move both universities’ science education toward an approach often called “active and cooperative learning.” In it, students are repeatedly called on to think about fundamental concepts and guided to figure out the workings of the phenomena they are studying, often working closely with a few classmates.

“This doesn’t apply to the top 10 percent of students” who are already doing well under the current system, says Jeff F. Young, head of British Columbia’s department of physics and astronomy. “But there’s a large portion of students who we think we can have a very large impact on.”

Officials expect most of the project’s money to be spent on hiring science-education specialists– typically scholars with science Ph.D.’s who will be trained in education–to help departments develop and test new methods. British Columbia already has a handful of such educators, but Mr. Wieman expects to hire perhaps 30 more. He is also eager to exploit computer technology and develop interactive homework and diagnostic programs that, he says, could handle simple tasks as well as people do and could flag students’ shortcomings. The goal is to free up professors and teaching assistants to use their time more effectively to devise lessons and work with students.

There are few details on how the project will run. But spending will be based on competitive proposals by departments. Officials stress that the project will use an “evidence-based approach.” Innovations will be based on published research, and will be tested by comparing what students learn using traditional and new methods.

Central to the efforts, say officials, will be the development of new tests to gauge students’ understanding of scientific concepts. Officials say some will be geared to individual courses and others to a year’s worth of courses. The tests will be used to determine the progress of individual students or whole classes, and will typically not count in grading.

Officials hope the tests, sometimes referred to as “concept inventories,” will play another important role–convincing undecided faculty members that there are indeed better ways to teach their subject. “There needs to be a collective buy-in to a common means of assessing student learning,” says Simon M. Peacock, the university’s science dean. “My hope is that skeptics will be persuaded by the data”…

The university was already looking for ways to improve science teaching before Mr. Wieman’s arrival. For example, many introductory lectures use clickers, known more formally as “personal response systems.” In a course on natural disasters one recent morning, Roland B. Stull, a professor of atmospheric sciences, walks slowly up and down the steps of a lecture theater talking to several hundred undergraduates about the tremendous power of hurricanes and earthquakes.

Then he stops and poses a question: “What kind of energy is associated with gravity: (a) work, (b) kinetic, (c) potential, (d) heat, or (e) latent heat?” Students take out their clickers, gray rectangular devices roughly the size of television remote controls, and punch in an answer.

“If you’re not sure,” he tells the class, “work it out with a neighbor.”

A minute later, time is up. Instantaneously a giant graph projected onto a screen at the front of the hall shows the distribution of students’ answers. A tall green bar above Answer C indicates that 80.9 percent of the students correctly chose it. Mr. Stull then takes a minute or two to explain why it is right…

There have been other recent changes at British Columbia. The physics department has redesigned its first- and second-year laboratory work to allow students more chances to explore basic concepts instead of doing “recipe experiments” where every step is given. And first-year courses have been overhauled to include more student discussion…

A growing body of studies show that active learning, where students are guided in building up a body of knowledge themselves, is more effective than passively taking in lectures. “There’s a huge amount of evidence,” says Miles G. Boylan, acting director of graduate education at the National Science Foundation, “that you can’t just pour vast amounts of material into students’ brains and expect it to be very useful.”

More-recent studies have compared the results of traditional and alternative methods. In an influential early study, published in 1998, Richard R. Hake, of Indiana University at Bloomington, compared what students learned in traditionally taught physics classes to what others learned in a class taught in a more interactive way. Students in the interactive sections consistently scored better.

Reformers say such studies have been made possible by a standardized test of the concepts taught in introductory physics courses. Known as the Force Concept Inventory, it was published in 1992 by David Hestenes, of the department of physics of Arizona State University, and two colleagues. Mr. Hestenes, now retired, surveyed hundreds of students to learn common misconceptions about physics, which are included among the multiple-choice answers on the test.

About a half-dozen such “concept inventories” exist today–one in chemistry, one in geology, and the rest for first-year physics. A key goal of the project at British Columbia, say officials here, is to develop such tests for other disciplines and levels. Supporters say that unlike course exams, which typically test the use of equations, the new tests measure students’ understanding of underlying scientific ideas. For the first time, reformers add, these tests provide a way to judge how well students learn from alternative methods.

“For a long time there were lots of opinions about teaching,” says Mr. Wieman. “Whoever talked faster and louder carried the day, until the next idea came along.” For example, in 1957 when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, it set off a space race with the United States. “There was a huge push to get scientists into schools to share their wisdom with students,” says Mr. Wieman. But there was no evidence that students would learn more by listening to scientists. In fact, he says, the attempts “mostly failed. That’s just not how people learn.”

For the last two decades, by contrast, it has been possible to base reforms “on rigorous research,” says Mr. Wieman.

The research has pointed to some surprising conclusions. Mr. Wieman walks over to the computer at his desk and opens a Web page with physics simulations developed by him and colleagues at the University of Colorado. He calls up a simulation of a simple electrical circuit that represents electrons as little balls flowing through two light bulbs. Then he drags a simulated wire across the circuit, giving the current a shortcut that bypasses one of the bulbs. It goes off, and the other one glows brighter.

A 2005 paper published by Mr. Wieman’s former colleague, Noah D. Finkelstein, and others found that students who are taught with interactive simulations like that one understood the concepts better than students who got to work in a lab with real light bulbs, wires, and meters. The reason, say researchers, is that when novice students use real equipment they often have trouble filtering out nonessential information.

“A simulation can focus students’ attention on what is most important,” says Mr. Wieman.

His focus is firmly on a task he says is every bit as intellectually challenging as the physics work that won him the Nobel Prize: finding how to make more young students finish their courses with a real understanding of what science is about.


(2)  House Science Committee Hosts Office of Science and Technology Policy Director on FY 2008 Budget

Source: NCTM Legislative and Policy Update – 19 February 2007

Last Wednesday [February 14] the House Science and Technology Committee held a hearing on the Administration’s proposed budget for research and development in FY 2008.  The sole witness was the Director of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, Dr. John Marburger, III.

Dr. Marburger’s prepared testimony repeated the remarks of the Administration and cabinet members in the days since the release of the budget request–there are priorities in this year’s total budget which require hard choices and not as many increases as desired, and that earmarking must be curtailed in the name of responsible budgeting.  Related to investments at the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Education and Human Resources (EHR) directorate, Dr. Marburger’s remarks point to an increase of 7.5 percent ($53 million) over the amount in H.J. Res. 20 (the full-year continuing resolution)…

During the question and answer period, questions from the panel focused on a number of issues.  This allowed Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) to discuss the 2005 “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” report and STEM legislation he has introduced in response.  Gordon suggested that the While House had an opportunity to act on that report in its FY 2008 budget request, and chose not to.  Further, he asserted that his proposed legislation, which he intends to have the committee act on shortly, would work toward remedying the country’s competitiveness crisis.

To view Dr. Marburger’s full testimony, visit  [An excerpt appears below.]

Statement of Dr. John Marburger, III

Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy to the Committee on Science and Technology

United States House of Representatives

Fiscal Year 2008 Federal R&D Budget

February 14, 2007

Chairman Gordon, Ranking Republican Member Hall, and Members of the Committee, I am

pleased to appear before you today to present the President’s Fiscal Year 2008 research and development (R&D) budget…  On behalf of the Administration, I thank the Committee for the good working relationship it has established with the science agencies and with my office, and look forward to working together in the future to advance American innovation and competitiveness…

With the launch of the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) last year and further discussion of the importance of research and development to our future energy independence this year, President Bush’s recent State of the Union addresses advance a strong agenda for science and technology.  This focus on research and development, science and math education, and other technology themes directly supports our National goals of securing the nation, protecting the homeland, and making the economy strong…

National Science Foundation (NSF):

Funds are requested to increase the budget for NSF to $6.43 billion in FY 2008, 45 percent above 2001’s $4.43 billion level.  Similar investments in the past have yielded important scientific discoveries, which boost economic growth and enhance Americans’ quality of life.

The centerpiece of the American Competitiveness Initiative is President Bush’s plan to double investment over a 10-year period in key Federal agencies that support basic research programs emphasizing the physical sciences and engineering.  NSF is one of the three key agencies, as it is the primary source of support for university and academic research in the physical sciences, funding potentially transformative basic research in areas such as nanotechnology, advanced networking and information technology, physics, chemistry, material sciences, mathematics and engineering…

The 2008 NSF Education and Human Resources (EHR) budget will continue efforts to prepare U.S. students for the science and engineering workforce…  To further strengthen NSF’s emphasis on increasing the quality and quantity of the science and engineering workforce and ensuring that undergraduate students are well prepared for an increasingly technological global society, EHR will increase funding for its undergraduate education portfolio by $13.4 million.

This total includes $3.5 million for the Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement program and $5.1 million for the Advanced Technological Education program to improve technician training at community colleges.  The FY2008 EHR budget also provides an increase of $8.9 million for the Graduate Research Fellowship program, an amount that will support an additional 200 graduate students, and $4.53 million for the Centers of Research Excellence in Science and Technology, a program designed to broaden participation in the science and engineering workforce.  NSF’s K-12 education programs remain strong with $30 million made available in FY2008 for new awards under the Math and Science Partnerships program.



(1) Copernicus Science Education Summit

Source/Contact: Steve Gómez, Copernicus Project; UC-Riverside (951-827-4863)
URL  (no summit information available online)

Purpose: To gather different perspectives on how we can all work together to improve science education in California’s Inland Empire and beyond–“Partnering For Success in Science & Technology Education”

Location: Mission Inn, Riverside, CA

Dates/Times: February 20th, 2007; 8 AM- 5 PM

Key Speakers: Dr. Chauncey Veatch (2002-2003 National Teacher of the Year) and Dr. Kathryn Sullivan (NASA Astronaut and Director of Battelle Center for Math & Science Education Policy)

Audience: 150+ educators and administrators from K-12 and higher education, business and community leaders, and science education graduate students

(2) International Study Group on the History and Pedagogy of Mathematics (HPM)

Source/Contact: Bob Stein, Chair, HPM Americas Section –

Purpose: Annual meeting of the International Study Group on the History and Pedagogy of Mathematics (HPM)

Location: Atlanta, GA; Omni Hotel (CNN Center)–Hazelnut Room, M3 North Tower

Dates/Times: Friday, 23 March 2007 (during the Annual Conference of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics); 5-7 p.m. (free refreshments; interested individuals are invited to go out to dinner afterwards to continue the meeting on a less formal basis)

Key Speakers: You? At this stage the program is still not completely set, and there is still room for an additional talk (two if they are fairly brief) on the history of math, the use of history in teaching mathematics, and related topics. If you would like to speak at this event, or if you would like to recommend someone to speak, please let Bob Stein know ASAP. We want talks that are accessible and of interest to a broad audience, including K-12 teachers.