COMET • Vol. 9, No. 13 – 25 April 2008


State Schools Chief Jack O’Connell Congratulates Outstanding Science Teacher Chosen as Presidential Award Winner

Source:  California Department of Education

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell congratulated science teacher Dawn Marie O’Connor yesterday as a 2008 recipient of the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“The Presidential Award is the highest recognition that a science teacher can receive,” said O’Connell. “I am pleased that this outstanding science teacher from Ascencion Solorsano Middle School in Gilroy will be honored as one of the nation’s best. Dawn O’Connor was selected for teaching a rigorous, standards-aligned curricula through active exploration, investigation, and experimentation. She has shown an incredible commitment to her students and to enhancing her knowledge of science. I hope that other teachers will be able to learn from her and will follow her lead.”

O’Connor serves as the Science Department Chair at Ascencion Solorsano Middle School in the Gilroy Unified School District. In June of 2007, her application was reviewed by a state panel of scientists and science educators. Her application was one of two applications forwarded on to Washington, D.C. where it was reviewed by an evaluation panel convened by the National Science Foundation that coordinates the national PAEMST Program on behalf of The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

O’Connor flies to Washington, D.C. tomorrow for a week-long celebration of her accomplishments. The celebration week will culminate in a visit to the White House and the personal congratulations of the President. She will also receive a $10,000 award. (According to State Department of Education sources, California’s recipient of the PAEMST award for mathematics will be officially announced next week.)

The Presidential Award program recruits outstanding science and mathematics teachers from every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, U.S. territories, and schools operated worldwide by the Department of Defense Education Agency. O’Connor will join other outstanding science and mathematics teachers, each representing their own state or jurisdiction.

The application period for the 2008 Awards (targeting elementary school teachers) ends on May 1. Recruitment has begun for the 2009 Presidential Awards that will recognize outstanding teaching in grades seven to twelve. More information about the national program may be found at



(1) Newly Launched “Doing What Works” Web Site Adds New Feature to Provide Best Practices to Educators to Encourage Girls in Math and Science

Source: U.S. Department of Education – 25 April 2008
URL (Press release):

The U.S. Department of Education’s newly launched “Doing What Works” Web site added a feature today that will empower educators and administrators with research-based strategies to help boost the achievement levels of girls in math and science. The new “Doing What Works” feature brings online the recommendations outlined in “Encouraging Girls in Math and Science,” a previously released practice guide sponsored by the department’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES). The guide is available for free download from .

The “Doing What Works” site, offers a user-friendly interface to quickly locate teaching practices that are supported by research evidence identified by IES, the department’s research arm, and similar organizations. In addition, it cites examples of possible ways, although not necessarily the only ways, this research may be used to help students reach their academic potential.

The content on “Doing What Works” that corresponds to “Encouraging Girls in Math and Science” offers five recommendations: teach students that academic abilities are expandable and improvable; provide prescriptive, informational feedback; expose girls to female role models who have succeeded in math and science; create a classroom environment that sparks initial curiosity and fosters long-term interest in math and science; and provide spatial skills training.

“Putting this information on our Doing What Works site is yet another way to make effective, research-based information available to our various audiences,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. “Good teaching is not a one-way street. The site uses engaging and interactive presentations to make the latest educational research come alive.”

Content on the site is organized into three areas:

* Learn what works–to help understand the research base behind the practices.
* See how it works–providing examples of schools and classrooms engaged in those practices, including engaging videos.
* Do what works–enabling users to access examples of tools and templates to implement their practices.

Also, in the near future, similar resources in areas such as early childhood education, school restructuring, organizing instruction using principles emerging from cognitive science, and mathematics instruction will be added to the site.

(The “Doing What Works” site is led by the department’s Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development. Other offices and programs within the department also assist in the initiative.)


Note: To view videos by Diane Halpern on encouraging girls in math and science, visit

Recommended teaching practices can be found on


(2) “Sex, Math and Scientific Achievement: Why do men dominate the fields of science, engineering and mathematics?” by Diane F. Halpern, Camilla P. Benbow, David C. Geary, Ruben C. Gur, Janet Shibley Hyde and Morton Ann Gernsbacher

SourceScientific American Mind

For years, blue-ribbon panels of experts have sounded the alarm about a looming shortage of scientists, mathematicians and engineers in the U.S.—making dire predictions of damage to the national economy, threats to security and loss of status in the world. There also seemed to be an attractive solution: coax more women to these traditionally male fields. But there was not much public discussion about the reasons more women are not pursuing careers in these fields until 2005, when then Harvard University president Lawrence Summers offered his personal observations.

He suggested to an audience at a small economics conference near Boston that one of the major reasons women are less likely than men to achieve at the highest levels of scientific work is because fewer females have “innate ability” in these fields. In the wake of reactions to Summers’s provocative statement, a national debate erupted over whether intrinsic differences between the sexes were responsible for the underrepresentation of women in mathematical and scientific disciplines.

As a group of experts with diverse backgrounds in the area of sex differences, we welcome these ongoing discussions because they are drawing the public’s attention to this important issue. In this article, we present an analysis of the large body of research literature pertaining to the question of female participation in these fields, information that is central to understanding sex differences and any proposal designed to attract more women to the science and mathematics workforces. Contrary to the implications drawn from Summers’s remarks, there is no single or simple answer for why there are substantially fewer women than men in some areas of science and math. Instead a wide variety of factors that influence career choices can be identified, including cognitive sex differences, education, biological influences, stereotyping, discrimination and societal sex roles. [To read the rest of this article, please visit the Web site above.]


(3) Webinar: Critical Science Vocabulary

Source: Schools Moving Up, WestEd

WestEd’s SchoolsMovingUp website will feature a free online event, “Critical Science Vocabulary,” on Wednesday, April 30, from 10:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m. PDT.

If the concepts and vocabulary of science are not taught in grades one through four, students in middle school and beyond will be faced with an inordinate number of challenging words representing complex and unknown concepts. In this presentation, Elfrieda H. Hiebert, Adjunct Professor at the University of California at Berkeley and facilitator of the California Vocabulary Forum, will discuss the need to make science vocabulary education a priority in the early grades.  Her presentation will include the implications of findings from a recent study that indicates a significant decrease in the amount of time devoted to science instruction and also examine how the “Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading” project has supported students’ vocabulary and literacy learning with science content. Other presenters on this show include P. David Pearson (Professor and Dean, UC Berkeley) and Elizabeth Stage (Director, Lawrence Hall of Science).

See the Online Events page on SchoolsMovingUp for further information, including specific topics to be addressed by this event, how to register, and technical requirements:


(4) “A Nation at a Loss” by Edward B. Fiske

Source: New York Times – 25 April 2008

Tomorrow is the 25th anniversary of “A Nation at Risk,” a remarkable document that became a milestone in the history of American education — albeit in ways that its creators neither planned, anticipated or even wanted.

In August 1981, Education Secretary T. H. Bell created a National Commission on Excellence in Education to examine, in the report’s words, “the widespread public perception that something is seriously remiss in our educational system.” Secretary Bell’s expectation, he later said, was that the report would paint a rosy picture of American education and correct all those widespread negative perceptions.

Instead, on April 26, 1983, the commission released a sweeping 65-page indictment of the quality of teaching and learning in American primary and secondary schools couched in a style of apocalyptic rhetoric rarely found in blue-ribbon commission reports.

“The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and as a people,” it warned. “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

To his credit, Secretary Bell, a moderate Republican who had been hoping for some political relief from critics on his right, stood by these unexpected words from his commission — and thereby became the unwitting father of the modern school reform movement…

“A Nation at Risk” resonated with Americans, who seemingly agreed that there was indeed something “seriously remiss” in their schools. White House pollsters picked this up. The president began visiting schools all over the country, usually in the company of Secretary Bell, who until then, as head of a department scheduled for elimination, had never seen the inside of Air Force One.

The most important legacy of “A Nation at Risk” was to put the quality of education on the national political agenda — where it has remained ever since. The last 25 years have seen a succession of projects and movements aimed at increasing the quality of American primary and secondary schools: standards-based reform, the 1989 “education summit” that set six “national goals” for education, the push for school choice and, most recently, the No Child Left Behind legislation. Proponents of each have taken pains to portray themselves as the heirs of “A Nation at Risk.”

The apocalyptic rhetoric of the opening section of “A Nation at Risk” isn’t the only element of the report that has had a lasting impact. One of the main ideas enshrined in the document — that quality of schooling is directly linked to economic competitiveness — has also shaped the way Americans think about education. This particular theory, however, hasn’t been borne out by history…

With the wisdom of hindsight, it is clear that the link between educational excellence and economic security is not as simple as “A Nation at Risk” made it seem. By the mid-1980s, policymakers in Japan, South Korea and Singapore were already beginning to complain that their educational systems focused too much on rote learning and memorization. They continue to envy American schools because they teach creativity and the problem-solving skills critical to prospering in the global economy.

Indeed, a consensus seems to be emerging among educational experts around the world that American schools operate within the context of an enabling environment — an open economy, strong legal and banking systems, an entrepreneurial culture — conducive to economic progress.

To put it bluntly, American students may not know as much as their counterparts around the Pacific Rim, but our society allows them to make better use of what they do know. The question now is whether this historic advantage will suffice at a time when knowledge of math, science and technology is becoming increasingly critical. Maybe we need both the enabling environment and more rigor in these areas…

The United States, which used to lead the world in sending high school graduates on to higher education, has declined to fifth in the proportion of young adults who participate in higher education and is 16th out of 27 industrialized countries in the proportion who complete college, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

The striking thing about the performance of American students on international comparisons is not that, on average, they are in the middle of the pack — which was also true in 1983 — but that we have a disproportionate share of low-performing students. We are failing to provide nearly one-third of our young people with even the minimal education required to be functioning citizens and workers in a global economy.

This is particularly distressing news at a time when the baby boomers are aging and a growing proportion of the future work force comes from groups — members of ethnic and racial minorities, students from low-income families, recent immigrants — that have been ill served by our education system. The challenge today is to build access as well as excellence. That’s the new definition of “a nation a risk” — and ample reason for a new commission to awaken the nation to the need to educate all our young people.


(5) “Rankings of International Achievement Test Performance and Economic Strength: Correlation or Conjecture?” by Christopher H. Tienken

SourceInternational Journal of Education Policy and Leadership — 25 April 2008

Article Abstract:  Examining a popular political notion, this article presents results from a series of Spearman’s rho calculations conducted to investigate relationships between countries’ rankings on international tests of mathematics and science and future economic competitiveness as measured by the 2006 World Economic Forum’s Growth Competitiveness Index (GCI). The study investigated the existence of relationships between international test rankings from three different time periods during the last 50 years of U.S. education policy development (i.e., 1957–1982, 1983–2000, and 2001–2006) and 2006 GCI ranks. It extends previous research on the topic by investigating how GCI rankings in the top 50 percent and bottom 50 percent relate to rankings on international tests for the countries that participated in each test. The study found that the relationship between ranks on international tests of mathematics and science and future economic strength is stronger among nations with lower-performing economies. Nations with strong economies, such as the United States, demonstrate a weaker, nonsignificant relationship.

The entire article is available for free download from


(6)  Information Age Education – Free Resources

URL: and

Dave Moursund is the founder of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and a founding board member of the Math Learning Center headquartered in Oregon. He recently started Information Age Education (IAE), a non-profit organization that provides free materials for preservice and inservice teachers (see IAE focuses on improving education at all levels and throughout the world. The unifying philosophies include the following:

— Every person is both a lifelong learner and a lifelong teacher…

— Our educational system can be improved through empowering students and their teachers, and by helping students learn to take more responsibility for their own learning. See

— We have a rapidly increasing understanding of Brain Science and other theory underlying teaching and learning. Computers are a powerful aid to translating this theory into practice. See

— Communication and Information Technology is making the world “smaller” and “flatter.” See Students need an education that helps prepare them for a continuation of these trends.

— Two brains are better than one. In math, for example, people routinely make use of their own brain (a human brain) and a computer brain. We need an educational system that strongly reflects this situation and the fact that computers are still rapidly growing in capability (see In this article, Moursund explores some teaching and learning implications of the capabilities and limitations of both human brains and computer brains. The emphasis is on improving education by helping students learn to make effective of both types of brains.

The idea of a Digital Filing Cabinet (DFC) is one of Moursund’s current areas of emphasis. All teachers are familiar with the idea of having a filing cabinet that contains lesson plans, handouts for students, and so on. Nowadays, many teachers have both a physical filing cabinet and an electronic digital filing cabinet.

Moreover, many teachers of teachers help their students to develop their own DFC and provide some content materials. Each of the articles referenced above is an example of materials that a teacher of teachers might want his or her students to have in their own personal DFC. For general ideas about a DFC, see For Moursund’s current collection of Math DFC materials, see

Moursund’s ten most recent books are available free on the Web. Following are three examples that may interest math teachers:

Introduction to Problem Solving in the Information Age

Computational Thinking and Math Maturity: Improving Math Education in K-8 Schools

Introduction to Using Games in Education: A Guide for Teachers and Parents: