COMET • Vol. 9, No. 29 – 26 November 2008


(1) U.S. Education Department Withholds $1M from California

Source: The Sacramento Bee – 24 November 2008

The U.S. Department of Education will withhold $1 million from the California Department of Education for failing to meet math-testing requirements for eighth-graders, the agency said in a letter.

The state was under pressure to devise a new test after federal officials said California’s current exam measures only sixth- and seventh-grade math.

The state Board of Education voted in July to make every eighth-grader take an Algebra I test instead. That prompted a lawsuit from several school groups that said schools and teachers could not meet the mandate so quickly.

After they sued, a Sacramento County Superior Court judge postponed the algebra test, leaving California without a new eighth-grade math test.

Federal officials say that means the state will not be able to follow the No Child Left Behind Act anytime soon, prompting them to withhold $1 million.

California schools won’t lose out, however, said Chad Colby, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education. He said the funding will instead be distributed directly to needy schools, without input from California’s Department of Education.

California officials have 20 days to appeal the decision.


(2) Mathematics Teacher Selected as California’s Nominee for National Teacher of the Year

Source: California Department of Education

On November 19, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell announced his selection of Alex Kajitani, a middle school mathematics teacher in Escondido (San Diego County), as the state’s nominee for the prestigious National Teacher of the Year competition.

Kajitani has a national reputation as “The Rappin’ Mathematician” and uses music to make math, as well as the world, more relevant to his students.

“I am exceptionally pleased that Alex Kajitani is representing California at the national level. I greatly admire his passion for teaching, his creative approach to motivating middle-grade students, and his success in making math come alive and relevant,” O’Connell said. “He is a very articulate and engaging individual who is totally committed to reaching every child.”

In his application for the California Teachers of the Year Program, Kajitani wrote: “No subject, especially the mathematics that I teach, can be truly learned if the students do not see the relevance of the information in their everyday lives. I am constantly looking for ways to ‘meet them where they live.’ On any given day, I am weaving lessons about the math the students are learning with issues important to them, such as advertising, the Internet, and popular music. Never will a student leave my class thinking that they will not use the information we have discussed.”

Kajitani earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1995, and a Master of Arts degree in Curriculum and Instruction from San Diego State University in 2004.

The California Teachers of the Year Program began in 1972 to pay tribute to the state’s educators amidst the growing complexity of challenges facing California’s schools, and the need to promote collaboration among teachers to meet those challenges.

California continues to face a critical teacher shortage. The program plays a pivotal role in drawing new, talented people into the field. Each year the State Superintendent selects five people who will best represent California’s teachers and symbolize the profession’s contributions to quality education by focusing public attention on noteworthy accomplishments of teachers; one of those five is selected as the state’s candidate for the National Teacher of the Year competition.

In addition to Kajitani, the four other outstanding California Teachers of the Year for 2009 are Alastair Inman, a science teacher at Lexington Junior High School in the Anaheim Union High School District (Orange County); Jose L. Navarro IV, a social studies and U.S. history teacher at Sylmar Senior High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District; Mark Teeters, choral music director at Vintage High School in the Napa Valley Unified School District; and Loredana Wicketts, a third grade teacher at Eisenhower Elementary in the Corona-Norco Unified School District (Riverside County). See the two articles below for more information about the mathematics and science teachers who were finalists for this award.

The California Teachers of the Year 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 competitions. A state selection committee reviews the candidates’ applications and conducts site visits to evaluate the teachers’ rapport with students, classroom environment, presentation skills, and use of teaching methods, among other criteria. Following interviews in Sacramento, the State Superintendent then selects the awardees to serve as ambassadors of the profession.

The five Teachers of the Year, as well as the eight semifinalists, will be honored February 9, 2009 in Sacramento at a dinner made possible by donations from corporate sponsors.

Individual photos of the teachers are available at

The National Teacher of the Year winner will be selected in the spring of 2009 by a panel convened by the Council of Chief State School Officers. All candidates in the program will be honored at a White House ceremony.

For more information about the National Teacher of the Year Program, please visit:


(3) “Musical Approach Earns Alex Kajitani Teacher of Year Title” by Gary Warth

Source: North County Times
URL (article): 
URL (video interview):

It could have been an embarrassing disaster, but Alex Kajitani was willing to take that chance to reach his students.

“In my first year, I was really struggling,” the Mission Middle School teacher said Wednesday.

So with caution tossed to the wind and a sense of little to lose, Kajitani hit the play button on his boom box and started singing original rap songs with lyrics about math to his eighth-grade class.

The blank faces and snickers told Kajitani that he had bombed, and he hung his head low as he walked past his students’ tables at lunchtime.

But then he heard them singing his song.

“The next day, the students came in just hungry for more, and they were so eager to hear these rap songs,” Kajitani said.

Four years later, Kajitani, 35, has recorded two CDs as “The Rappin’ Mathematician.” His innovative approach to reaching his students helped him to be named one of five county Teachers of the Year…

“What’s funny is I’ve just always known I wanted to be a teacher pretty much my whole life,” Kajitani said. Before becoming a teacher, Kajitani traveled the world surfing exotic locations and running a restaurant in Santa Barbara. Both experiences fit into his long-term plan.

“I wanted to be a teacher who traveled so I could share the world with my students, and I wanted to be a teacher with some business experience so I could tell them about the world and requirements for working in the world,” he said.

In class Wednesday, Kajitani called on his business experience when demonstrating how math skills are necessary for business owners and consumers.

“Lots of people will tell you lots of things to get you to buy something,” he said, introducing a problem that asked students to determine whether they would get a better deal by buying a $14,000 car with a 15 percent discount or a $15,500 car at a 17 percent discount.

“You’ve got to know the numbers to empower yourself in life,” he said after students calculated that the $14,000 car was indeed a better savings

Just as the real-life scenarios are a way to get students to understand the importance of math, Kajitani uses music to get them excited about the subject, which he sings about in songs such as “Four at the Door.”

“Take for example 4 times 6. Double 6 once, and 12 is in the mix. Double it again, that makes 24. And you won’t be afraid of multiplyin’ anymore!”

Kajitani plays no instruments and had never even sung karaoke before debuting as the Rappin’ Mathematician, a character he created after floundering in his first month at the school. Searching for a new approach, Kajitani noticed his students were able to quickly memorize lyrics to the latest rap songs.

Soon he had downloaded some beats from the Internet and jotted down lyrics to a song he called “The Itty Bitty Dot.” He then brought his recorded beats and lyrics to school, swallowed hard, and sang to his class.

“Now what in the world is that itty bitty dot? Yo, I just can’t remember, and it’s makin’ me distraught! I saw it in the price of the item I just bought! It’s the decimal point —- Yeah, now you’re gettin’ hot.” [(Listen to a portion of this song at]

Kajitani collected his original songs and released them on a CD in 2007, which he followed up with a second CD that contained a workbook for teachers to use with the songs. He has sold about 1,000 of the recordings on his Web site, [In addition, sound clips from his two CDs can be heard at]

Student Martha Cruz, 13, said she thought her teacher was funny when he first sang his songs to them, but also said learning the songs have helped her understand integers.

Student Sara Alonson, 12, also said she liked her teacher’s style. “I think he’s cool and fun,” she said. “He doesn’t make algebra boring, like I thought it would be.”


Visit to view a video of Kajitani. Also visit to view the iVIE (Innovative Video in Education) winning video, “So Many Lines,” produced by Tamara Whitney, Carla Cardona, and the Mission Middle School Video Club.


(4) Alumnus Named County Teacher of the Year

Source: California State University, Fullerton

From among more than 23,000 teachers in Orange County, local teacher and alumnus Alastair Inman was selected as one of five Orange County Teachers of the Year. Inman, a science teacher at Lexington Junior High School in Cypress, was among four K-12 teachers and a community college instructor given the top teaching honor.

Inman completed Cal State Fullerton’s single subject credential program in biological science this year and lectures in biological science on campus.

Inman’s science-teaching career has spanned more than 20 years, first as a college professor and now as a junior high school teacher. In 2001, he joined the Anaheim Union High School District after teaching at several universities, including the University of Toronto, Wesleyan College and Knox College.

Born in London, Inman grew up in Canada where a science teacher inspired his love for the subject. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and a doctorate in zoology from the University of Oxford in England.

The educator, who describes his classroom as a “high-energy, enthusiastic environment infused with the latest technology,” called his work as a junior high school teacher the most rewarding in his career. “Teaching at Lexington, I feel satisfaction in my work now that I have never felt as a college science professor.”

It’s a privilege to be able to guide young people as they “explore our natural world through the fascinating, creative and exciting process of science,” Inman said. “There is no greater reward than seeing each student develop as a complete person — socially and ethically, as well as academically. I cannot imagine a more satisfying or fulfilling profession than being a teacher.”

Helen Taylor, professor of secondary education, noted that her former student is deserving of the award. “We are very honored to have had him in our credential program. He is a very dedicated, intelligent teacher who is genuinely interested in seeing students learn and be successful. I have had the privilege to work with him as a teacher in the Anaheim Union High School District and as an intern in our program.”

Inman received a limited edition lithograph from Disneyland Resort and a “golden apple” award from Orange County Department of Education Supt. Bill Habermehl. Inman also received a $15,000 cash award from the James Hines Foundation at the Teacher of the Year awards dinner November 19 at the Disneyland Hotel. The Orange County Department of Education and SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union host the event where all nominees will be honored and receive awards.


(5) “Yucaipa Math Teacher Emphasizes Process, Creative Thinking”by Michael Perrault

Source: The Press-Enterprise

Eighth-graders thumbing through 800-page textbooks in classroom No. 5 laughed as they debated solutions to equations before jotting them down on a white board.

Minutes later they joked as they took turns asking questions in front of a video camera as part of a movie-making endeavor.

Could this really be algebra class?

At Canyon Middle School in Yucaipa, teacher Zach More is serious about ensuring that solving algebra problems never gets stale in his class.

Even after 11 years of teaching algebra, he pushes himself to find new ways to make sure his students are grasping often-abstract concepts such as polynomials, factorization and formulas.

His enthusiasm, coupled with skill, hard work and a track record of success, earned More a Teacher of the Year title this year in San Bernardino County.

At the heart of More’s teaching philosophy is challenging students to understand the “why” and logic of how they arrived at an answer. It’s a passion for More, and one he hopes will help teenagers become critical thinkers and lifelong learners.

“Math isn’t a bunch of steps–it’s a thinking process,” More emphasized. “I really want to push the creative thinking.”

Exploring new avenues of teaching is something More and his wife, Dayna, a former teacher at Canyon Middle School, have done for years.

They still do, but life has admittedly changed in recent years with the births of their daughter and two sons.

Now More is tackling graduate school at National University to expand his horizons. He is working toward a master’s degree in teaching with an emphasis in technology.

More wants to learn how to better use technology to reach the “digital generation,” kids rarely without their cell phones, iPods and other electronics.

“I believe we have a lot of technology that is available but that we’re not using (in the classroom),” More said.

Recently, More’s classes have come alive with discussion and laughter as nervous students recite questions into a video camera.

They’re making a movie to capture fundamentals of algebra.

More relishes such lively interaction, even encouraging students to challenge him on days when it’s lacking.

“If it’s the same old same old, if it’s boring, I want them to call me on it,” More said. “Because they don’t deserve that.”

Coming up with refreshing approaches often means bouncing new ideas off fellow Canyon Middle School teacher Rick LeVan, who was named a California Teacher of the Year during the 2006-07 school year.

“He’s made me a better teacher,” LeVan said. More said LeVan’s innovation has been an inspiration to him, too.

Math teachers such as Jim Rudolph at Etiwanda High School taught More that the much maligned subject could indeed be interesting, relevant and even fun.

That prompted More to seek a bachelor’s degree in math from Chico State University.

More’s knack for explaining algebra and having students work in groups to hash out problems makes a potentially tough course considerably easier, said eighth-grader Aaron Stidger.

That’s not to say some students don’t struggle. And they’re often students who have found math difficult their entire lives.

“I tell them, ‘You know what, it’s OK to struggle.’ That’s the point I want to get across to them,” More said. “We have all kinds of struggles in life.”

More laughs when he thinks of all the adult friends who’ve shared their challenging math experiences.

“They’ll say, ‘All through school in math, I did OK or I didn’t do OK. But I really never understood the why. I just did it.'”

More expects most of his students to have a different kind of experience, even if it means one-on-one tutoring after school.

“I invite them to come in after school, not as a punishment but to tell them I’m with you on this,” More said.

“This is a hard subject, and I’ve got your back.”



Obama-Biden Transition Team Announces Leaders of Policy Working Groups, including Education

Source: The Office of the (U.S.) President-Elect

On November 19, the Obama-Biden Transition Team announced leaders for a series of Policy Working Groups for the Presidential Transition. The focus of the Policy Working Groups will be to develop the priority policy proposals and plans from the Obama Campaign for action during the Obama-Biden Administration. The Policy Working Groups will focus on the following areas: Economy, Education, Energy and Environment, Health Care, Immigration, National Security, and Technology, Innovation and Government Reform.

The Policy Working Group Leaders are named below. A brief biography of the Policy Working Group Leader for Education follows this list. More information on all of the Leaders can be found at the Web site above.

Economic: Daniel K. Tarullo
Education: Linda Darling-Hammond
Energy and Environment: Carol M. Browner
Health Care: Senator Tom Daschle
Immigration: T. Alexander Aleinikoff, Mariano-Florentino (Tino) Cuéllar
National Security: James B. Steinberg, Dr. Susan E. Rice
Technology, Innovation and Government Reform: Sonal Shah, Julius Genachowski, Blair Levin


Linda Darling-Hammond is Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University where she has launched the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education and the School Redesign Network. Her research, teaching, and policy work focus on issues of school reform, teaching quality, and educational equity. She is a former president of the American Educational Research Association and member of the executive board of the National Academy of Education. She has been a leader in the standards movement, chairing both the New York State Curriculum and Assessment Council as it adopted new standards and assessments for students and the Interstate New Teachers Support and Assessment Council (INTASC) as it developed new standards for teachers. From 1994-2001, she served as executive director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, a blue-ribbon panel whose 1996 report, “What Matters Most: Teaching for America’s Future,” was named in 2006 as one of the most influential affecting U.S. education, and Darling-Hammond was named one of the nation’s ten most influential people affecting educational policy. She received her BA from Yale University, magna cum laude, in 1973 and her Doctorate in Urban Education from Temple University in 1978. She began her career as a public school teacher.


Re: Dresden Conference 2009
Will do!

Dear Carol,

I attach FYI the now completed and updated Second Announcement and would be most grateful if you could publicise this through your email lists, here is a short notice if that is helpful:

Second Announcement and Call for Papers for Dresden 2009 Conference

The Mathematics Education into the 21st Century Project & The University of Applied Sciences (FH), Dresden (Germany) announce our 10th (Anniversary!) International Conference: “Models in Developing Mathematics Education” to be held Sep 11-17, 2009 in Dresden, Saxony, Germany in full cooperation with the Saxony Ministry of Education.
International Organisers: Dr. Alan Rogerson, Coordinator of the Mathematics in Society Project (Poland) & Prof. Fayez Mina, Faculty of Education, Ain Shams University (Egypt). Chair of the Local Organising Committee: Prof. Dr. Ludwig Paditz of the Dresden University of Applied Sciences.
You are warmly invited to attend and present a paper at our conference in the heart of the historic & beautiful city of Dresden.
The Second Announcement can be downloaded from For ALL further conference details and updates please email .



Conference Announcement: “Models in Developing Mathematics Education”

Source: Alan Rogerson –

The Mathematics Education into the 21st Century Project and the University of Applied Sciences in Dresden announce the 10th International Conference, “Models in Developing Mathematics Education,” to be held 11-17 September 2009 in Dresden, Saxony, Germany in full cooperation with the Saxony Ministry of Education.

The international organizers are Dr. Alan Rogerson, Coordinator of the Mathematics in Society Project (Poland) and Prof. Fayez Mina, Faculty of Education, Ain Shams University (Egypt). The chair of the Local Organizing Committee is Prof. Dr. Ludwig Paditz of the Dresden University of Applied Sciences.
You are warmly invited to attend and present a paper at this conference in the heart of the historic the beautiful city of Dresden. A link to the conference flyer containing this information is available for download at

For all further conference details and updates, please email Alan Rogerson:

Best wishes,
Alan and Margaret


Live Chat, November 19: The Evolving Definition of Giftedness

Source: Education Week
URL (article):

This live chat will be held from 1-2 p.m., PT today (Wednesday, November 19). Go to to participate. Questions can be submitted in advance to

For years, giftedness was considered to be a static category, with children either possessing the trait or not. But developmental theory has now led to more nuanced view of what makes some people gifted. Instead of being innate and immutable, giftedness can be nurtured and even taught-and if ignored, it can also be lost.

Please join our guests, the three editors of the upcoming book, The Development of Giftedness and Talent Across the Life Span, who will talk about what researchers currently believe about giftedness, and its implication for classroom practice.

About the guests:

– Frances Degen Horowitz is a university professor and president emerita at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

– Rena F. Subotnik is the director of the Center for Gifted Education Policy at the American Psychological Association.

– Dona J. Matthews is currently a visiting professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, engaged in several writing projects, and working with families and schools on issues relating to gifted education. From 2003 to 2007, she was the director of the Center for Gifted Studies and Education at Hunter College, the City University of New York.

For background, read “‘Gifted’ Label Said to Miss Dynamic Nature of Talent,” Education Week, 15 October 2008: (Response to the article, many of which take issue with the authors, follow the article.)

No special equipment other than Internet access is needed to participate in this text-based chat. A transcript will be posted shortly after the completion of the chat.