COMET • Vol. 9, No. 04 – 10 February 2008


(1) State Schools Chief Jack O’Connell Announces Winners of $5.9 Million in Grants to Improve Teacher Quality

Source: California Department of Education

Last Thursday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell announced the selection of the educational agencies that will receive $5.9 million in California Mathematics and Science Partnership (CaMSP) grants to help educators improve their skills in teaching mathematics and science to high-need students.

“California’s severe shortage of qualified teachers in mathematics and science is certainly a contributing factor to California’s achievement gap,” said O’Connell. “This program will help provide the proper teacher support and training needed to prepare students for more rigorous coursework to meet the state’s graduation requirements that prepare them for college or careers.”

The federal No Child Left Behind Act, Title II, Part B is the funding source for the CaMSP grants. This round of funding is for Cohort 5, which is a specific group of educational agencies targeted to receive assistance to improve the academic achievement of high-need students. Cohort 5 lead educational agencies that were eligible to apply for the grants have a student population where at least 40 percent of students qualify for the National School Lunch Program.

CaMSP is an in-depth professional development program for classroom teachers to enhance their knowledge and teaching skills of mathematics and science through professional learning activities. Ultimately, the program is designed to increase the academic achievement of students in math (grade three through Algebra I) and science (grades three through eight). Federal law also requires all teachers of core academic subjects hired to work in Title I programs to meet the definition of “highly qualified teacher.”

A total of 30 educational agencies applied for the grant. Following a rigorous review of the grantees’ applications on a number of criteria including the applicants’ rationale, work plan, evaluation and research plan, and partnership management plan, 11 of the applicants were awarded the CaMSP funding. For a list of the CaMSP grantees, please visit

For more information about the CaMSP program, please visit


(2) “Math and Science Education for the California Workforce: It Starts with K–12″

Source: EdSource

Tomorrow’s workforce is in California’s public schools now. How well these students are educated in math and science will help determine the quality of not only their lives, but also the state’s future. Performance data indicate some progress in math and science enrollments and performance, but the magnitude of the challenge ahead is also clear.

A new report by EdSource, “Math and Science Education for the California Workforce: It Starts with K–12,” looks at current projections for California’s workforce needs in several important STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. It also provides a comprehensive examination of how California’s standards-based reforms have affected student achievement in math and science. It focuses in on higher-level courses students take beginning in 8th grade and includes data on Algebra 1 enrollment and proficiency rates, comparisons of students’ proficiency based on the standards-aligned math course-taking path, and enrollment and achievement data for science courses. It also reviews the performance of traditionally low-achieving student subgroups and of the highest-achieving students. And the report takes a look at the extent to which California’s postsecondary system ultimately is producing graduates in these key fields.

This report is accompanied by a 2-page Executive Summary (, a 4-page policy brief on recruiting and retaining mathematics and science teachers (, and a 2-page student/parent guide to California’s fastest-growing careers (


(3) “State Students Doing Better in Math, Science” by Nanette Asimov

SourceSan Francisco Chronicle – 2 February 2008

More California students are doing well on higher-level math and science tests now than in 2003, according to education researchers who say the state’s fastest-growing job markets–from software engineers to gaming dealers–demand knowledge of math and technology.

Eighth-graders scoring “proficient” or “advanced” in algebra I, a so-called gatekeeper class needed for college, rose by 53 percent to nearly 91,000 students between 2003 and 2007, according to EdSource, an education research group in Mountain View.

“That’s good news,” said Matt Rosin, lead researcher of the study “Math and Science Education for the California Workforce: It Starts with K-12.”

“California has certainly made progress,” he said, not only in more students doing well, but in more students taking challenging courses.

Although more than 60 percent of eighth-graders still score below proficient on the state’s algebra I exam, the number of kids with high scores has soared because 58 percent more students are taking the tougher math.

In 2007, nearly 239,000 eighth-graders took algebra I, compared with about 151,700 in 2003, the study notes.

More than 271,000 additional ninth-graders are also taking algebra I, a 45 percent increase during the same period.

It’s a more upbeat observation of math and science education than is usually seen in reports of California’s academic progress. Typically, studies show the state’s students performing poorly compared to those in Asia or Europe–or even against students in other states.

The researchers credit two steps taken by the state Board of Education: making algebra mandatory for a high school diploma beginning in 2004, and recommending that students complete it by eighth grade…

The researchers noticed, however, that students who delay taking algebra until their high school years do less well than students who study it in the eighth or ninth grades.

California also requires high school students to complete two years of science. Although enrollment in science is lower than in math, more high school students are taking science and doing better. Here are the differences between 2003 and 2007:

— Biology: Enrollment is up 52 percent to 507,000; students scoring proficient or advanced rose by 51 percent, to 185,274.

— Chemistry: Enrollment is up 48 percent to 228,000; students scoring proficient or advanced rose by 57 percent, to 72,512.

— Physics: Enrollment is up 41 percent to 63,450; students scoring proficient or advanced rose by 74 percent, to 22,634.

— Earth science: Enrollment has more than doubled, to 207,000; students scoring proficient or advanced rose by 45 percent, to 52,392…

The report says the top 10 fastest-growing jobs in California all require knowledge of math and science, from dental hygienists to systems analysts.

“More kids are being exposed to the high school math and science courses that may give them the foundation they need later in life,” Rosin said.


(4) CTAP Region IV Middle School Math Project

Source/Contact: Micheline LeBlanc, Program Director, CTAP Region IV –

The California Technology Assistance Project (CTAP) is a statewide educational technology leadership initiative designed to provide assistance to public schools and districts in integrating technology into teaching and learning. Michelle LeBlanc is the program director for CTAP Region IV, which supports Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Solano counties.

Michelle writes, “We know that our students need technological skills to succeed in the 21st century and the ability to apply the key concepts outlined in our state mathematics standards. We [CTAP Region VI] are making connections between math and technology through our Middle School Math project.  Our Web site includes standards-aligned materials for the teaching of middle school math, online resources, and much more. Three matrices are linked to California standards and the state-adopted textbooks.

“The Middle School Math Project Web site also has a resource section with articles, examples, resources, and tutorials for differentiation of instruction. These tools include spreadsheets, visual tools, graphic organizers, graphing calculators, presentation, assessment, online manipulatives, and digital enhancement resources.”

This Web site has been honored with a number of awards and recognitions. Visit the site at



(1) “Scientists and Engineers Make Splash at this Year’s Oscars” by Emilie Lorditch

Source: Inside Science Education News Service; Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Each year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) awards the scientists and engineers who have created technologies that have revolutionized the way movies are made.   This year’s awards were presented last night (February 9) at the Beverly Wilshire.  This year’s winners include computer software to create every form of water imaginable, from a gentle ocean spray to a crushing tsunami wave.

As an example, Victor Gonzalez, Ignacio Vargas, and Angel Tena, of Next Limit Technologies, based in Madrid, Spain, received an award for developing RealFlow, a software application that allows moviemakers to simulate liquids.

“Typically there is a big demand (in the movie industry) for natural processes like water, sand, smoke, fog, and wind,” says Victor Gonzalez, CEO and co-founder of Next Limit Technologies.  “The use of computer software programs like RealFlow provides the ability to add these (natural processes) to movies.”

“In the movie Poseidon (2006), RealFlow was used in some particular shots,” says Gonzalez, “The most interesting shot was a violent flooding of a long corridor where the protagonists (Josh Lucas and Kurt Russell) are trying to escape.”

Unlike other Academy Awards, achievements receiving Scientific and Technical Awards need not have been developed and introduced during 2007. Rather, the achievements must demonstrate a proven record of contributing significant value to the process of making motion pictures.

Visit for a full list of award winners and a description of their contributions.


(2) Friends’ School Achievement Influences High School Girls’ Interest in Math”

Source: EurekAlert – 7 February 2008

Girls in high school take as many math courses as boys, influenced by close friends and peers who are doing well in school. More than boys, girls look to their close friends when they make important decisions, such as whether to take math and what math classes to take, confirming how significant peers are during adolescence.

Those are the findings of a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Pennsylvania, and Michigan State University. The study is published in the January/February 2008 issue of the journal Child Development.

Researchers looked at 6,547 high-school girls and boys who had a variety of relationships with peers and tracked the math courses they took. All of the students had taken part in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health from 1995 to 2001.

The researchers found that, contrary to popular opinion but in line with recent government findings, girls have caught up with boys in terms of the math courses they take in high school. One reason this is so, they found, is the kinds of friends and peers they have in high school. All teens–girls as well as boys–with close friends and other peers who made good grades took more higher-level math than other teens, according to the study. But the connection between these relationships and the math classes was stronger for girls than for boys.

In the end, social factors meant more for girls than for boys in decisions about math coursework, especially when enrollment in math classes was optional and when girls were doing well in school.

“These findings stress the need to turn attention away from documenting gender differences in math course-taking in high school and toward looking at the reasons why girls and boys take different paths to the same outcomes,” according to Robert Crosnoe, associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and the study’s lead author…

The study was funded, in part, by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Science Foundation.


(3) National Science Foundation Requests $6.85 Billion for Fiscal Year 2009

Source: National Science Foundation (NSF) – 4 February 2008

National Science Foundation (NSF) Director Arden L. Bement, Jr. has presented the agency’s proposed $6.85 billion budget for fiscal year (FY) 2009, a 13 percent increase over its actual FY 2008 budget. The additional $822.10 million would increase funding for agency programs that advance the frontiers of research and education in science and engineering.

Bement said the increase reflected a growing consensus that the United States needs to invest more resources in basic scientific research if it is to remain a global leader in science and technology. “More than a dozen major studies have now concluded that a substantial increase in federal funding for basic scientific research is critical to ensure the preeminence of America’s scientific and technological enterprise,” Bement said.

“Increased federal investments in research and education are imperative now to sustain our comparative advantages in a flattening world,” Bement added. “The NSF budget for 2009 reflects that commitment.”

The new budget emphasizes investment in new knowledge and talent development while also maintaining support to existing research efforts that are vital to advancing the frontiers of discovery and ensuring that America remains a global leader in science and technology.

One of the funding categories is “Enriching the Education of STEM Teachers.” In FY 2009, a major focus of activities in NSF’s Education and Human Resources (EHR) Directorate is enriching the education of science, technology, engineering and mathematics teachers. Major activities associated with this focus include the Math and Science Partnership program (up $2.5 million to $51 million) and the Robert Noyce Scholarship Program (up $800,000 to $11.6 million). Please visit the Web site above for details about the other initiatives supported by the proposed budget.

Bement also announced the creation of the new  Web portal–a one-stop Web site for grantees seeking federal funding for research and federal research agencies to share best practices.


(4) Presidential Candidates’ Positions on Science

Source: Physics Today – American Institute of Physics

In 1976, when Jimmy Carter was running for President against Gerald Ford, science was not high on the political agenda. Physics Todaytried to change that by asking the candidates their views on the importance of science advisers, the value of nuclear power in the U.S. energy mix, and the federal government’s role in supporting basic and applied science. The Physics Today political blog continues that 32-year tradition by posting the positions of the current group of candidates on science issues. [Positions are gleaned from the candidates’ Web sites, news reports, etc. For a sample, see last Tuesday’s post below:]

Where do [the Presidential candidates] stand on the 2009/09 science budget?

Nearly all the remaining presidential candidates agree that the U.S. should continue to invest in either energy and/or basic science research. Hillary Clinton provided the most detailed proposals, with Barack Obama a close second now that John Edwards is out of the race…. John McCain and Mike Huckabee, do not have specific proposals but do support increased funding in energy research and education.

John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama are still in the Senate and may vote on the 2009 science budget before the campaign is complete.

The 2008 budget turned into a disaster for science, particularly for the high energy physics community… The cuts in the 2008 budget came about because Congress and the White House disagreed over how to pay for tax cuts and government services in an era of rising deficits.

In the 2009 budget the Office of Science at the Energy Department, which funds Fermilab, would receive an 18 percent increase from $3.97 billion to $4.72 billion. The National Science Foundation would receive a 14 percent increase to $6.85 billion, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology would receive a 22 percent increase to $634 million.

Last year both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama abstained from voting on the 2008 science budget. John McCain voted against it.


(5) Indian Scholars Discovered Basic Principle of Calculus 250 Years Before Newton and Leibnitz, Researchers Claim

Source: The University of Manchester (UK)

A little known school of scholars in southwest India discovered one of the founding principles of modern mathematics hundreds of years before Newton, according to new research.

Dr. George Gheverghese Joseph from The University of Manchester says the ‘Kerala School’ identified the ‘infinite series’–one of the basic components of calculus–in about 1350.

He contends that the discovery is currently–and wrongly–attributed in  books to Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibnitz at the end of the seventeenth century.

The team from the Universities of Manchester and Exeter reveal that the Kerala School also discovered what amounted to the pi series and used it to calculate pi correctly to 9, 10, and later 17 decimal places.

And there is strong circumstantial evidence that the Indians passed on their discoveries to mathematically knowledgeable Jesuit missionaries who visited India during the fifteenth century.

That knowledge, they argue, may have eventually been passed on to Newton himself.

Dr. Joseph made the revelations while trawling through obscure Indian papers for a yet to be published third edition of his book, The Crest of the Peacock: The Non-European Roots of Mathematics.

He said, “The beginnings of modern maths is usually seen as a European achievement but the discoveries in medieval India between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries have been ignored or forgotten.

“The brilliance of Newton’s work at the end of the seventeenth century stands undiminished–especially when it came to the algorithms of calculus.

“But other names from the Kerala School, notably Madhava and Nilakantha, should stand shoulder to shoulder with him as they discovered the other great component of calculus–infinite series.” (Also see