25 May, 2012
Volume 17 No. 21
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In This Issue

What Works: Improving Mathematical Problem Solving

Get the Math

Math of the 2012 Transit of Venus


Online PD

Orientation Sessions

Problem Based Learning Courses

Graduate Credit:
Mathematics Teaching and Learning Certificate

Master's Degree


What Works: Improving Mathematical Problem Solving


The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) recently released a practice guide for improving students' mathematical problem solving in grades 4 through 8.

Geared toward teachers, math coaches, other educators, and curriculum developers who want to improve the mathematical problem solving of students, "Improving Mathematical Problem Solving" consists of five freely downloadable PDFs — one for each recommendation.

IES rated these two recommendations as backed by the strongest evidence: "Assist students in monitoring and reflecting on the problem-solving process" and "Teach students how to use visual representations."

PoW taking place: math problem-solving moment of the week

"Erika and I had analyzed and analyzed this question over and over again until we figured out that if you draw a circle and a figure of a person on the top that is looking towards the curved Earth (draw a line), it creates a tangent. We knew that tangents touched circles at exactly one point so they would be perpendicular to the radius."
- Monique and Erica, highlighted in the Geometry PoW's Latest Solution

Get the Math


Get the Math has returned with a second trio of videos that help students understand real-world applications of basic algebra.

See National Basketball Association (NBA) veteran Elton Brand, as well as professionals in the restaurant business and the special effects industry, as they introduce six teenagers to their professional lives — and everyday algebra challenges.

Brand, a two-time NBA All-Star, poses a question about the math behind the perfect free throw shot. The owner of a Manhattan restaurant asks students to predict avocado prices for the next year, then use their predictions to recommend a menu price for guacamole. And two New York City pyrotechnicians challenge the teens to determine the best light intensity and distance for shooting a high-speed explosion.

For an overview of all six videos from this year and last year, along with accompanying lesson plans, visit


A project of THIRTEEN in association with WNET, Get the Math receives funding from Next Generation Learning Challenges and the Moody's Foundation.

Now taking place: math education conversation of the hour

"May I offer my sincere appreciation to you for the tremendous job that you have done in moderating this group for the past 7 years. I am sure many, like me, have found the discussions stimulating, invigorating and giving us alternate discussion starting points in our calculus classrooms. It was also interesting for me to note alternate methods of attacking problems — which just goes to show that teaching AP calculus and math for 24 years does not give you all the answers — but rather more opportunities to learn!"
- Trevor, posted to the ap-calculus discussion group

Math of the 2012 Transit of Venus


Next Tuesday, 5 June, Venus will pass across the face of the sun, producing a silhouette that no one alive today will likely see again.

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), "the nearly 7-hour transit begins at 6:09 pm Eastern Time on June 5th. In the USA, the transit will be at its best around sunset."

For over 100 years, the main quest of astronomers was to pin down the distance between Earth and Sun (the Astronomical Unit), which would give them a key to the size of the solar system. Careful studies of the transit of Venus became the gold mine they would harvest to reveal this measure.

Follow a live webcast, see visibility maps, find viewing event locations, download mobile apps, read about safe viewing techniques, watch instructional videos, download a folder with math activities, and much more from NASA's site.

Transits of Venus are predictable, but the pattern of the frequency seems strange. The last transit occurred only eight years ago — but the next one will not take place until 2117. To learn more about the mathematics of the frequency of this astronomical oddity, visit



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