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Science and Math Journal for Teenagers Represents Unusual U.S.-Soviet Venture

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A magazine that represents an unusual joint educational venture by the United States and the Soviet Union was expected to be unveiled this past weekend in an august but appropriate setting: the shipboard summit between George Bush and Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

At the meeting off Malta, the Soviet leader was to receive the first copy of Quantum--the U.S. version of Kvant, a mathematics and science magazine for talented high-school students in his country.

Although education exchanges between the two superpowers have mushroomed under Mr. Gorbachev's policy of glasnost, the magazine is one of the few efforts so far likely to have a direct impact on classroom instruction.

And the new publication is thought to be the only English-language math and science journal aimed at gifted high-school students.

If it is successful, said Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, assistant director for science and engineering education at the National Science Foundation, which provided $366,000 for the project, the magazine will enhance education in both countries.

"Ideas that have stimulated bright Soviet kids," he said, "will now, in translation, be available for the stimulation of bright American kids, and in time, American ideas about science will stimulate the minds of bright Soviet kids."

"Quantum and Kvant are two sides of a coin that will enrich not only our two countries, but the whole world," Mr. Shakhashiri predicted.

The publication of Quantum is the most recent example of the increasingly close educational ties between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

Such ties have "thrived and grown" since the "opening of the floodgates" following the Geneva summit between Mr. Gorbachev and President Reagan in 1985, according to Lawrence F. Dieringer, associate director of Educators for Social Responsibility, a group in Cambridge, Mass., that develops materials for teaching about the Soviet Union. (See Education Week, March 16, 1988.)

Many of the joint efforts have resulted in student- or educator-exchange programs, but some curricular projects have also gotten under way recently.

For example, McDougal, Littell & Company, a publisher based in Evanston, Ill., has agreed to develop with a Soviet publisher a supplemental history textbook on World War II. A study conducted by teams of scholars from both countries concluded that U.S. and Soviet textbooks covered that topic inadequately.

Negotiations to launch Quantum began in 1988, when Bill G. Aldridge, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, met with officials from the Soviet Academy of Sciences to discuss a number of possible exchange programs, including an English version of Kvant.

Mr. Aldridge said U.S. science educators had long been impressed with the Soviet magazine, which has been published since the early 1970's and has a paid circulation of more than 300,000.

"They were very interested in the idea," Mr. Aldridge recalled last week. "But they were tough people to negotiate with."

Under the agreement, concluded last month, the Soviet Academy will provide translations and artwork, and the magazine's American publishers--the NSTA, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and the American Association of Physics Teachers--will have the exclusive English-language rights to the material.

In exchange, the NSTA provided the Soviets with a computer and laser printer to reduce production costs.

"This is a joint operation," Mr. Aldridge said.

Any excess revenue, he added, will be used to support other joint projects, including student and teacher exchanges.

The cooperative nature of the publication will be evident in future issues, which will contain articles by American as well as Soviet authors, noted James D. Gates, executive director of the NCTM.

"Just translating Russian materials and distributing them to American kids is not necessarily going to improve kids here," he said. "That looks like the Russians have all the answers."

In addition to fostering international cooperation, the publication will fill a curricular need for top math and science students, suggested Shirley M. Frye, president of the NCTM.

"We're attempting to motivate students already interested in math to create original problems, combine their interest in math and science, and have an opportunity to face new challenges," she said.

The magazine's 48-page first issue contains, among other features, an exercise in paper-bending as an example of the notion of "developable surfaces," an analysis of waves in a Russian painting, and a discussion of the physics involved when a light bulb burns out.

It also includes articles on math and physics history, a chess column, and some problems for students to work on.

The reception to the first two issues--the second will be published next spring--will demonstrate the demand for such material. Mr. Aldridge predicted that between 100,000 and 200,000 students ages 14 to 18 will be interested enough to pay $9.95 for the subscription price for the quarterly publication.

"We also think it will interest college students, teachers, and librarians," he added.

If Mr. Aldridge is correct, Quantum will be far more successful than other high-school-level academic journals.

The Concord Review, a highly regarded quarterly history journal written by and for high-school students, has only 500 subscribers.

And the NCTM in the 1960's produced a journal for advanced students, according to Mr. Gates, but it proved too burdensome to continue publishing.

Mr. Aldridge pointed out that a number of big companies are banking on students' interest in Quantum. Exxon Corporation has agreed to purchase thousands of copies to distribute in schools, and Omni magazine bought a full-page advertisement in the first issue.

"There is nothing in the English language like this anywhere in the world," Mr. Aldridge said. "That's why we're publishing it."

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