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PBS To Launch Educational-Video Channel on Math

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SAN FRANCISCO--The Public Broadcasting Service is moving forward with plans to develop a mathematics service--an educational-video channel that would be aimed primarily at teachers but could also serve students and parents.

PBS officials detailed the math service here in late June at the annual meeting of public broadcasters. With informal approval given by its station managers, PBS said it would proceed with development of the service, which would not be available until 1994 at the earliest.

The mathematics project could be the first of several new educational services offered by PBS with the planned launch in late 1993 of Telstar 401, an American Telephone and Telegraph Company satellite that will greatly expand the network's telecasting capacity.

Because of technological advances, PBS will have an estimated 40 or more channels on the new satellite, said Sandra H. Welch, PBS's executive vice president for education. The proposed service could take the form of a separate math channel, similar to a cable-television channel, or it could be spread among several delivery mechanisms, she said.

"Math is one of the national goals and has gotten a lot of attention for the deficiencies it has,'' Ms. Welch said.

Mathematics was also chosen as the first potential service because of the need to educate teachers about new mathematics curriculum and evaluation standards, she said.

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics participated in May in a planning meeting for the math service with public-broadcasting officials. Representatives of the Mathematical Sciences Education Board and the National Science Foundation also participated.

Funding for the project is uncertain. Ms. Welch said start-up money could come from federal agencies, corporations, and from public-TV stations. The service's annual cost is not known.

"In looking at the projects our think tank picked, a number of those could be done on a relatively modest scale,'' Ms. Welch said.

PBS suggested five projects that might be delivered via the the mathematics service:

A national math game show--aimed at students, parents, and teachers--based on the new math standards.

A video series that would demonstrate the new math curriculum for teachers at every grade level.

National teleconferences developed by Math Connections, a coalition of nine national organizations committed to implementing the curriculum and standards.

An "electronic journal'' that would showcase math videos and computer programs developed by classroom teachers.

A "Family Math'' series designed to help parents help their children.

PBS officials plan to get more feedback from math organizations and public broadcasters and begin soliciting start-up funds by October. The service would begin on a full-time basis in the fall of 1994 at the earliest, Ms. Welch said.

The math service would be the first of several specialized channels or projects offered by PBS. "We also want to look at a literacy service and an arts service,'' Ms. Welch said.

Fending Off Criticism

The meeting of 1,200 public broadcasters here June 20-24 was dominated by the broadcasters' response to recent attacks by political conservatives over the perception of lewdness and liberal bias in the network's programming.

Broadcasters agreed that one way to fend off such attacks was to stress the educational value of public-television programming and its related educational projects.

One such effort that will begin this fall is called the Project VSAT Pilot, a test of a satellite system in which schools in 16 public-broadcasting markets will be linked to stations that have receiving dishes known as "very small aperture terminals.''

Projects Envisioned

This relatively inexpensive technology allows the schools to send and receive data and receive video images. PBS is planning a nationwide satellite VSAT network devoted to education that will be available once the Telstar 401 satellite is launched. The pilot project will begin to test applications of the technology, especially those merging computer data and public-television programming.

Among the applications for the Project VSAT pilot will be:

Election Central Forum, which will provide online access to PBS's election-programming information, teachers' guides, candidate platforms, and issues briefings. An interactive "student caucus'' portion of the project will allow pupils at separate sites to debate election issues.

"HiWavz,'' a multimedia magazine for students. Students will be assigned a "beat'' and will write articles, sending them via the VSAT network to HiWavz Central at PBS station WGBH-TV in Boston. Students at the station will compile the electronic magazine and send it back out over the VSAT network to schools.

A "media fusion'' project linking PBS and Apple Computer Inc.'s Apple Classrooms of Tommorrow division.

This project, to be piloted at two schools this fall, involves the use of "The MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour.'' Apple will take a segment from the PBS news show on a topic such as global warming, then add additional data that will help students analyze and debate the issue.

Using Apple computer equipment, students will see the video segments and have access to more detailed data to come up with their own conclusions, which they can report and send to another school over the VSAT network.

The technology is similar to projects such as ABC News Interactive, which blends video and computer data on current-events topics. Apple officials said their technology is more timely because news segments from "MacNeil/Lehrer'' can be processed and sent to schools with the additional data in a few days.

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