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PBS Launches Service To Boost Math Teaching

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WASHINGTON--The Public Broadcasting Service last week unveiled a new telecommunications service designed to keep mathematics teachers up to date in their field and spark interest in the subject among young people.

The service, called Mathline, will integrate technologies such as satellites, computers, telephone lines, videos, and broadcasting to create an interactive system that will allow video, voice, and data transmission of information dedicated to new ways of teaching and learning math.

"Mathline is public television's response to the national educational goal of becoming first in the world in math by 2000,'' Sandra H. Welch, PBS's executive vice president for education, said at a news conference held here to announce the service.

The A.T.&T. Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American Telephone & Telegraph Company, has provided a $1.2 million grant for the first Mathline project--a program of in-service training for middle school teachers on the mathematics standards developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

'Very Concrete'

"We appreciate that PBS is taking the leadership to reach every teacher across the nation,'' Mary M. Lindquist, the president of the N.C.T.M., said of the project.

The first Mathline project will be piloted next spring, then launched in the fall of 1994, with the potential of reaching 25 percent of all middle school math teachers in the first year, project officials said.

WNET, a public-television station in New York City, will produce a series of videos demonstrating teaching methods tied to the mathematics standards.

"This is a very concrete project meant to put resources into the hands of teachers,'' said Ruth Ann Byrnes, a producer with WNET.

"It is almost an electronic teachers' lounge,'' she said.

New Technologies

The novel characteristic of the mathematics service will be the way it takes advantage of new technologies, PBS officials said.

Later this year, PBS will greatly enhance its information and telecasting capacity with the scheduled launch of A.T.&T.'s Telstar 401 satellite. Mathline will be one of several services PBS has in the works for this expanded satellite capacity, according to public-broadcasting officials.

The math service will also use a technology known as very small aperture terminal, or VSAT, in which public-television stations are linked by small two-way satellite terminals that can relay video, voice, and such data as teachers' guides. Many schools will be linked to their local public-television stations by phone lines to take advantage of the VSAT technology.

PBS officials said they hope to expand Mathline in the future. They envision including in the service electronic "learning communities'' linking teachers and classrooms by teleconferencing and on-line computer networks; access to data bases; professional-development seminars; math games and competitions; and instructional programming.

PBS will also bring its traditional over-the-air broadcasting of mathematics shows and specials under the Mathline umbrella.

Public-broadcasting officials said the expansion of Mathline will require additional corporate donations and perhaps government grants. It is not clear how much the first phase of the project will cost, because PBS officials are not certain how many teachers they will try to reach.

'Ready To Learn' Service

The mathematics service was first proposed by Ms. Welch of PBS last year at a meeting of public broadcasters. At the time, she said PBS might also one day look at developing similar services aimed at literacy or the arts. (See Education Week, Aug. 5, 1992.)

Meanwhile, PBS is already developing a "ready to learn'' service that will provide educational programs and support services for young children, families, and child-care providers. A pilot of that service, involving 10 to 15 public-television stations, is expected to be launched next January.

The Mathline service was announced last week during a three-day exhibition of public broadcasting's educational technology organized for members of Congress and their staffs.

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