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‘Square One TV’ Study Shows Gains in Math Skills

March 14, 1990 2 min read

Fifth-grade students who watched the television mathematics show “Square One TV” did significantly better on a test of problem-solving than did members of a control group who did not watch the show, according to a new study by the show’s producers.

Square One TV is a show for 8- to 12-year-olds that airs weekdays on the Public Broadcasting Service. The show uses such formats as music videos, game shows, comedy skits, and animated sequences.

Among its features, for example, is an ongoing spoof of the old “Dragnet” series, called “Mathnet,” in which two calculator-toting detectives solve crimes using math.

The three broad goals of the show are to promote enthusiasm for the subject, help develop viewers’ problem-solving skills, and present sound math content in a lively and accessible manner.

The study of 5th graders in Corpus Christi, Tex., was conducted by staff researchers at the Children’s Television Workshop, the producer of the show.

The 48 students were pre-tested on their problem-solving abilities. Then, one group watched 30 episodes of Square One TV over six weeks, while the other group did not. The show was not available on the local public-television station at the time of the survey.

All the students were then tested on a variety of problem-solving activi8ties, and given two scores--one for the number and variety of problem-solving actions they used, and one for the mathematical completeness and sophistication of the solutions they reached. Interviewers did not know whether a student was in the viewing group or the control group.

Background Not a Factor

“Essentially what we found was that the children who viewed the series were using more and a greater variety of problem-solving techniques than children who did not watch,” said Eve Hall, director of research for the program at the ctw

Children who watched the show were more successful in looking for patterns, re-approaching the problems, transforming a problem by using parts rather than the whole, and working backwards, she said.

The study also found that the children’s problem-solving ability improved regardless of their socioeconomic background, gender, or race.

Stephen S. Willoughby, professor of mathematics at the University of Arizona and a former president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, said the research was important because it measured the show’s impact on problem-solving, unlike many standardized tests’ measurements of students’ math ability.

“The show is particularly good because it does aim at higher-order skills,” said Mr. Willoughby, who is an adviser to Square One TV.--mw

A version of this article appeared in the March 14, 1990 edition of Education Week as ‘Square One TV’ Study Shows Gains in Math Skills