After the release of the immensely popular film Stand and Deliver, teachers throughout the country wanted to see for themselves what the real Jaime Escalante was doing. How was it possible to get all students, even the "unteachable" ones, to excel and succeed in math and science?
To fill that vacuum, FASE Productions, the media division of the Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education (FASE), created the television series Futures with Jaime Escalante. It combined the excitement of Escalante's classroom with behind-the-scenes views of high-tech jobs, and soon became the most popular classroom series in the history of PBS.
The series won over 50 awards and was hailed by education and business leaders alike as a breakthrough. Amar Bose, acoustics pioneer and MIT professor of computer science, called it "the first effective work that addresses America's alarmingly low standards of mathematics achievement."
With Futures, FASE ushered in an entirely new approach to educational television. Celebrities such as Bill Cosby, Arnold Schwarzenneger, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Kathy Bates, Weird Al Yankovic, Billy Bob Thornton and Cindy Crawford have appeared in more than 50 FASE Productions programs, showing students that careers in the technology-based workplace of tomorrow run the gamut from protecting endangered animals to designing homes for outer space.
"FASE programs explain science and math in very real terms, and show them the people involved in these subjects in very human terms," said Garland Thompson, editorial director for Career Communications, which publishes the country's leading magazines for African American and Hispanic professionals in science and technology. "Reform efforts and our emerging math and science curriculum are vitally important -- but FASE is the only group consistently on the national stage talking to the kids in language they can understand."
CBS correspondent Ed Bradley acknowledged the Foundation's influence in 1994, as he presented FASE the broadcasting industry's highest honor -- the George Foster Peabody Award -- for the second time within three years. "With all the bad news about television, there is at least one production company regularly winning Peabody Awards for consistent excellence," he said. Since it launched its first programs in 1990, FASE Productions has received nearly 120 awards, including the Parent's Choice Award, the Action for Children's Television Award, the Robert Townsend Social Issues Award, the entertainment industry's Environmental Media Award and the Catholic Broadcasting Association's Gabriel Award.
Making subjects like engineering, optics or water conservation exciting for students is one thing. Changing student attitudes is another. Independent studies of classroom use of Futures have shown that it has a positive, long-lasting effect on student attitudes. African-American students' interest in a career in engineering went from 29 percent to 58 percent, while Hispanic students' interest in a career in architecture went from 28 percent to 65 percent, after they viewed episodes on these fields over the course of a semester.
This is welcome news for students and teachers alike, an indication that national goals to prepare all students for the technological workplace are attainable. "If students are grouped according to the expectation that some can learn challenging math and science and others cannot, then those expectations are likely to be fulfilled," said National Science Foundation's Director Dr. Neal Lane in announcing the results of a recent international study of student achievement in mathematics and science achievement. "All students can rise to the challenge." Through its mathematics and science reform initiatives, NSF has been a key partner in helping FASE develop and distribute its programs.
VIDEO FIELD TRIPS
To bring students a job-site view of the ways professionals solve problems in engineering, design, science, the arts and other fields, FASE Productions created the award-winning series Interactions . One of the first "video field trips," Interactions takes students on-site to meet men and women who explore the ocean, market blue jeans, plan trips to distant planets and protect the environment.