Programs Ignite Interest in Technical Careers

No task is more important than preparing today's students to live and work in tomorrow's world.

by / April 30, 1997
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.


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.

Erik Phelps, regional manager for Community Economic Development at GTE, uses the "Digital Communication" episode of Interactions in seminars for key leaders in government and the private sector, as well as community and school groups. "People ask to take my copy of the video home with them. They say, 'I want my kids to see this,' or 'I want the people in my office to see this.' It explains the subject in a way that they can understand, and brings home the fact that minorities hold creative and responsible positions in this field."

"Teachers are being told to connect their lessons to the working world," said Steve Heard, FASE Productions' executive producer and co-writer of its programs. "But they don't necessarily know what goes on behind the scenes at Johnson Space Center, how Levi markets its jeans, or what steps an industrial designer takes to execute an idea. That's where we come in."

Like Futures, Interactions has gone beyond just being informative and entertaining. It creates measurable effects on students. In an independent study, 600 students in Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles used the series in their classrooms over a period of two weeks. Ninety-five percent reported learning something about the real-world uses of math. All of their teachers found the lessons "effective," with the great majority ranking them "very effective."


In a national survey of more than 1,000 elementary students, FASE found the great majority unaware of career possibilities beyond such stereotypes as doctor, teacher, fireman or basketball player. Few could say what work their own parents did. To broaden their horizons, FASE Productions created The Eddie Files, which looks at real-world uses of the classroom curriculum through the eyes of "Eddie," a fictional 11-year-old. Eddie, who is never seen on screen, is a student of East Harlem's renowned math teacher, Kay Toliver.

In addition to receiving the prestigious Parent's Choice Award, last month The Eddie Files was named "the most innovative and outstanding instructional telecommunications project" of 1996 by the Association for Educational Communications Technology. These awards were shared by the U.S. departments of Education and Energy and the National Endowment for Children's Educational Television, whose support helped launch the series.

"There is a tremendous need to show underserved populations role models," said Jeanette Pinkston, director of Community Outreach at Georgia Public Television. "When these students view The Eddie Files, they see professionals who look like them actually doing math and science. That's been the missing link."

Kay Toliver, the host of The Eddie Files, has achieved spectacular results by setting high standards and instilling a love of learning that helps her students meet these standards. FASE first profiled her work in its Peabody Award-winning documentary, Good Morning Miss Toliver. The program has become one of the most popular in-service resources in the country, and a regular feature at events focusing on new teaching standards.

The Westinghouse Foundation joined FASE Productions to produce new Eddie Files episodes. Westinghouse, whose 56-year-old "Science Talent Search" program counts five Nobel Prize winners among its past finalists, has a long-standing commitment to science education.


As popular as its programs are in schools, FASE has also made its mark on the home audience. Its landmark special Math ... Who Needs It?! brought Jaime Escalante together with an all-star lineup of comedians including Bill Cosby, Paula Poundstone and Paul Rodriguez, and professionals (including the late Dizzie Gillespie) in fields from music and skateboard design to robotics and roller coaster engineering.

The unprecedented combination of comedy and workplace documentary worked. "Who would believe a TV hour about math could be provocative, informative and very funny?" wrote Peggy Charren, the founder of Action's Children Television and a long-time advocate for quality children's programming. "Four Stars," said TV Guide. "Math ... Who Needs It?! adds up to one important hour of TV," said the New York Post.

Another powerful family program, Living and Working in Space: The Countdown Has Begun, will be seen on the SciFi Channel this spring. In the special, engineers, interior decorators, space suit designers and visionaries join with some of Hollywood's best known personalities -- including Kathy Bates, Billy Bob Thornton, Jeffrey Tambor and Weird Al Yankovic -- to explore not only the techno future, but the humor and drama of what day-to-day life in space might be. The broadcast, which will occur on National Space Day (May 22), is scheduled to include an appearance by Sen. John Glenn and a live broadcast from the MIR space station.

"FASE is putting a face on space exploration," said Leonard David, director of Space Data Resources and one of the most published space journalists in the country. "During the past six years, FASE has been at the forefront, capturing the excitement of space exploration through intimate looks at the people who are making it happen -- from planetary scientists, astronauts and propulsion specialists to medical doctors and space architects."


FASE programs have been translated into Spanish, French and Arabic, and have reached students in locations as far-flung as Bangkok, Belgrade, Cairo, Uganda, Pakistan, Pretoria and Fiji. FASE's Steve Heard was recently the guest of officials in Ghana to consult on that country's effort to develop a math and science television series modeled after Futures with Jaime Escalante.

FASE Productions complements its production division with an equally strong outreach division that integrates its work with government and private-sector efforts to invigorate education. In cooperation with more than 160 educational, community and professional organizations, FASE Outreach conducts activities ranging from conference presentations to the research and publication of articles on educational technology.

"FASE has made important contributions to our knowledge of the design and effectiveness of television as an educational medium," said Dr. Milton Chen, author of The Smart Parent's Guide to Kids' TV. "This body of work will be of great value to producing organizations, educational agencies, universities and others interested in educational media."

For more information contact the Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education, 4801 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 215 Los Angeles, CA 90010. Call 213/937-9911.

No task is more
important than
preparing today's
students to live
and work in

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