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mathematics and television

mathematics and television - L Edwards and C...

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L. Edwards and C. Goff. "Mathematics and Television." Encyclopedia of Mathematics and Society, edited by S. Greenwald and J. Thomley, Salem Press, 2011. Mathematics and Television Leigh H. Edwards, Florida State University Christopher D. Goff, University of the Pacific Like many other academic disciplines, mathematics has found its way to the small screen, in the form of children’s educational programming, various puzzle challenges on reality television and other game shows, and mathematically talented (often nerdy) characters on a variety of scripted shows. This article focuses on these categories of programming and their attendant themes, rather than undertaking the Sisyphean task of listing all instances of mathematics on television. (Nevertheless, Polster and Ross have made a valiant attempt. See the References for more detail.) It is important to note that television viewership is determined though the statistically based Nielsen ratings, which networks use to calculate advertising revenue. As a result, the fate of a show is often tied to its Nielsen ratings. Mathematics not only helps structure the production dynamics of television but also appears as a key recurring theme, both shaping and reflecting how society views mathematics and mathematicians at different times. Some of these programs promote mathematics as an exciting learning area (often in children’s educational programming) or as a technical skill which can give characters power and control. Problematic stereotypes persist, especially the still-common portrayal of mathematicians predominantly as white men. The stereotype of the mathematically talented character as a “nerd” is also prevalent and suggests that popular TV representations of math reflect both respect for the technical knowledge and fear about an expertise sometimes portrayed as mystifying or as the exclusive domain of obsessive “geeks.” Children’s Educational Programming Sarah J. Greenwald, Appalachian State University Jill E. Thomley, Appalachian State University The focus in children’s educational programming that addresses mathematics is often on encouraging children to be excited about the subject area and to help them master skills and gain understanding. Most notably, the Children’s Television Workshop (CTW), founded in 1967, ultimately created or inspired much of children’s educational programming. Funded by federal and private sources, CTW designed Sesame Street to teach letter and number skills, as well as foundations of critical thinking, to preschoolers. The program revolutionized children’s programming when it premiered in 1969 and has been broadcast continually ever since. Its core
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focus is on educational content that is presented using attention-getting and retaining tactics such as fast movement, humor, puppets, and animation. The Count, for example, is a flamboyant Dracula-like character who loves to count. A popular animated segment was “Pinball Countdown” taught children to count using an elaborate pinball machine. Mathematics is also
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