Triumph of math media Education: In the effort to make arithmetic more accessible to children, a popular cable TV show provides a welcome addition.

November 15, 1996|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

You know you're onto something when children throughout Baltimore County are fixated on two-digit multiplication on a Wednesday afternoon at 4: 30, when "Rocko's Modern Life" and "Hangin' with Mr. Cooper" are just a few channels away.

"Math Homework Helpers," the call-in cable television hit with professional teachers, a puppet host, cartoons and prizes, succumbed to the pressure of jammed phone lines and expanded from 30 minutes to an hour this fall.

"When you have kids and live television, you never know what you're going to get," producer Paul Walsh said.

New features on the show, which started last year on the Education Channel, include a cartoon superhero named "SuperThink," who has a big pink brain for a head and flies across the screen, and who is visible only to children and puppets, not adults.

Also new this fall is a wisecracking wolf named Cal Q. Late, who wears a red bandanna, howls at the sound of a correct answer and alternates in the job of puppet-host every other week with a funny monkey named Adam Up.

But perhaps the biggest kick this year is the taped segment that puts children, not just their voices, on live television. The eight-minute piece features a different teacher and child each week, acting out lessons, such as the finances of a shopping trip or how to plot birthdays on a graph.

That's what put fourth-grader Kashimah Watson from Middlesex Elementary and her teacher, Beatrice Doose, under the lights Tuesday night for a segment about two-digit step multiplication, which aired Wednesday.

In preparation for the big day, the 9-year-old A-student stayed home from school Tuesday.

"I was going on TV," she explained. "I had to get on my clothes, you know, clean up."

On the set with her neat braids and big purple bow, jeans and stylish long white blouse, Kashimah helped her teacher demonstrate two ways to multiply 12 times 13, first placing 13 beans into each of 12 compartments in a tray, and then on paper.

Teachers chosen by school system officials to be host of a segment pick their student co-stars. Doose said she chose Kashimah because she's intelligent but humble, always giving up her time to help classmates.

Kashimah, though thrilled to be picked, confessed before the program that until last week she'd "never heard about this show." On Wednesday afternoons, "I'm watching 'Rocko's Modern Life' on Channel 28," she said, as producer Walsh winced.

After news reports about the show in March, school officials in at least four states asked about replicating the idea, Walsh said.

PTC While interactive education television is a nationwide trend, shows that offer homework help are "fairly unusual," said Torie Clarke, spokeswoman for the National Cable Television Association. Baltimore County got the idea from a Prince George's County homework show featuring a more traditional format.

Now, even with the extra half hour, the lines to 494-1459 still are jammed. An average of 22 calls is taken during each program, and countless others never get through.

Private-school children are calling, too. So are students from Baltimore -- though no one can figure out how they're watching the county cable channel.

Pub Date: 11/15/96

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