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Friday, February 06, 2015

Celebrating Square One Television!

I am of the camp who believes that learning should be a fun experience.

I know that back when I was in school, the common method of "teaching" (and believe me, I use that term loosely) was having the teacher read out a lesson plan from a ledger, us opening up textbooks related to said lesson plan, and doing mindless exercises in our notebooks until the recess bell freed us from all of the monotony.

(This was one of the reasons why university ended up not being for me.  I learn best by doing things and having fun doing it.  Not by sitting in a lecture hall listening to some eighty-seven year old man spew regurgitated stale information that is only 20% relevant to the topic of study.)

That's why when I was a young kid, I immediately got home and switched on PBS or TVOntario.  Television stations like those two made learning about things so much fun!

Admit it.  Wasn't science much more fun when you learned about it from Bill Nye The Science Guy?  Or perhaps you watched Beakman's World instead?  Either way, both shows were perfect for learning about how our world worked.

If you were looking for ways to improve your word score, figure out punctuation and spelling, or simply to have fun reading, then "Ghostwriter" was the show for you.  Well, at least it was for kids of my generation.  Plus you had fun solving mysteries as well!  But, I suppose if you're older than I am, "The Electric Company" was also another fine choice.  Heck, even "Readalong" was a great choice considering that the star of the show was an old boot!

But one subject that I absolutely struggled in was mathematics.

I have never been great with numbers which is exactly why I never pursued a career in accounting, bookkeeping, or even one of those people that pulls the lottery numbers out of the drum every Saturday night.  I always struggled with long division, multiplying three-digit numbers together, and telling the difference between a parallelogram and

And yet during elementary school, my grades in math were quite good.  Was it just blind luck?  A few good guesses? 

Well, to tell you the truth, I had a lot of help from one show that I used to watch when I was in grade school.  A show that helped myself and other kids my age get through math homework every afternoon at 5:30.

That show was Square One Television.

Now, to put things into perspective, I was only five years old when the show debuted on most PBS stations on January 26, 1987.  I didn't even know what half of the stuff that the actors in the show were even talking about.  But for some reason, I found myself glued to the tube every time it came on.

I guess if I could describe Square One Television in a sentence, it would be something like this.  It was like MTV with numbers.  And by numbers, I don't mean the chart positions on Total Request Live.

Seriously, the whole show was flashy, bright, colourful, and had a ton of music videos, television show spoofs, game shows, and celebrity guests.  Kind of sounds like early MTV to me.

Square One Television ran for five seasons, the final episode airing in November 1992.  The show ran for an additional two years in reruns well into 1994.  And even though I was only five when the show began, our PBS affiliate would rerun some of the older episodes, so over time I did get to see every single episode.  The show initially had seven cast members who would act out the skits and perform some of the songs in the show; Arthur Howard, Beverly Mickens, Cris Franco, Cynthia Darlow, Larry Cedar, Luisa Leschin, and Reg. E. Cathey.  An eighth cast member, Priscilla Barnes, joined the show in 1992.

So, what were some of the stuff that Square One Television performed to help mathematically challenged children (such as myself once upon a time) learn about math?

Well, I said that Square One Television was one of those shows that felt like you were watching MTV with numbers?  Well, this much is true.  In fact, here are three music videos from the show itself that have to deal with various math techniques by the cast themselves.

Oh, and did I mention that there were videos done by celebrity guests as well?  I found examples from Weird Al Yankovic and The Jets, which you can hear by clicking on the links in this sentence.

(Well, okay...the Jets WERE somewhat successful in the 1980s.)

Also, Square One really made the most of playing game shows on the show.  Some of them were spoofs, but some involved actual children who played for prizes.  Have a look at "Piece of the Pie" and "Triple Play".  They're quite well done, in my opinion.

You also learned about math through a couple of video game spoofs as well.  Have a look at the Pac-Man inspired sketch known as "Mathman".

Or, QBert inspired "Pauline's Perilous Pyramid".

And, remember how I said that there were some television spoofs included within Square One Television?  I saved one of the most well known ones for last.

You see, every episode would end with the continuing saga of the detectives from "Mathnet", a police force designed to stop mathematical crime waves from happening all over Los Angeles, and later New York City.

In case you haven't guessed yet, "Mathnet" is a spoof of the police crime drama "Dragnet".

Beverly Leech and Joe Howard play the roles of Kate Monday and George Frankly, and they would solve crimes by using mathematical techniques including probability, statistics, and even the Fibonacci Sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, Eureka!)

Ahem...sorry.  Had a Mathnet flashback there.

The show within a show ran during the whole series run, but Kate Monday was written off the show in 1990 to be replaced by Pat Tuesday, played by Toni DiBuono.  I liked both actresses, but some remain divided over who they liked best.

But if you click HERE, you can watch one of the Mathnet mysteries starring Kate Monday.

And clicking HERE will get you a Pat Tuesday mystery.

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