MIT, the Museum of Science and the Massachusetts Department of Education have joined WHDH-TV (Channel 7) in an unprecedented partnership to launch "Imagine That!," an 18-month science literacy public education campaign on television.
Bruce Marson, vice-president of WHDH-TV, said at a news conference last week that the importance of such an effort is clear. "This year, American students ranked at the bottom in math and science tests among industrialized countries. United States workers were the highest paid in the world in 1980. They dropped to 12th in 1990 and they are projected to be ranked 25th by the year 2000."
Mr. Marson said Channel 7 is producing documentaries, weekly science features by meteorologist Harvey Leonard, other news features and a children's Saturday morning syndicated science program, "Beakman's World." The campaign will emphasize the relationship between math and science and society's ability to compete academically, technically and socially. The first program in a three-part documentary is scheduled at 8 pm on Sunday, May 31, right after the very popular "60 Minutes" program.
The public education campaign on TV coincides with a new effort by the state to increase the state's high school graduation requirements through an education reform bill, and a new program by the state Department of Education to involve colleges and public schools in math and science programs in every school district in the state.
The Department of Education program to strengthen active learning experiences is called "Partnerships Advancing Learning in Mathematics and Science (PALMS)." Its goal is that, "All students-regardless of culture, ethnic background, gender, age or ability level-will know how to address problems relevant to their daily lives using mathematical and scientific principles and reasoning, as well as appropriate technology." MIT and the Museum of Science are also involved in the PALMS partnership.
The Department of Education is seeking $10 million in funding from the National Science Foundation for the program, which will focus initially on college and public school partnerships in Boston, Central Berkshire, Holyoke, Lowell, New Bedford and Sutton school districts.
MIT President Charles M. Vest told the news conference, "To our knowledge, this is the first time in the nation that a partnership like this has been formed around the popular medium of television. I am delighted that MIT is a partner in this project, and I salute WHDH for leading this initiative. . .
"Projects such as "Imagine That" can be immensely important tools in keeping young people interested, so they don't drop out of science and mathematics courses in high school. The kind of thinking and knowledge that they gain in such studies will keep the doors of opportunity open to them in an increasingly technical world-and will equip them, and this nation, to meet the challenges of the 21st century."
The campaign was announced at the Museum of Science at a news conference crowded with teachers and professional educators. Other speakers included Lt. Gov. Paul Celluci, WHDH-TV anchorman R.D. Sahl, Museum of Science President Dr. David Ellis, Acting Commissioner of Education Rhoda Schneider, Northeastern University Assistant Dean of Engineering David Blackman, and Boston teacher Maureen Fahey, the recipient of the Presidential Award for outstanding teaching in science and math.
MIT Professor Ronald M. Latanision, head of the MIT Council on Primary and Secondary Education, commented later that MIT will be active in the "Imagine That!" campaign. "The Council's thinking is that one of the elements missing in past educational reforms has been bringing the public into it. I'm very enthusiastic about bringing these ideas into the living rooms of America, through television," he said.
Professor Latanision said he, Dean of Engineering Joel Moses and Professor Michael Dertouzos, director of the Laboratory for Computer Science, have been conferring with WHDH producers about the development of the TV programs.
A version of this article appeared in the April 15, 1992 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 36, Number 27).