Square One TV
Square One TV
Keeping Track of All the Angles
When Square One TV debuted in 1987, it was with the stated goal of addressing a well-documented mathematics education crisis in American schools. Studies from the time showed that two-thirds of all high school students had taken only two years of mathematics by the end of high school, and that 75 percent of 1980 high school graduates were unqualified to take college level math courses.
Children’s Television Workshop decided to apply the educational process used so successfully in Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and 3-2-1 Contact, to getting the nation’s eight- to 12-year-olds excited about math. With funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Science Foundation, among others, the show sought to use television to enrich learning. It also aimed to show kids that math is not just a subject you learn in school, but a living, breathing part of life. As Joan Ganz Cooney, then president of Children’s Television Workshop, pointed out at the time:
“Television alone cannot improve mathematics education, but it can supplement and complement classroom instruction, and serve as a catalyst for families, school, and community groups to take action to help our children learn this basic subject matter.”
The show featured seven young actors who functioned as a repertory company, each playing a number of roles in a variety of segments. On any given day, the program’s actors portrayed characters ranging from 1950s comedians to the intergalactic visitors in a postmodern music video.
The series had three major goals:
- To promote a greater interest and enthusiasm for mathematics among the nation’s eight to 12-year-olds
- To encourage children to use mathematics to solve problems they encounter every day
- To introduce important mathematical topics
The math topics covered included numbers and counting; arithmetic; measurement; graphic representation; probability and statistics; geometry; and combinatorics.
Square One TV featured appealing and familiar television formats such as game shows, sports events, music videos, soap operas, and detective dramas. The show featured Mathnet, a weekly crime series that parodied Dragnet and featured Sergeant Kate Monday and Detective George Frankly. The pair worked the “math beat” in Los Angeles, where they solved problems through the use of math.
The show garnered a lot of celebrity appearances, most notably in the music videos, which followed an MTV style but focused on mathematical subjects. In the song Wanna Be, Bobby McFerrin sang about the importance of knowing math concepts. The Judds sang a country song called Count Each Fraction of Each Second While We’re Apart. And in Patterns, “Weird Al” Yankovic sang about patterns in society. Now that’s fun math!
“FIND UNCLE WILT!”
Pinky Dinky Doo creator Jim Jinkins worked on the show’s animated shorts.
Notable Cast Members
Reg E. Cathey
Priscilla Lopez (1992)
Number of Seasons
Number of Episodes
Season one: 75
Season two: 40
Season three: 40
Season four: 40
Season five: 35
Sesame Workshop (Children’s Television Workshop)
Target Audience Age