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TV program with a Queen's connection makes math fun for young children

By Anita Jansman

Lynda Colgan

Lynda Colgan is looking forward to September, not only because a new school year is starting at the Faculty of Education, but also because TV Ontario (TVO) is launching the second season of Prime Radicals. Dr. Colgan has been involved with this award-winning television program, which brings mathematics to the level of kindergarten-aged children.

The idea for Prime Radicals stemmed from a column Dr. Colgan was writing for the Kingston Whig Standard about using mathematics in the real world. A TVO producer took notice of her columns and suddenly Dr. Colgan was in discussions for a TV show.

“Before I knew what happened, we were working on funding proposals. We developed 26 episodes in a short time and the program first aired in 2011,” says Dr. Colgan

Since its launch, Prime Radicals has received numerous awards including three gold Prestige Film Awards, two Hermes Creative Awards, and a gold International Pixie award. The program has been sold to Al Jazeera and also airs in Singapore and Korea.

Needless to say, Dr. Colgan is thrilled with the success of Prime Radicals. As an educator in mathematics, she is passionate about teaching the subject that is often seen as the “bad guy” of school curriculum.

“Prime Radicals is a wonderful way to bring math to young children in a way that is accessible and fun. Math surrounds us on a daily basis, even if you don’t recognize it and the TV show demonstrates that in an energetic and entertaining way,” says Dr. Colgan.

Dr. Colgan’s teaching experience spans 35 years. Her career began as a teacher at Sir Oliver Mowat Collegiate Institute in Scarborough, where she was inspired to pursue professional opportunities that led to her becoming an Associate Professor at Queen’s.

She received her first teaching award, the Marshal McLuhan Distinguished Teacher Award, in recognition of the “Learning Partner Initiative” in which elementary school children attended professional development sessions with their classroom teacher to learn about innovative uses of technology in mathematics.

Dr. Colgan’s witness to children’s natural passion for learning gave rise to her teaching philosophy – through the eyes of a child – which has shaped all of her professional endeavours including research, writing and community service.

One of those professional endeavours is her role as coordinator of the Community Outreach Centre, a program supported by the Faculty’s Math, Science and Technology Education Group (MSTE), which brings together community agencies, educators, artists, musicians, representatives from Queen’s and St. Lawrence College to develop resources for children who are considered “at risk” in the learning of science and mathematics. The initiative is funded by the Imperial Oil Foundation.

While Prime Radicals may seem like exciting departure from her more traditional form of teaching, Dr. Colgan sees it as a natural extension of what she’s been doing throughout her career. Her involvement with all facets of the show including concept development, research, script writing, on-set consultation and post-production approval, enables her to the interact with the young actors, musicians, producers and writers. She loves every aspect of the show and feels enormously grateful to teach math in this way.

“I never take for granted the opportunity I’ve been given with this program,” she says.

Before the second season of Prime Radicals has even begun, it has already won the Accolade Award of Excellence in the Children/Family Series and the Accolade Award of Merit for special effects and animation. The Accolade Awards recognize achievement in craft and creativity for film, television, videography and new media.

Tune into TVO on Thursday, September 5 at 6:30 pm, to watch the first episode of the second season of Prime Radicals.