New PBS KIDS Series Combines Television and Technology to Make Math Accessible

Special agents Olive (Dalila Bela) and Otto (Filip Geljo) are ready to get their first assignment in the Nov. 26th series premiere of ODD SQUAD. (Photo courtesy of ODD SQUAD© 2014 The Fred Rogers Company)

Special agents Olive (Dalila Bela) and Otto (Filip Geljo) are ready to get their first assignment in the Nov. 26th series premiere of ODD SQUAD. (Photo courtesy of ODD SQUAD© 2014 The Fred Rogers Company)

As parents and educators seek to develop the next generation of mathematicians, scientists, and engineers, one question remains constant: How do we make learning math and science accessible and fun for students? On Nov. 26th, PBS stations will premier ODD SQUAD, the network’s latest contribution to informal math education. A live-action television series, the show is designed to build curiosity and interest in math among early elementary school viewers.

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Ready To Learn Series Gets the Red Carpet Treatment

Billy Aronson (second from left) and Jennifer Oxley, co-creators of “Peg + Cat,” a production of the Fred Rogers Company, share their Emmy Awards for “Outstanding Pre-School Children’s Animated Series” and “Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation for Production Design” with Ready to Learn (RTL) program manager Brian Lekander (left) and RTL program officer Adam Bookman. (Department of Education photo by Paul Woods)

Billy Aronson (second from left) and Jennifer Oxley, co-creators of “Peg + Cat,” a production of the Fred Rogers Company, share their Emmy Awards for “Outstanding Pre-School Children’s Animated Series” and “Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation for Production Design” with Ready to Learn (RTL) Program Manager Brian Lekander (left) and RTL Program Officer Adam Bookman. (Department of Education photo by Paul Wood)

Peg + Cat, the animated PBS KIDS math series launched last fall, won three Daytime Creative Arts Emmy Awards last month, including Outstanding Pre-School Children’s Animated Series. Funded in part by ED’s Ready To Learn (RTL) program, the series follows the spirited Peg and her loyal sidekick Cat, as they embark on hilarious musical adventures, learning math concepts along the way. The series provides young viewers with a new way to experience math and highlights its importance in a variety of everyday situations. Music is used as a teaching tool throughout the series and each episode features an original song.

Series co-creator and executive producer Jennifer Oxley also received the Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation for Production Design. Oxley made her first film at the age of 7 and has devoted much of her professional career to educational television and film, including direction of 15 short films for Sesame Street, as well as the award-winning adaptation of Spike Lee and Tanya Lewis Lee’s children’s book, Please, Baby, Please. Eleven-year-old Hayley Faith Negrin, the voice of Peg and the youngest nominee at this year’s Daytime Emmy Awards, received the award for Outstanding Performer in a Children’s Program.

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Ready to Learn Grantee Launches Research-Based Digital Education Resources for Preschoolers

Children pilot the “At the Beach” Pocoyo PlaySet at Kingsbridge Community Center in the Bronx, N.Y. (Photo courtesy of HITN's Early Learning Collaborative)

Children pilot the “At the Beach” Pocoyo PlaySet at Kingsbridge Community Center in the Bronx, N.Y. (Photo courtesy of HITN’s Early Learning Collaborative)

The Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network’s (HITN) Early Learning Collaborative (ELC) is piloting tablet-based “playsets” designed to provide fun and engaging learning experiences for young children as they develop English language, reading, and math skills. The playsets, which are available as apps for iPads, use a combination of activities, including interactive games and storybooks, sing-along songs, and a word machine, to help close the achievement gap between economically advantaged and disadvantaged children.

The playsets feature Pocoyo, an internationally recognized preschool character created by Zinkia Entertainment, a partner of HITN in the development of the playset applications. Research during the pilot phase will assess the educational efficacy of these digital products before their commercial release, expected in late 2013. The Michael Cohen Group (MCG) is conducting ongoing formative research during the piloting phase as well as large-scale summative studies of the playsets. The development of the Pocoyo PlaySets will be also be guided by feedback from more than 25 pilot sites in New York, Alabama, Maine, Florida, and California.

The pilot phase launch occurred on March 20, 2013, at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The HITN producers demonstrated the playsets in front of an audience of education stakeholders and media. Several audience members had an opportunity to try them out. Following the demonstration, the Early Learning Collaborative hosted a panel discussion among experts in early childhood development and digital media. The panelists included Barbara Bowman, founder of the Erikson Institute and former special advisor on early childhood education to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; Warren Buckleitner, founder/editor of Children’s Technology Review; Yolanda Garcia, director of the WestEd E3 Institute; and Roberto Rodriguez, White House special assistant for education policy.

Panelists Yolanda Garcia, Barbara Bowman, Warren Buckleitner, Robert Rodrigeuz, and moderator Ed Greene discuss early learning and digital media. (Photo courtesy of HITN's Early Learning Collaborative)

Panelists Yolanda Garcia, Barbara Bowman, Warren Buckleitner, Robert Rodrigeuz, and moderator Ed Greene discuss early learning and digital media. (Photo courtesy of HITN’s Early Learning Collaborative)

HITN’s Early Learning Collaborative is funded through a $30 million U.S. Department of Education Ready to Learn (RTL) grant from the Office of Innovation and Improvement. The RTL program encourages and supports the development and use of video and digital programming to promote early learning and school readiness for young children and their families, as well as the dissemination of educational outreach programs and materials to promote school readiness. The HITN Early Learning Collaborative is one of three recipients of the grant, awarded in 2010.

Click here to view a video that highlights the Pocoyo PlaySets.

Digital Engagement at Home Increases Early Math Skills

Digital learning games based on “Curious George” and “The Cat in the Hat” can boost preschoolers’ math knowledge and skills, making them better prepared for entry into kindergarten. That’s the finding of a new research study from WestEd that engaged low-income parents and their preschool children with online games and at-home activities from PBS KIDS. The study, along with other support for PBS KIDS, was made possible by a grant from the Office of Innovation and Improvement’s Ready to Learn Television (RTL) program. 

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Why Use Transmedia in Early Learning?

A recent evaluation report on the Ready to Learn (RTL) program reveals that young children’s learning is enhanced by educational media, particularly when it is used in combination, such as educational television supplemented by complementary media like websites, games, or even print. As a result, RTL, in its latest round of grants, is pursuing the idea of combining media even further by supporting “transmedia” strategies, a term borrowed from digital media theorist Henry Jenkins to describe narrative storytelling that uses different media platforms to advance the story and to create ever-larger fictional worlds of characters and events.

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From Sesame Street to Transmediaville: The Future of Ready to Learn

From its beginnings, the Ready to Learn (RTL) Program in the Office of Innovation and Improvement has both served America’s youngest learners and been a learner itself – of the fast-evolving world of digital communications technology that, in 1995, consisted of television and a nascent World Wide Web. 

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