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Monday, September 26, 2011

Seseme Street gets an upgrade

From the USAtoday

by Greg Toppo

In a bid to give young viewers a leg up in math and science, the producers of Sesame Street this fall want to help the very young think like scientists. It's a response to international rankings that show U.S. kids slipping when it comes to basic math and science knowledge.

Research compiled by Georgetown University's Early Learning Project found that Sesame Street helps kids' school-readiness, and that much of the academic advantage lasts into high school.

In the show's 42nd season, which debuts today, so-called STEM skills — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — are front-and-center. Characters build bridges, launch rockets and think through problems that require trial and error, observation and data.

Young children are "natural scientists," says Rosemarie Truglio, vice president for education and research at Sesame Workshop, which produces the show. "They're exploring the world around them and trying to figure out how the world works." The new season, she says, will add "an extra layer of skills and language."

From its beginnings in the late 1960s, Sesame Street has been built each season around a few basic ideas — ecology, food and nutrition, and so forth. "The reason why we're here 42 years later is because we're constantly evolving," Truglio says.

Accounts of U.S. students' slipping math and science rankings have been causing a stir for much of the past decade. In the latest rankings, U.S. 15-year-olds, on average, were just that: average. Among 65 industrialized nations, they placed 23rd in science and 30th in math in the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment.

In another international assessment, U.S. fourth-graders did a bit better but just barely cracked the top 10 among 35 participating nations.

When Sesame Street's creative team sat down to plan the new season, the troubling math and science findings were on their minds.

Truglio remembers thinking, "We need to get this content in front of preschool children."

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