It’s been fifty years since Sesame Street started captivating students and educators alike, and ten since the show launched STEM-specific segments. With catchy songs and witty skits, it’s no surprise that children who grew up watching the show credit it as being one of their first teachers.
From simple lessons like learning the ABC’s, to more complex subjects like math and science, the team behind Sesame Street makes sure to include educators in conversations when writing scripts- helping them to ensure that the lessons taught on the show are in line with what students will see in the classroom.
To do this, show creators Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett Jr. consulted developmental psychologists at the University of Harvard from the very beginning. By hosting workshops with educators and developing scripts around those meetings, Sesame Street has been able to build curriculum that aligns with what students learn in school.
Sesame Street isn’t just learning from educators, it’s shaping their lessons in the classroom too. In an interview with Education Dive in October, Joe Blatt- a senior lecturer with the Harvard Graduate School of Education explains “The lessons that we try to learn from Sesame are about what makes for successful informal learning.”
In one of his classes at Harvard, Blatt and his students study the ways that children learn about their world in places beyond the classroom. Through understanding how their students learn outside of school, teachers can find new ways to engage their students and help them reframe more challenging or abstract concepts.
For example, Sara Sweetman, who played a large role in bringing STEM segments to the show in 2009, explained she uses clips from the show in her classes at the University of Rhode Island (URI). Sweetman claims “Sesame episodes are great for the classroom because they are often short and can be shown all at once,” she said. “We do teach teachers to pause and ask questions just like they would if they are reading a book.”
Students in Sweetman’s class are asked to watch a clip of Zoe teaching her pet rock to float. As Elmo is about to step in, future educators are encouraged to stop the video so students can brainstorm what they might do to help the rock float. Then, they can compare their solutions with the ideas Elmo and Zoe have. This exercise helps students practice problem solving and introduces the concept that all problems have more than one solution- a vital lesson in early STEM curriculum.
Children have been wondering “how to get to Sesame Street” since 1969. After seeing their impact on both education and educators, characters like Big Bird and Elmo will remain an invaluable part of education for years to come, especially as they continue to teach complex STEAM topics in a way that is entertaining for all ages.
What other shows or characters have you seen that are helping kids learn STEM/STEAM lessons?