Lab News

  • PBS Stations Celebrate the 100th Day of School in their Communities, Peg + Cat Style

    January 31, 2014

    PBS Stations Celebrate the 100th Day of School in their Communities, Peg + Cat Style
    By Chloe Gould

    It’s the time of the school year celebrated with 1-double-0 glasses and long-winded counts to the big 1-0-0, a celebration that equals the excitement of New Year’s Eve for young kids. The 100th Day of School, celebrated between January and February (depending on the school district’s start date), is a big day for kids in pre-K and elementary classrooms, and PBS Kids is helping 45 local stations and their community partners celebrate in Peg + Cat style.

    WSIU 5Peg +Cat has perfected the art of counting to 100, hitting the big number with a brood of yellow chicks in outer space and some scrumptious pizza pies,  just to name two examples! So, for this year’s celebration, PBS Kids and Ready To Learn packaged a few of our favorite Peg + Cat resources for PBS stations across the country to share in celebrations at nearly 100 schools, Head Starts and libraries.

    The PBS stations – from WTJX in the Virgin Islands to PBS SoCaL in Costa Mesa, CA and WCNY in Syracuse, NY – each received three Kindle Fire tablets and three Peg + Cat hopscotch-printed reading rugs at the beginning of January.  The Kindle Fires were loaded with the new Android tablet-compatible Peg + Cat Big Gig app.   With the app, children (or adults, because it’s that good) can tap out a few tunes while following patterns and counting by twos.

    Each station put its own spin on the 100th Day celebrations. While some chose to host a station-sponsored event in the community, complete with characters and crafts, others worked the resources into activities local schools already had planned.

    WGBY in Springfield, Mass. included the resources in a math-focused family fun night at a community school for over 600 students. Ohio station WOSU  is working with 700 students in Columbus Public Schools for a celebration in mid-February.

    WSIUIn Southern Illinois, WSIU chose to work with two schools in Herrin, Ill. On Jan. 26, the station teamed up with Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School to launch Catholic Schools Week.  Along with the Peg + Cat 100th Day of School activities, which included a visit from Super Why and the station’s literacy van,  there was a community blood drive and a Scholastic Book Fair.  A Peg + Cat reading rug led the way into the “Feria del Libro,” or book fair, and kids glued strands of orange yarn, and a long purple tail, onto Peg and Cat popsicle stick puppets.

    WSIU partnered with Ready To Learn’s Mobile Learning Program, as did many of the 100th Day of School stations, to send free gift codes home with parents so they could download several apps to their personal devices for free. The Mobile Learning Program offers eight free apps for iPad, two for iPhone and two for Android tablets, including the Kindle Fire.

    The same week, WSIU visited North Side Primary Center, a much larger public school in Herrin, to host another 100th Day celebration before closing out Catholic School Week at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel with a Peg + Cat-themed Grandparents Day.

    If your local PBS station, or your child’s school isn’t hosting a big 100th Day event, we still have you covered.  All of our 100th Day resources are available here, and the PBS Kids, PBS Parents and PBS Kids Lab sites are full of other Peg + Cat activities that fit right in with the festivities, like the Big Jig flipbook, the Pirates + Peaches board game, or the Chicken Coop activity page.

    Chloe Gould is a recent graduate of the University of South Carolina’s School of Journalism, and is working as an intern for the Ready To Learn Program at PBS.

  • Nashville Station and Local Promise Neighborhood Work Together to Help Close Digital Divide

    January 10, 2014

    Nashville Station and Local Promise Neighborhood
    Work Together to Help Close Digital Divide

    In Nashville, public television has partnered with a local Promise Neighborhood, a project dedicated to revamping the community through education, access to technology, financial literacy and basic healthcare. Nashville Public Television (NPT) is one of three local PBS stations that are laying the groundwork for an ongoing partnership with the nation’s promise neighborhoods, which are funded by the U.S. Department of Education.


    The Nashville Promise Neighborhood serves an area of the city that clearly faces the greatest need. It is separated by the Cumberland River from the bulk of downtown Nashville and includes the oldest and largest public housing development in the city.  The area houses close to 10,000 people, 31 percent of which are children under the age of 18. Only 50 percent of the families have access to the Internet or a computer. In an effort to increase that number, the Martha O’Bryan Center—a key partner in the Promise Neighborhood—installed television portals with broadband access in 150 homes. The portal, along with a wireless keyboard, turned the family television into a computer.


    “What they were doing fed into what we were doing when it came to trying to bridge the digital divide,” said JoAnn Scalf, the director of education at NPT.


    NPT was able to provide the digital content for the families, from online games on PBS Kids and PBS Kids Lab to Ready To Learn apps downloaded with gift codes made available through the Mobile Learning Program. The station also provided parent workshops, back-to-school events and a kindergarten kick-off.


    During one of NPT’s workshops, parents learned computer and Internet basics  while their children were occupied playing with educational apps on the iPad.  The skills learned by the parents will help them enormously in their everyday lives, including looking for jobs (99% of all U.S. jobs only accept online applications)


    “This unique portal of information that was designed by and with our community would not have been successful if we had no opportunity to tell our families and show our parents and our students what’s available to them,” said Robin Veenstra-VanderWeele, Promise Neighborhood director at Martha O’Bryan Center.


    The Martha O’Bryan Center, in Cayce Place of East Nashville, each year works with 6,000 children and adults living in poverty to supplement education, secure meaningful employment and create an outlet for fellowship. NPT, with Ready To Learn funding, bought iPads for the Center’s three pre-K classrooms (serving around 100 students) and the on-site library.


    “Students and parents are fantastically excited about the content,” said Veenstra-VanderWeele.
    NPT also worked with Metro Nashville Public Schools to bring three or four iPads into every one of the district’s 32 pre-K classrooms. Gift codes for free Ready To Learn apps, like Martha Speaks: Story Builder and All Aboard the Dinosaur Train: Camera Catch, were also distributed to these classrooms.


    “They were very excited and the children just took to it very well. I think there were a lot of benefits there,” said Scalf. “The teachers and the care providers, before and after school, integrated the content into their programs and they felt like it had an impact on the achievement of the students.”


    In its partnership, NPT was able to expand the mission of the Promise Neighborhood—which had been planned around kindergarten through eighth-grade education—to include early childhood education with the PBS Kids and Ready To Learn resources.


    “It allowed us to dramatically expand and re-envision our project to include cohorts of families whose primary reason for joining the project was early education,” said Veenstra-VanderWeele.


    It’s an impact that has been witnessed by NPT, the staff at Martha O’Bryan Center,  the teachers in Metro Nashville Public Schools and the parents of these children—Pre-K through eighth grade.


    A mother from Somalia, who has six children—two in high school,  two in middle school,  one in grade school and one in Pre-K—left  a voicemail for Veenstra-VanderWeele that summed up the impact, and the success, of a start to a close of the digital divide in this East Nashville community.


    “Miss Robin, I need you to know that in one weekend that we’ve had the opportunity to use this equipment (the television portal and PBS content), my children and I have learned more English and more about how to read than we have in the entire six years that we’ve lived in the United States,” said the mother.

  • Tacoma Station Partners with Housing Authority to Bring Spring Break Camp to Homeless Students

    November 18, 2013

    Tacoma Station Partners with Housing Authority to Bring Spring Break Camp to Homeless Students
    By Chloe Gould

    The children beam at the mention of KBTC’s Spring Break camp, their smiles turning to muffled giggles and excited explanations – they have built water-bottle rockets, drawn treasure maps and crafted roller coasters from foam tubes.

    They are all students at McCarver Elementary School in Tacoma, WA, and they have been saddled with a big set of challenges: homelessness, neighborhood crime rates that are more than double the national average, and an underfunded school.

    At McCarver, 91.6 percent of the children qualify for free or reduced lunches (to qualify, a family of four must earn less than $29,000 a year), and there is a 115 percent mobility rate. This is the percentage of students changing schools for reasons other than grade promotion, primarily, homelessness. The national average is around 14 percent.

    KBTC, the local PBS station in Tacoma, started working with the Tacoma Housing Authority three years ago to give these children and their families a chance – a safe space and a supplemental education. One of their greatest and most-popular programs thus far has been the annual Spring Break camp, where kids rotate through three daily activities: literacy, math, and computer time.

    The children – who have grown in attendance from around 20 the first year to over 50 the second – participate in math activities based on The Electric Company Extended Learning Program, write and perform a play with the help of a local theater, and explore the self-directed Ready To Learn computer games on the Lab website.

    The station has rooted itself in the community, hinging its programs on open ears and willingness to compromise.

    “We never wanted to be perceived as coming into the community saying, ‘We know what’s good for you all,’” said Ed Ulman, the director of development at KBTC. “Collaboration was the chief goal. Our outcomes were always focused on ensuring all partners were contributing in a substantive way.”

    One of station’s greatest efforts has been its partnership with the housing authority and McCarver Elementary.

    Before KBTC partnered with the project, the housing authority received a large grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to provide 50 families at McCarver Elementary with five-year housing vouchers. Ulman attended one of the original meetings about the Tacoma Housing Authority project, and knew it was an outlet for Ready To Learn outreach. It started with a lot of listening, he said, and identifying the needs among the existing partnerships.

    The housing authority was dealing with much larger issues, Ulman said, like ending homelessness in the school’s population and all of the hoops it takes to make that a more reachable reality. KBTC was able to offer supplemental, after-school programs like the Spring Break camp, parent training workshops, and the Ready To Learn mobile technology lab at existing tutoring programs hosted by the area’s Peace Community Center.

    The Spring Break camp, however, has been a family favorite in the community. It is five days of activity – complex crafts that turn classrooms into theme parks and time with community volunteers that act as mentors for small groups of the same children throughout the week.

    “Even though I’m a fifth grader, I might not know all the words in the world,” said camper Dollar Ganu in a video interview with KBTC.

    She credits Martha Speaks for introducing her to that handful of undiscovered entries in the dictionary.

    In its second year, KBTC transformed the camp into something more similar to the school week, with as little transition for the families as possible. The camp was extended to five full days (as opposed to the first year’s half days), with a served breakfast and lunch, and transportation to and from McCarver – housing authority caseworks did so much as to drive vans to pick-up some children for the week.

    “You’re dealing with families. You’re not dealing with a kindergartener. Your program needs to make accommodations with the parents, and encourage an on-going conversation,” said Ulman.

    Emilio Torrella, a McCarver parent with five children (3 at McCarver, and one enrolled in the housing authority’s McCarver project), went to drop his children off at the Spring Break camp the first day and ended up staying the whole week. He loved the structure of the camp, which rotated between The Electric Company math activities, play writing and rehearsal, little gym and dance time, and Ready To Learn Lab computer games.

    “It was things the kids connected with – I got to go from station to station with kids and help them out, and watch them learn and enjoy. That just really lit me up,” Torrella said in a video interview with KBTC.

    “As a parent, it’s given me the safety and assurance to know that I have somebody in my corner,” he continued.

    In its all-inclusive, family-centered approach, the station also found a way to engage some of the children’s older siblings in the weeklong camp. The third, fourth and fifth-graders reported on the activities of the week for a mini newspaper that they published with the help of one of the camp’s volunteers.

    The extra dose of Spring Break attention has also helped a few of the children with some behavioral issues. Ulman and Ann Dyer, the station’s community engagement specialist, said the extra, more personalized attention that comes from the group of camp volunteers creates a safe, nurturing environment for kids with behavioral issues. The challenge is maintaining the progress past the last day of camp, they said.

    “Since I get in trouble all the time, I turned my behavior around so I could be a terrific kid,” said 7-year-old David McMullen as he sipped a Sierra Mist in a KBTC video interview.

    “This has given me a boot up. It’s really helping me out,” said David’s dad, DJ McMullen.

    Although KBTC cycled through its Ready To Learn funding in September, the station plans on maintaining all of the community programs with help from its community partners. Peace Community Center just received a 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant, and they might take the lead on this year’s Spring Break camp, Ulman said.

    The partnerships the station has forged are what will keep it all going for the good of the students at McCarver and their families.

    Chloe Gould is a recent graduate of the University of South Carolina’s School of Journalism, and is working as an intern for the Ready To Learn Program at PBS.

  • Using Picture Books to Reinforce Math Concepts

    September 09, 2013

    Using Picture Books to Reinforce Math Concepts
    By Monica Olivera

    Monica OliveraIn recent years, a mini-explosion of math-themed picture books has hit the children’s section in bookstores. More and more educators are taking advantage of these engaging books to help reinforce the math concepts that they are teaching in class, and parents can use them, too.

    Counting books are especially valuable tools for helping toddlers and preschoolers learn basic math skills. We’re fortunate that there are so many counting books in a variety of themes now available for parents to choose from. As you read these books with your child, take the time to point to each object as you slowly count, and encourage your child to count with you.  123 Si!: An Artistic Counting Book in English and Spanish by the San Antonio Museum of Art is a clever book that not only teaches children to count, but also introduces works of art from around the world. From Egyptian statues to Mexican wooden masks to Korean ink drawings, your child will learn their numbers and get an art history lesson, too!

    Learning shapes is one of the basic concepts your preschooler needs to learn before entering kindergarten. When you read shape books, ask your child to point to the different shapes on the page, and then have them find similar shapes around your house to strengthen their abilities to identify circles, squares, rectangles, triangles and the like. With the interactive board book, My Very First Book of Shapes / Mi primer libro de figuras: Bilingual Edition by Eric Carle, your child gets to match the image on the bottom of the page with the correct shape on the top and are rewarded with fun pictures like ladybugs and kites.

    Teaching your child about symmetry can seem quite daunting unless you have some visual aids to help you explain the concept. That’s why I love Lorren Leedy’s Seeing Symmetry, which helps children understand what it is and how to find lines of symmetry in the world around them. Your child will be challenged to find center points, as well as vertical and horizontal lines of symmetry. When you read this book with your child, keep an index card or small piece of paper nearby so you can cover half the image to better explain the concept.

    After your children have mastered counting from one to ten, it’s time to challenge them to learn how to count to 20, 30, and up to 100. Once they’ve done this, they can even begin skip counting. Curious George Learns to Count from 1 to 100 by H. A. Rey is a fun to help your child learn these bigger numbers with the help of one of their favorite PBS KIDS characters. And you can continue the learning after you finish reading, by letting your child play the online Curious George math games found in the PBS KIDS Lab.

    Of course few children can resist the chance to become a detective and discover the answers to clues and riddles. So if you have a tiny Sherlock Holmes in your family, consider Bedtime Math by Laura Overdeck. Written for children ages 3 and up, this book poses riddles and mysteries for your child to solve. The best part is that this book grows with your child as each story poses three math challenges: one for “wee ones,” another for “little kids,” and a final one for “big kids.” This book is definitely a must-have for all family home libraries.

    Older children starting kindergarten and first grade are ready to develop their addition and subtraction skills. The Chicken Problem by Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson is a really fun book based on the new PBS KIDS show, Peg + Cat premiering Monday, October 7, 2013. In the book, Peg and Cat are enjoying a picnic on the farm with their friend, Pig. When they discover someone has left the door open to the chicken coop and 100 little chicks have escaped, it is up to Peg and her friends to use their math-solving skills to find a solution and make sure they round up all the little chicks. Your child will love seeing all the different ways that Peg and Cat use math throughout the book. 

  • How to Help our Daughters Succeed in Math

    August 19, 2013

    How to Help our Daughters Succeed in Math
    by Maria Lando, TheMathMom.com

    Maria Lando

    Of course girls can do math, enjoy math and excel at math just as much, if not more than boys.

    But many of us grew up in a society that did not think that way.  As girls, we received little support or encouragement when it comes to math – from family, teachers or mass media.

    Luckily, times have changed. Hundreds of scientific studies in the US and around the world have concluded that, everything else being equal, girls perform as well as boys in math – and sometimes even better. One of the latest comprehensive studies conducted across 65 countries found that “mathematic performance of students largely reflects the academic standards and expectations of the community in which they are raised. Specifically, home environment is a primary determinant for success of children in school.”

    So if the key to girls’ success in math comes down to our home enviroments, our communities and our expectations, let's see what we can do to help our daughters succeed in math.

    1.    Raise your and your child’s excitement. Just like reading, math is all around us.  When we encourage our children to read, we point out letters and words; we share stories and books; we demonstrate that reading is important, necessary and fun. Treat math similarly.  Demonstrate that numbers are everywhere: talk about how many groceries you’re buying; compare shapes, sizes and volumes; highlight patterns; count out money at the register; describe measurements while you are cooking.  Stimulate your own excitement and the kids will absorb it. You don't have to be a pro and know all the answers, but you have to be excited! For additional reinforcement, science museums and children’s museums usually have plenty of math-related toys and special math or engineering programs for kids. There are also quite a few shows on TV that bring math to life. A new preschool math series, PEG + CAT, premieres on PBS KIDS Monday, October 7 – its star is a spirited young girl who saves the day through math, with help from her friends.

    2.    Offer a math-sports analogy.  In sports or ballet, one has to practice the same motion hundreds of times to perfect it and strengthen one’s skill.  It’s the same with math, except it’s our brain muscles that need a workout.  We all have to “train” no matter what the activity is – soccer, dance moves, identifying shapes, sorting colors or counting to 100! Practice makes perfect, and in the end, it all adds up to one big victory.

    3.    Find the right context.  You’ve probably noticed how a movie or a book suddenly becomes much more captivating when it matches your age, thoughts, or interests.  Blend math into your daughter's favorite things to make it relevant and easier to absorb. If she is fascinated with butterflies, count butterflies outside, or make up some simple butterfly addition problems she can solve.  Choose math games and apps that have girl-friendly context. The PBS KIDS Lab also offers plenty of online games and activities with kids’ favorite characters.

    4.    Show her some math role models.  It may be your neighbor who is an accountant and enjoys her job, or a woman university professor that’s in the news for making a big discovery; a female pilot or an astronaut; or the animator of your daughter’s favorite movie. Tell her about them, Google them together, ask your child to imagine how they might use math in their jobs. My own life-math story is here.

    Encouraging girls’ interest in math is in our hands, and it is not so hard.  As with any hobby, encourage it, stimulate it, make it fun… hold high but age-appropriate expectations… and don't be afraid to make mistakes and learn from them.