Lab News

  • Three Fun Ways to Use the Digital Camera to Build Early Math Skills

    April 08, 2013

    Three Fun Ways to Use the Digital Camera to Build Early Math Skills
    By Matt Gomez,

    Matt Gomez

    The digital camera has always been my favorite tech tool because it can give the child a voice in their learning. Nothing is more powerful than giving kids some control and choice in activities, and the digital camera lends itself to that well.  Since most teachers and parents already have a camera and there is little to no cost involved with taking pictures, I believe it is a highly underused tool.

    Here are my three favorite ways to help kids learn math using the camera:




    1. Recognizing Patterns
    Identifying, creating and completing patterns can help kids learn important problem solving and mathematical reasoning skills. PBS KIDS has a great app called Dinosaur Train Camera Catch that helps young kids work on patterns while practicing how to take pictures. My favorite part of the app is that the kids have to spin and move around to find the dinosaurs, so they won’t just be sitting while playing.

    Another way to learn about patterns with the camera is by simply taking pictures of manipulatives: toys or other items your child is interested in. In my kindergarten class the students have access to a camera anytime and they often use them to document patterns. To extend the activity, you can print the images and have the kids label the patterns ABAB, ABCABC, etc.

    2. Sequencing
    In my class, I always have a photographer in charge of taking pictures during our special activities. I print those images and use them as a literacy center. We also use the images to review vocabulary and practice ordinal words.  A great way to introduce sequencing for preschool children is to allow them to document parts of their day with a camera. Start with routines like getting ready in the morning and build on the concept. The key is allowing the kids to take the images and decide what images are important for the story. I have found that encouraging them to take many pictures is best; you can always work together to select the best images later.


    3. Number Sense
    For the youngest learners the camera can be used to find sets of items that match a number or even the numeral itself.  This is a fun way to keep kids engaged while shopping, at the grocery store or even driving in the car. Give them a camera, a number and let them go. As the kids get a better grasp of numbers and start working on breaking down numbers or addition, the camera is an amazing tool for documenting that learning.  One activity we repeat often in my class is called “Number of the Day.” I write a number on the board and the kids use simple objects, such as blocks, to show me different ways to create that number. They use the camera to document their ideas and then we work together as a class to write the math facts for each image.


    These activities are only a few of the many uses the digital camera has in helping kids learn, practice and explore math topics while having fun.

  • Math: A Fun Part of Your Everyday Life

    March 19, 2013

    Math: A Fun Part of Your Everyday Life
    by Maria Lando,

    Maria Lando

    Math. What is it good for? Do we really use it in our daily life?  

    Well, maybe a bit in cooking. It is all about proportions, right? You over-salted the soup and now need to increase the other ingredients proportionally. Your cake recipe asks for 2 and 1/2 cup of flour, do you have enough in this half-empty 5-pound bag?

    Perhaps, also in shopping. Math can tell you whether an additional 30% off after 50% off is the same as 80% off (it is not). Without thinking about it, you play with math weekly when deciding how far you’d be willing to drive for your food shopping, and how much to buy.

    As a parent, you are an expert at optimizing carpool routes. You know how to detect a pattern of lies, colds, or lice. You rely on math to decide whether you can afford to return to work after having another child.

    At home you know very well that a mattress must be tilted if it doesn't fit in a door entrance. You observe that a corner of your living room remains empty most of the time, and decide to place a home office there.

    Through the course of these everyday actions, we’ve used algebra, geometry, optimization, pattern analysis, logic, and statistics. We all are much better at math than we think.  We bounce math ideas in our head everywhere we go and with whatever we do: cooking, shopping, driving, home decorating, traveling, and parenting.
    Math is a great tool, advisor, and toy to enjoy and share with your kids.

    Play a game and ask your kids to imagine a brunch with math gone awry: two guests are standing because someone miscalculated the number of chairs; giant over-salted pancakes are served in small dessert plates; meanwhile maple syrup is presented in a soup bowl with a fork.

    During a car ride, math can help you stay sane and avoid the "are we there yet?" questions. Let's look for a pattern of all odd numbers in car license plates. What do you think is the most popular car color? Least popular? Counting is a thrill for preschoolers. Count all the traffic lights on the way. See whether you can spot more gas stations on the right or on the left.

    Math is all about patterns — shapes, colors, sizes. Order. This means that math is your best helper at clean-up time. Who can bring the most toys back to the toy basket? Who can group all the Legos by color? What do you think is the best way to fit all these blocks / Dominos back into the box?

    Need more ideas? PBS KIDS has made it so easy to integrate math into our everyday lives with the new PBS Parents Play & Learn app for iOS and Android. The app provides more than a dozen math and literacy-based games parents can play with their kids, each themed around a familiar location. So next time you’re at the grocery store, restaurant or, at home, you can teach your child math skills like counting, measurement and estimation.

    Fun, simple and useful math is everywhere around us helping to optimize and simplify our lives. All we need to do is notice, enjoy, sometimes apply it on purpose, and always present it to our kids as a toy, a tool and a friend.


    March 06, 2013


    PBS KIDS announces “It All Adds Up,” offering families math learning tools, including a new app for parents of early learners

    SXSWedu, Austin, TX, March 6, 2013 – Although research shows that math skills at kindergarten entry can be an even stronger predictor of school achievement than reading skills1, many children do not realize their full potential in mathematics. While a variety of factors contribute to lagging math skills, a new survey released today by PBS KIDS suggests parents place less emphasis on math, since they view other skills as “the greatest predictor of achievement later in life,” ranking reading and literacy (26%) and the ability to pay attention and work hard (47%) as most indicative versus math (14%). The national survey of parents with children ages 2-12 also indicated that parents are less likely to support their kids’ math skills from the earliest ages, and that many parents have anxiety about supporting math learning at home. Responding to this need, PBS KIDS, in partnership with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), today announced at SXSWedu “It All Adds Up,” an effort that aims to boost math learning at home – and everywhere – by providing resources for parents.

    “It All Adds Up” is an awareness effort designed to expand the impact of Ready To Learn, a cooperative initiative between CPB and PBS, with funding from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement, to support the development of early math and literacy skills in children ages 2-8 from low-income families. Ready To Learn’s mission is to use the power of public media’s content as a catalyst for children’s learning in both math and literacy. This emphasis is especially important given that the U.S.’s ranking of 25 among 34 countries in children’s math achievement2 has prompted national concern. President Obama emphasized the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills in his recent State of Union address, citing their importance in preparing this generation for a high-tech economy.  

    Yet PBS KIDS’ survey found that parents may be missing an opportunity to start early in building their kids’ math skills. Parents with older children are more likely to practice math skills daily with their kids than parents of younger children. Sixty percent of parents of 5-8-year-olds practice math daily with their kids, whereas only half of parents of 2-4-year-olds do. Parents are also more likely to practice reading skills with their kids than they are to practice math. This may be in part due to parents’ lower comfort levels with teaching math. Nearly 30 percent of parents reported anxiety about teaching their children math, and that anxiety is even greater for moms (33%) and parents with an education level of high school or less (32%).

    “The early years of life are most critical for learning both literacy and math; in fact, many children do not realize their full potential in mathematics because they are not getting consistent support from a young age,” said Lesli Rotenberg, General Manager, Children’s Programming, PBS. “The good news is that there are simple things parents can do to support early math learning that can all add up to make a big difference. We know that parents trust PBS KIDS and look to us for ways to support their kids’ learning, and we are excited to offer parents and caregivers free resources they can use on their mobile phones or computers, and offline activity ideas that make anytime a learning time.”

    “It All Adds Up” builds on the collection of more than 100 games and apps that PBS KIDS and CPB have launched over the past two years through Ready To Learn to help build math and literacy skills. The effort also introduces new multiplatform tools, including the new PBS Parents Play & Learn App and a new team of experts called Math Mentors, to help parents increase their own confidence with math and nurture their children’s love for math from an early age. All of these resources are accessible on PBS KIDS Lab, a site that aggregates games, apps and offline activities to help support math and reading learning for kids 2-8. The site also offers several gaming suites, each of which links a set of games across platforms – accessible through computers, mobile devices and interactive whiteboards – so that kids can engage with the same characters as they move from device to device. The content is also linked by curricular frameworks, leveraging games on a variety of platforms to support key math and reading skills.

    “Parents, caregivers and teachers have long trusted public media to provide high-quality educational content that is designed to help children learn anytime, anywhere,” said Debra Sanchez, Senior Vice President, Education and Children’s Content at CPB. “‘It All Adds Up’ brings together the best resources created through Ready To Learn to give our nation’s youngest learners a strong foundation in critical math skills that are essential to success in school.”  

    New “It All Adds Up” Resources Include:

    PBS Parents Play & Learn App
    PBS KIDS’ first app designed specifically for parents, PBS Parents Play & Learn provides more than a dozen math and literacy-based games parents can play with their kids, each themed around a familiar location, including the grocery store or restaurant or, at home, in the bath or in the kitchen. The bilingual (English/Spanish) app helps build math skills, including counting, measurement and estimation, and literacy skills, such as letter identification, rhyming and vocabulary. The app is especially useful for introducing the youngest of learners to reading and math concepts with games and activities that are leveled by stages: baby, toddler and preschool.

    The PBS Parents Play & Learn App is available for free from the App Store on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and for Android phones and tablets, including both the Kindle Fire HD 7 and Kindle Fire HD 8.9. For more details, visit   

    In addition to Ready To Learn funds, PBS Parents Play & Learn was funded in part by the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

    Math Mentors
    PBS KIDS has assembled a team of early childhood educators and educational bloggers who will provide tips and ideas for parents to help their children learn early math concepts and to integrate math activities into their daily lives. Parents can also visit PBS KIDS Lab for additional information and tools from the Math Mentors.  

    New FETCH! 3D-rendered Online Game: Ruff Ruffman’s Monumental Mini-golf
    Kids ages 6-8 will help Ruff build his monumental mini-golf course in this 3D-rendered game. The game is a publicly-facing beta, which means that it is still in development and is available online to give users a first look. In Monumental Mini-golf, kids safely partner with other players to solve puzzles and create structures while practicing spatial reasoning, measurement, and 2D- and 3D-rendered shape manipulation. As an incentive, at the end of the game, kids get the chance to the play mini-golf in the course they created. Players interact with all their favorite characters from FETCH! WITH RUFF RUFFMAN while learning important math skills in this unique game.

    Through the Ready To Learn Initiative, PBS KIDS offers offline activities, online games and mobile apps, most of which are available free, at

    PBS KIDS will continue to build on this commitment to math learning with the launch of PEG + CAT this fall. The animated preschool series will follow the adorable, spirited Peg and her sidekick Cat as they embark on adventures and learn foundational math concepts and skills. Through efforts like “It All Adds Up,” PBS KIDS is increasingly serving kids where they live, learn and play – helping to make any time a learning time on mobile devices, on-air, online and beyond.

    1 Developmental Psychology Journal (2007)
    2 National Assessment of Education Progress Report (2011)

    Survey Methodology:
    PBS KIDS surveyed a sample of more than 1,000 parents who currently have a child between the ages of 2-12. Respondents were 20 years of age and older. Interviewing for this survey was completed during February 18-25, 2013.




  • Study of Children at Home Finds Playing PBS KIDS Online Games Improves Early Math Skills

    January 15, 2013

    A new study from research firm WestEd has found that engaging parents and their preschool children with PBS KIDS content and games, developed through the CPB-PBS Ready To Learn Initiative, boosts math learning and helps prepare children for kindergarten.  


    The study examined improvements in preschool children’s math knowledge and skills by studying families’ use of online games and at-home activities on the PBS KIDS Lab site,  featuring Curious George, The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!, and Sid the Science Kid.


    In an eight-week summer program implemented by WestEd, families participated in weekly parent meetings where they learned about available PBS KIDS math games and other hands-on learning activities they could easily do at home with their children.  Parents were encouraged to use the Ready To Learn collection of PBS KIDS cross-platform activities with their children at home for 30 minutes a day, four days a week. The project examined whether playing PBS KIDS “transmedia suites” (digital games that span platforms and are connected by storyline and curricular goals) can help families enhance their children's early math skills. Together, parents and children played online and mobile versions of games like Huff Puff-a-Tron,  Meatball Launcher, and Weather Surprise.


    The study showed that children who were exposed to Ready To Learn’s content featuring PBS KIDS transmedia suites and related support materials outscored their comparison group peers on the Test of Early Mathematics Ability, a widely used measure of young children’s mathematics learning.


    The summer program took place in Richmond, California, an area in which poverty rates are double the national average. Nearly half of the students in the local school district are Hispanic. One-third are English learners, and two-thirds qualify for free and reduced-cost meals. Families participating in the study were loaned Internet-enabled, portable chromebooks for ease of access to all digital content.


    Young children in low income families often have less extensive knowledge of math, especially if they are also learning to speak English. Yet, studies show that early math skills are the strongest predictor of later academic achievement. Increasing early math skills could be an effective and efficient step to helping children 3-5 years old get a strong and equal start to school.


    "It's encouraging to see that educational content intended for child and family use at home can have a positive impact on kids’ school readiness," said Betsy McCarthy, senior researcher at WestEd and lead investigator for the study. "The results indicate that the suites, played at home by young children with their parents, improved math skills among young learners who are especially vulnerable due to issues and conditions outside the classroom that influence their ability to learn."


    Parents also benefited from playing the games with their children. Parents reported becoming more aware of their children's abilities, and said they learned strategies they could use to directly support their children's academic skills at home. A parent in the study said, “This program is not only teaching our children but the whole family, like grandparents and aunts and uncles.  It is important to me that we are getting more ideas to help our children.”  Another parent said, "My daughter really enjoys learning, and she told me she 'has so much fun working on the computer with me.' I can see her learning more."


    PBS KIDS worked with WGBH, Random House, and The Jim Henson Company to develop the games, which are focused on improving core literacy and numeracy skills for children through well-planned and coordinated use of multiple media platforms. The games were created using math and literacy frameworks, which were developed to align to Common Core State Standards to help prepare kids for success in school. Additionally, math education advisors to the CPB-PBS Ready To Learn Initiative provided on-going guidance during game development.


    The Ready To Learn collection of PBS KIDS transmedia suites include thematically linked content that is presented across formats such as short-form videos, online games, mobile phone activities, and in-classroom digital games, as well as across media devices such as computers, interactive whiteboards, tablets, and smart phones.


    Further research is planned to examine ways to replicate and scale up the findings from this study. Download the complete study here.


    January 14, 2013

    Peg+Cat Pirate Island

    This fall, PBS KIDS will premiere Peg + Cat,  a new animated preschool series that follows the adorable, spirited Peg and her sidekick Cat as they embark on adventures and learn foundational math concepts and skills. Co-creators Billy Aronson (Rent, Postcards from Buster) and Jennifer Oxley (Little Bill, The Wonder Pets!) have teamed with The Fred Rogers Company to bring young viewers a new way to experience math through Peg and Cat’s relatable, and often hilarious, adventures.


    This multiplatform media property premieres this fall on PBS KIDS with a special one-hour broadcast of two back-to-back episodes, along with integrated online and mobile content. Each episode features fascinating stories in which Peg and Cat encounter a problem that requires them to use math and problem solving skills in order to move forward. The series will air daily following its premiere.


    Math understanding and skills are essential, yet national assessments show that 60 percent of students are performing below proficient levels in math by the 4th grade, and this learning gap is more pronounced in children from low-income families.* To help support math learning for young children, the National Research Council’s Committee on Early Childhood Mathematics has highlighted the need for “increased informal programming, curricular resources, software, and other media” to help build key math skills.


    The Peg + Cat television series is part of a multiplatform media experience that will also include interactive content online and on mobile. The series currently offers games and other resources online at Additional interactive features, including more games, parent resources and a mobile app, are slated to launch along with the on-air premiere in fall 2013.


    Every half-hour episode of Peg + Cat will feature two stories, each an eleven-minute adventure in which Peg and Cat find themselves thrust into an unexpected math word problem. But it’s not just an abstract academic exercise for them — it’s a messy and funny quandary they have to solve. The show focuses not only on helping kids build math skills, such as how to add or subtract, but on how to think about larger math concepts as well — concepts that form the foundation for learning math at any level, from kindergarten to calculus. In each episode, Peg and Cat use foundational concepts like relative size, geometry and algebraic thinking to solve the problem and save the day. The series’ curriculum is based on Common Core State Standards.


    Peg and Cat’s adventures take them through worlds of infinite possibilities — from farms to purple planets, from 16th-century Verona to New York’s Radio City Music Hall, from a land of pirates to a prehistoric valley — demonstrating that math is everywhere.


    Peg + Cat stories are at once engaging, appealing, accessible and age-appropriate. As Peg solves a seemingly insurmountable problem, she has to think through what went wrong and how she can get back on track. Life skills such as cooperation are also important parts of the series, as Peg and her friends have to work together to solve problems; and since Peg might not get it right the first time, viewers also see value of learning from mistakes and experimentation. Music is also used as a teaching tool throughout the math series; each episode features an original song.


    Peg + Cat is funded in part by the U.S. Department of Education through the Ready To Learn Initiative, a program that supports the development of innovative educational television and digital media targeted at preschool and early elementary school children and their families, and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).


    Peg + Cat images courtesy of The Fred Rogers Company, (c) 2013, all rights reserved.