Fred Rogers Company Awarded $3 Million by National Science Foundation for Children’s Math Series and Support for Teachers and Parents

The Fred Rogers Company today announced it has been awarded a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning program. The nonprofit media production company founded by Fred Rogers was among only 8% of applicants to be awarded funding.

The grant supports three interrelated efforts: 1) The new math adventure series Peg + Cat and related educational games and apps; 2) the Early Learning of Math through Media project, which aims to increase preschool teachers’ and parents’ interest and confidence in exploring math; 3) Research on how informal and formal education can work together to improve learning outcomes.

Support for Leading Producer of PBS Kids Programs

Peg + Cat premiered on PBS KIDS on October 7, one year after the launch of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, now a top-rated favorite among children and parents. Viewers stream almost 50 million Daniel videos per month and Daniel apps are top sellers. With a third program in development for Fall 2014, the company is now the leading producer of children’s media distributed by PBS.

Emmy-winners Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson created the new series, which stars an adventurous little girl and her lazy but lovable cat. In every story, Peg and Cat face a strange and funny crisis. One day, they have to round up 100 runaway chickens with only two wheel barrows and a baby carriage. The next, they have to arrange all the objects in the solar system from smallest to largest. In doing so, they discover just how fun, useful, and cool math can be.

In the Fred Rogers tradition, the program supports both cognitive and social-emotional learning. It helps children develop math, reasoning, and problem-solving skills. Leading math educators contribute to story development and ground its curriculum in the Common Core standards for kindergarten. The program also gets kids excited about math in the first place and cultivates positive and productive attitudes toward learning. When facing a wacky word problem that has come to life before her eyes, Peg may worry. She may feel stumped. But she always gets herself un-stuck and finds a way to save the day. She models the sort of curiosity and persistence that serve children well in any learning process.

Funding for Peg + Cat’s production is also provided by the U.S. Department of Education Ready to Learn initiative, PBS, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Heising-Simons Foundation, and Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.

Integrating More Math into Preschool Teaching and Play at Home

Studies show that one can predict fifth-grade performance in math based on the concepts and skills children have already mastered entering kindergarten. However, preschool teachers spend only 7% of instructional time on math and rarely receive any preparation in the subject. Few parents promote math play at home. Math, the language of problem-solving, gets a fraction of the attention paid to reading.

The new Early Learning of Math through Media (ELM2) project, also supported by the grant from NSF, will feature a summer institute for 50 Head Start teachers and other preschool educators in the Pittsburgh area who work with more than 550 children each year. The Pittsburgh-based pilot lays the groundwork for a national roll-out. ELM2 is a collaboration among The Fred Rogers Company, Head Start program and Math & Science Collaborative at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, and Collaborative for Evaluation and Assesment Capacity at the University of Pittsburgh.

“We are grateful to the National Science Foundation and to our project partners for this opportunity,” said Fred Rogers Company President Bill Isler. “Peg + Cat is already connecting with an excited audience of children. With ELM2, we will leverage the program’s popularity and build on our partners’ strengths to make an impact on adults. We’ll be helping teachers and parents support children’s anytime, anywhere learning,” added Isler. 

In making the award, National Science Foundation Program Director Sandra Welch said, “We believe these projects will make an important contribution to educational media and technology, informal learning, and interdisciplinary research. They will yield valuable insights into how to engage children and encourage development of math and problem solving skills at an early age.”

Commenting on the ELM2 initiative, Allegheny Intermediate Unit Executive Director Linda Hippert said, “The AIU is delighted to embark on a new collaboration with The Fred Rogers Company. We look forward to building on our past partnerships, which have accomplished so much on behalf of underserved children, and to building a bridge from informal to formal learning.”

About The Fred Rogers Company

The nonprofit Fred Rogers Company was established in 1971 to produce Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and related media. Today, the company advances and extends Fred Rogers’ philosophy and values by producing children’s television programs, educational games and apps, and resources for parents and professionals. The company was previously involved in the development of the NSF-supported “How People Make Things” traveling children’s museum exhibit and the regional Girls, Math & Science Partnership.

Peg + Cat photos:

About the NSF Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) Program

The AISL program seeks to advance new approaches to and evidence-based understanding of the design and development of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning in informal environments; provide multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences; and advance innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments.

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