TEC Center’s director, Alexis Lauricella, PhD has established a TEC Center initiative to increase the early childhood technology research being conducted at Erikson and continue communication of research about children and technology. As part of this initiative, the TEC Center’s blog is welcoming guest writers to translate their academic research to practitioners, teachers, parents, and industry creators by blogging about their recent publications. This post is from Tiffany Maxon, EdM, Education Researcher, Education Development Center’s Center for Children and Technology, and Elisa Garcia, PhD, Education Researcher, SRI International, sharing their research findings focused on impacts of the Cat in the Hat resources on PreK students.
The following was written by Tiffany Maxon, EdM and Elisa Garcia, PhD
March 23, 2020
Children learn about the world from their observations, experiences, and from the answers they receive from others. They ask questions, form hypotheses, and conduct experiments to determine if they are correct—often with messy results. They learn about how water flows, about weather patterns, and about plant growth through play and experience. As the adults in their lives, we can support and extend these insights by helping them in their quest for more information about how the world works.
Research on Cat in the Hat Resources
The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That! (Cat in the Hat) media resources were developed by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), based on the popular book series by Dr. Seuss Enterprises. These resources were developed with the purpose of supporting children’s early science and engineering knowledge and practices. The third season of the Cat in the Hat television show focuses on the topics of physical science, and engineering content, practices, and vocabulary. Through the engaging narratives and interactive experiences, the Cat in the Hat videos, games, apps, and hands-on activities leverage children’s natural curiosity about the world by encouraging them to ask questions about how things work, make observations, and design solutions to problems.
For this study, our research team at EDC’s Center for Technology and SRI International examined the impacts of exposure to the Cat in the Hat media resources. Such measured impacts include how well children understand concepts such as the role of strength and length in the stability of a bridge, how texture and friction relate to how easy it is to go down a slide, and how to sort objects by different physical characteristics. These abilities relate to children’s understanding of the physical world—specifically the types of activities 4- and 5-year-old children typically engage in through play and exploration. In the study, each child was provided a tablet to play with at home for eight weeks. After these eight weeks, our research team found:
- A positive effect of the Cat in the Hat resources on children’s understanding of some physical science concepts and engagement in engineering practices
- Parents of children who used the Cat in the Hat media resources reported their children had more interest and engagement in science than the parents of children who did not use Cat in the Hat
- Children successfully learned from what they saw and interacted with in digital media and from their interactions and were able to transfer what they learned to offline contexts. These types of interactions can promote engagement and interest in science.
Building on Media Opportunities
Young children consume a lot of media (Rideout, 2017). Programming such as PBSKIDS’ offerings including The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That!, Sesame Street, and Daniel Tiger are examples of media that can teach children about reading, math, science, and social-emotional skills while entertaining them (Kearney & Levine, 2019; Kirkorian, Wartella & Anderson, 2008; Mares & Woodward, 2012; Rasmussen, et al., 2016). Furthermore, research suggests that when adults co-engage with children while watching educational media by pointing out and asking questions about what’s happening, children can learn even more (Anderson & Hanson, 2017; Strouse et al., 2013).
Our study results show that children can transfer this learning into offline contexts, as evidenced by our child participants’ performance on our real-world, hands-on activities after engaging with the digital resources. Although we studied these resources in home contexts, it is worth considering how to leverage the learning opportunities high-quality educational media can provide in the classroom as well.
Ideas and tips to build on these media experiences:
- Simplify the message. In each Cat in the Hat video episode, Cat takes friends Nick and Sally on different adventures to worlds that illustrate various scientific concepts, such as sound waves and sorting by object and material properties. Though the plot of the episode may focus on Cat, Nick, and Sally’s trip to Slidea-ma-zoo to experience different levels of “slideyness,” the real lesson is about friction. While you don’t have to come up with your own names for scientific properties, we do encourage you to remember that children are able to understand what may seem like complex ideas if they are modeled in clear and explicit ways that they can understand.
- Choose a few experiments to replicate. In this study, Children who practiced creating digital bridges for a dragon in the Bridge-a-rama app were better equipped to make bridges when we met with them in person after eight weeks. Children can practice bridge building in your classroom too. Try covering long blocks with different textures so that children can experiment with friction as they slide characters down the “slides”!
- Choose short clips of programs to share in class. Videos can quickly introduce new activities in your classroom, like the bridge experiment mentioned above. Children can see familiar characters experiment with friction or bridge-building onscreen and then experiment together in pairs or small groups with materials such as blocks or cardboard.
- Share the media resources with caregivers. If you find effective videos and games that jumpstart classroom activities, share those with caregivers. Caregivers and their children may be able to watch the videos and play the games at home. Encourage caregivers to try their own versions of the hands-on activities. All of these efforts may help deepen children’s learning and strengthen the connections between school and home.
- Encourage caregivers to co-view with their children. Keep the positive co-viewing and co-engagement going! Build on the viewing habits that you’re modeling in the classroom by encouraging caregivers to do the same at home. They too can talk to their children about what they are watching together. Research shows that when children and caregivers watch and actively engage together, the children retain more of what the content they are watching including new vocabulary (Strouse et al., 2013).
Please use the following citation for reference:
Maxon, T. and Garcia, E. (2020, March 23). STEM in PreK: Using Cat in the Hat Media Resources. TEC Center at Erikson Institute. Retrieved from http://teccenter.erikson.edu/tec/stem-catinthehat/
Tiffany Maxon, Ed.M., is an Education Researcher at Education Development Center’s Center for Children and Technology. Her research focuses primarily on informal learning environments, digital and real-world, that support increased accessibility to fundamental education for young learners. She is particularly interested in equitable access to education for low-income families and how media—videos, games, apps, etc.—can help close existing gaps. Tiffany is a 2019-2020 CADRE Fellow and holds a Master of Education in Human Development and Psychology from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Elisa Garcia, Ph.D., is an Education Researcher at SRI International, where she works on a variety of research and evaluation projects studying preschool and elementary students. Her research primarily focuses on how factors in the classroom and at-home can promote positive academic and social-emotional outcomes for young children, particularly among diverse populations such as dual language learners. Dr. Garcia earned her Ph.D. in developmental and psychological science from Stanford University, where she was an IES predoctoral training fellow in quantitative education policy.
Kearney, M. S., & Levine, P. B. (2019). Early childhood education by television: Lessons from Sesame Street. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 11(1), 318–50.
Kirkorian, H. L., Wartella, E. A., & Anderson, D. R. (2008). Media and young children’s learning. The Future of Children, 18(1), 39–61.
Mares, M. L., & Woodward, E. H. (2001). Prosocial effects on children’s social interactions: Handbook of children and the media. United States: California.
Rasmussen, E. E., Shafer, A., Colwell, M. J., White, S., Punyanunt-Carter, N., Densley, R. L., & Wright, H. (2016). Relation between active mediation, exposure to Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, and US preschoolers’ social and emotional development. Journal of Children and Media, 10(4), 443–461.
Rideout, V. (2017). The common sense census: Media use by kids age zero to eight. San Francisco, CA: Common Sense Media.
Strouse, G. A., O’Doherty, K., & Troseth, G. L. (2013). Effective coviewing: Preschoolers’ learning from video after a dialogic questioning intervention. Developmental psychology, 49(12), 2368.