It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood for The Fred Rogers Co. after landing a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
The three-year grant is part of the NSF’s Advancing Informal Learning program and is the foundation’s first preschool mathematics investment in the Pittsburgh region.
About $1.2 million will go toward the development of a new cartoon, “Peg + Cat.” The Fred Rogers Co. is the executive producer of the program, which follows a girl and her cat as they use mathematics to solve everyday problems.
Alan Friedman, the company’s director of development, said the program will engage both children and adults.
“Mathematics really needs to be demystified,” he said. “Despite how important many people believe it is, a great many adults, teachers and parents alike, are intimidated with the subject, especially those working with young children.”
Another portion of the grant will go toward a summer education program for Head Start teachers where they’ll be taught how to get preschool-aged children more involved in mathematical thinking by using “Peg + Cat.” This eight-day summer program will work with 24 teachers per year for the next two years.
Friedman said the grant will help parents and teachers use new media in childhood education.
“In the way that we really make an important point of reading to our kids and our students every day,” he said, “I think what we have here is an emphasis on supporting math through fun and playful activities on an everyday basis.”
Preschool teachers only spend about 7 percent of their teaching time on mathematics, according to Friedman, who said it’s never too early to start STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education.
“This is not something that’s completely foreign to preschool settings,” he said, “but I think what we’re doing is a bit more ambitious than just about anything else in terms of helping kids develop math skills that anticipate what’s going on in kindergarten and later years.”
The grant includes a research aspect that will focus on how successful television, the Internet and Head Start educators can be in getting children to understand early mathematical concepts.
The initiative, called the Early Learning of Math through Media, is a partnership between the Collaborative for Evaluation and Assessment Capacity at the University of Pittsburgh, the Fred Rogers Co., Head Start and the Math & Science Collaborative at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit.