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Sesame Street's Turn on Appian Way

Four top executives from Sesame Workshop visited HGSE earlier this week to talk to students enrolled in the second year of "Informal Learning for Children," a course that teaches the successes of Sesame Street.

HGSE Lecturer on Education Joe Blatt, instructor of "Informal Learning for ChildrenLast year Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street joined forces with HGSE to explore how electronic media can benefit children educationally. As part of the course, students submit written proposals for a media product or other informal educational intervention to Sesame Workshop participants, who evaluate them and provide feedback. The course also examines Sesame Workshop's model of integrating research, educational content, and production.

Lecturer in Education Joseph Blatt kicked off the first class by inviting key executives to speak including one of Sesame Street's creators Lloyd Morriset, President and CEO of Sesame Workshop Gary Knell, Sesame Workshop Executive Vice President of Distribution Terry Fitzpatrick, and Sesame Workshop Executive Vice President of Education and Outreach Lewis Bernstein.

"The fact that the top people came and students got to see that these individuals really do care about learning, as well as social and emotional needs puts a human face on the organization," Blatt said after the class. "[Their attendance] makes it clear that they are a mission-driven educational enterprise and gets [the class] going in the right spirit."

The 65 students enrolled in the course will work on Sesame Street's health efforts called Healthy Habits for Life. With four million obese children in the U.S. alone, Sesame Workshop decided to make health a forefront issue last year. Through lectures, discussions, and hands-on experiences, the Ed School course will focus on how media can improve two- to six-year-olds' health behaviors, with particular attention to nutrition, physical activity, and caregiving.

"This year students will be thinking a lot more about how to talk to parents, teachers, and caregivers about health."–Lecturer Joseph Blatt

"This year students will be thinking a lot more about how to talk to parents, teachers, and caregivers about health," Blatt said, noting that children's ability to make choices is more limited at such a young age.

Sesame Street, which first aired in 1969, became the groundbreaking children's show when Morriset, then president of the Carnegie Corporation, along with other collaborators pondered whether television could be used to teach preschool children.

As was noted when the course began last year, this is not the first collaboration between the Ed School and Sesame Workshop (formerly Children's Television Workshop). When Sesame Street was initially created a number of HGSE faculty members-most notably Bigelow Professor Gerald Lesser-played a critical role in shaping the series. In the mid 1970s, the Center for Research in Children's Television was established, fostering collaboration between faculty members and students to create content for Children's Television Workshop, including both The Electric Company and Sesame Street.

"Informal Learning for Children" will offer students the opportunity, once again, to make a broad impact through the media. Knell encouraged the students to seize this opportunity, reminding them that "the people in this room have a chance to change the world."