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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Sesame Street taps URI educator to enhance science programming

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee, 401-874-5862

Sesame Workshop learns lessons from URI program that
has boosted science scores in eight R.I. districts

KINGSTON, R.I. -- November 9, 2010 – The University of Rhode Island now has a strong presence on what is arguably the most famous street in television—Sesame Street.

It is also providing tools to the most famous television utility company in the world, The Electric Company.

But there won’t be any obvious signs of this presence on the children’s shows, such as guest appearances by Rhody the Ram or a new street named Rhody Way.

Instead, Sara Sweetman, director of education for URI’s Guiding Education in Math and Science Network (known as GEMS-NET), has been working behind the scenes with Sesame Workshop since February, first in a series of seminars in New York and then continuing with regular conversations with the group that produces Sesame Street and The Electric Company.

Actors, producers, set designers, directors, game developers and those from the book divisions of Sesame Workshop, formerly the Children’s Television Workshop, have been learning about best practices in science education.

“I presented at four different seminars in New York that attracted between 25 and 200 participants at each event,” said Sweetman, a resident of Bristol who last taught in Jamestown. “Sesame Workshop contacts me regularly with science content and inquiry process questions. I also continue to review scripts, computer programming and curriculum documents.”

The October 10 Sesame Family Newsletter said Sweetman was an advisor to Sesame Street and helped develop season 41’s focus on science through inquiry.

“Sara stresses that adults can encourage it (inquiry-based science), raising the bar on what kids can understand while still allowing children to make their own observations, generate their own hypotheses, and arrive at their own conclusions,” Anna Housley Juster wrote in the newsletter.

Sweetman’s presentations to the Sesame Workshop in New York were based on her work with the URI School of Education GEMS-NET, a collaboration of the University and eight Rhode Island school districts, which is designed to increase scientific content knowledge and inquiry teaching skills of elementary school teachers and in turn build the inquiry-based science and writing skills of their students.

The Rhode Island districts participating in the program, Chariho, East Greenwich, Exeter/West Greenwich, Jamestown, Narragansett, North Kingstown, South Kingstown and Westerly have some of the best scores in the statewide, standardized exam, the New England Common Assessment Program.

“As an advisor for Sesame Workshop, I have been charged with presenting an image of what is excellence in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math),” Sweetman said. “This was easy because I see it every day in many classrooms around southern Rhode Island. Through videotapes of these Rhode Island classrooms, I was able to bring images of best practices to New York that will help shape the scientific thinking of children worldwide,” Sweetman said.

In the videos, Sesame Workshop personnel saw Rhode Island teachers and students using playground balls to learn about Newton’s Laws, observing classroom animals to determine if they prefer carrots or lettuce and developing weather tools and analysis that could challenge local meteorologists’ expertise.

”I came out of the seminars with such a great high because the Sesame Workshop staffers all asked such great questions,” Sweetman said. “They are so passionate about what they do. They are very committed to developing themes and programs focused on the STEM disciplines. They wanted to join President Obama’s initiatives for STEM education.”


Pictured above

SCIENCE IN ACTION: Faith Krause, a teacher in Jamestown’s Melrose school, who also serves as a trainer with The URI School of Education Guiding Education in Math and Science Network (known as GEMS-NET), works with local teachers to improve their skills in inquiry-based science instruction.

A KEEN EYE: Don Waterous, a teacher at West Kingston Elementary School, participates in training offered by The URI School of Education Guiding Education in Math and Science Network (known as GEMS-NET).

THE SCIENCE OF TEACHING: Leigh Pelopida, a teacher at Wakefield and West Kingston elementary schools, participates in training offered by The URI School of Education Guiding Education in Math and Science Network (known as GEMS-NET).

A HELPING HAND: Sara Sweetman, (standing), director of education for URI’s Guiding Education in Math and Science Network (known as GEMS-NET), works with Robyn Cook, a teacher at North Kingstown’s Quidnessett Elementary School.

URI Department of Communications & Marketing photos by Michael Salerno Photography.