Technology can’t replace benefits of hands-on learning

After making the jump from Jamestown elementary school teacher to teacher trainer at the University of Rhode Island, Sara Sweetman recently got a call from the producers of public television’s “Sesame Street” program to advise them on the content and teaching methods used in episodes involving science. More

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Technology can’t replace benefits of hands-on learning

COURTESY URI STREET SMARTS: Sara Sweetman, director of the Guiding Education in Math and Science Network at URI, has appeared on four episodes of “Sesame Street” and remains an adviser to the show.
Posted 12/5/11

After making the jump from Jamestown elementary school teacher to teacher trainer at the University of Rhode Island, Sara Sweetman recently got a call from the producers of public television’s “Sesame Street” program to advise them on the content and teaching methods used in episodes involving science.

The show’s producers were impressed enough that she was asked to appear on camera in four episodes that filmed this summer. While she continues to work as an adviser for “Sesame Street,” Sweetman’s main focus is helping teachers and administrators in the eight southern Rhode Island school districts served by URI’s Guiding Education in Math and Science Network. She’s also finishing her PhD. in education.

PBN: “Sesame Street” brings to mind Cookie Monster and teaching children to count or read. How did they end up looking for a science adviser and how did they choose you?

SWEETMAN: “Sesame Street” three years ago joined President Barack Obama on his STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) initiative “Educate to Innovate.” It was around this time of year last year I got a call from “Sesame Street” and after a conversation [they] asked me to become an adviser for their STEM-based shows.

Like everything in life, it’s who you know. I definitely have no acting bones, but a friend of mine … had worked there previously and was in contact with them. When they joined the STEM initiative she was the one who said she knew somebody who works in the schools all the time on science.

PBN: From behind-the-camera adviser, how did you end up on air talking to Murray the Muppet and what was it like?

SWEETMAN: After the phone call last December, in I went to New York to present to 100 employees from “Sesame Street,” from producers to actors, to education, researchers [and] multimedia game designers about what STEM means to young learners. They also sent me a couple of scripts that I reviewed for science accuracy and age appropriateness. A couple times I was asked to come down and oversee the filming of shows, especially the filming on shows where the content was challenging.

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