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1/11/2010

Warner Student Helps Promote Early Science Learning on Ever-Popular Children's Show

Conezio Serves as Head Science Advisor to Sesame Street

Even with a busy schedule as a classroom teacher, preschool curriculum specialist, doctoral student, and grandmother to six, Kathy Conezio still manages to find quality time these days for Elmo, Big Bird, and Oscar the Grouch.

As a child growing up, Conezio always knew that she wanted to be a teacher. But what she didn’t realize is that her career in education would eventually take her on an adventure down one of the most loved streets in America. Today, she serves as the head science curriculum advisor for Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street. In this consulting role, she spends most of her time working closely with the team’s writers and producers to review Sesame Street scripts, evaluating science content for accuracy and making sure the presentation is developmentally appropriate for the show’s audience, now mostly two- to three-year olds.

Conezio, who brings a strong classroom connection to her work with Sesame Street, is able to see how different lessons work with kids and then takes this knowledge and experience back to writers. “What I didn’t realize is everything I ask them to do in the script, they then have to figure out how to make it happen on the set with the characters,” she says. “When I read the script I see how much is involved in production with bringing everything together.”

Ever since the groundbreaking educational series for kids premiered in November 1969, it has taught children the joys of reading, counting, sharing and spelling, with the help of familiar characters, eye-catching puppets, mesmerizing animations, and catchy tunes. Now, as Sesame Street celebrates its 40th anniversary, it has taken on an extra focus: teaching young children about science through the world around them.

Science is a natural way of thinking and trying to understand the world. Conezio, who pushes her own students to explore the world around them through active investigation, says that we need to keep science down-to-earth and capitalize on kids’ natural curiosity about the world. “Kids need to see that science is connected to real life,” she adds. “We need to wrap language around their experiences. It’s not laboratory science—it’s learning about everyday life, like picking up acorns and discovering where they came from or learning about evaporation as laundry hangs out to dry.”

She also believes that we need to gain an appreciation for how much kids enjoy science. Building on their interest in and enthusiasm for science at an early age is key to building a strong foundation for lifelong interest and success in science. In the process, they also learn new concepts and language skills.

“Kids need embodied science experiences—they love that stuff—and we kill it in classrooms by making it boring,” Conezio explains. “If we can do more science and keep kids interested in what they are already doing while helping adults to recognize this as science, that would be a great thing that comes out of all of this.”

She also works with Sesame Street writers to identify and use vocabulary and real science words, like “hypothesis” and “investigate,” but in the context of the activities. “Children can learn these science words provided that they are learning them in the contexts of meaningful, hands-on experiences,” she says. “Vocabulary acquisition is a very important part of reading success down the road.”

Conezio’s experience as a doctoral student in teaching and curriculum at the Warner School has been a valuable stepping stone between her own research interests and her work with Sesame Street. Collaborating with Professor Lucia French, she has looked at ways to bridge science and literacy in preschool classrooms and helped to develop a preschool curriculum that capitalizes on children’s natural curiosity about the world and embraces science as an essential part of language and literacy development among preschoolers.

Conezio says, “It’s very satisfying for me to continue to do what I do and to impact the lives of children, parents, and future educators.”

She then adds with an infectious smile, “It’s fun. It’s creative. It’s very satisfying.”

Photo Caption: Kathy Conezio visits with Elmo and Kevin Clash, who plays the voice of Elmo, on the set of Sesame Street.


Media Contact: Theresa Danylak
tdanylak@warner.rochester.edu
585.275.0777

Tags: doctoral student experience, early childhood education, Kathy Conezio, preschool education