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Main article: History of Sesame Street

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

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Main article: History of Sesame Street

Up until the late 1960s, the use of television as an educational tool in the US was "unproven" and "a revolutionary concept".[2] In 1966, the Carnegie Institute hired Joan Ganz Cooney to study how the media could be used to help young children, especially those from low-income families, learn and prepare for school.[3][4] Cooney proposed using television's "most engaging traits",[5] including high production values, sophisticated writing, and quality film and animation, to reach the largest audience possible.[5] Cooney suggested creating a program that would spread prolearning values to both viewers and nonviewers (including their parents) that would affect them for many years after they stopped watching it.[6]
Sesame Street custom Children's Television Workshop logo used in seasons 1-13.

As a result of Cooney's initial proposal, the Carnegie Institute awarded her an $8 million grant to establish, in collaboration with Carnegie Institute vice-president Lloyd Morrisett, the Children’s Television Workshop (CTW) and create a new children's television program.[4][7] In 1968, millions more were invested by the Ford Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the US federal government. Cooney began to assemble a team of producers: Jon Stone, Dave Connell and Sam Gibbon.[4] That summer, five three-day curriculum planning seminars, led by Harvard University professor Gerald S. Lesser, were conducted in Boston.[4][8] The seminars marked the beginning of Jim Henson's involvement in Sesame Street,[4] and provided the show's producers and writers with a "crash course in child development, psychology, and preschool education".[9] The new show, called the "Preschool Educational Television Show" in promotional materials, was built around an inner-city street, a choice that was "unprecedented".[10] The producers and writers could not come up with a name they liked "up until the last moment".[11] They finally settled upon the name they least disliked: Sesame Street, although they initially feared that it would be too difficult for young children to pronounce.[11]

Two days before the premiere of Sesame Street, a thirty-minute preview entitled This Way to Sesame Street was shown on NBC. The show was financed by a $50,000 grant from Xerox. Written by Stone and produced by CTW publicist Bob Hatch, it was taped the day before it aired.[12] Newsday called the preview "a unique display of cooperation between commercial and noncommercial broadcasters".[12] Sesame Street premiered on PBS on November 10, 1969.[13] The new show was praised from the start. As writer Michael Davis states, "...It became the rare children's show stamped with parental approval".[14] The show reached only 67.6% of the nation, but earned a 3.3 Nielsen rating, or 1.9 million households.
[edit] Educational goals

As author Malcolm Gladwell has stated, "Sesame Street was built around a single, breakthrough insight: that if you can hold the attention of children, you can educate them".[15] Sesame Street was the first children's show that structured each episode and made "small but critical adjustments" to each segment to capture children's attention long enough to teach them something.[16]

Sesame Street uses a combination of animation, puppets, and live actors to stimulate young children's minds, improve their letter and word recognition, basic arithmetic, geometric forms, classification, simple problem solving, and socialization by showing children or people in their everyday lives. Since the show's inception, other instructional goals have been basic life skills, such as how to cross the street safely, proper hygiene, healthy eating habits, and social skills; in addition, real-world situations are taught, such as death, divorce, pregnancy and birth, adoption, and even all of the human emotions such as happiness, love, anger, and hatred. Also, recently, the Sesame Street Muppets discussed the late-2000s recession with their most recent prime-time special Families Stand Together: Feeling Secure in Tough Times.

Coordinating "the clever use of Muppets and animation" with educational curriculum required what the CTW researchers called "careful thought"[17] and influenced the show's structure. For example, they had to decide how to distribute the letters of the alphabet throughout each 130-episode season.[note 2]

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