Tufts U and WGBH Boston Develop Innovative Classroom Curriculum Based on Emmy Award-winning TV Series

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Boston – Public media leader WGBH Boston and Tufts University’s Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development have developed an innovative, media-rich classroom curriculum that new research shows stimulates social, emotional and character development in elementary school children. The Arthur Interactive Media (AIM) Buddy Program uses digital comics and games based on familiar characters and storylines from Emmy and Peabody award-winning PBS Kids series “Arthur.” The program also uses cross-grade mentoring to encourage peer relationships, improve schoolwide climate and foster safe learning environments for elementary grade students.

“WGBH is a leader in making relevant and engaging multimedia resources available to educators and students,” said Terry Fitzpatrick, WGBH’s Vice President for Children’s Media and Education. “We are proud to continue that tradition with the AIM Buddy Project. Our team has seen first-hand that the AIM program helps students build the skills they need to think more critically and empathetically.”

AIM is a supplemental curriculum that can enhance existing social and emotional learning and character programs or be used as a stand-alone set of resources for educators. Five topics form the core of the AIM curriculum: empathy, honesty, forgiveness, generosity and learning from others. Each topic incorporates interactive media with embedded questions to encourage thoughtful discussions between buddy pairs. AIM also offers a comprehensive digital Educator’s Guide, planning videos and a range of other resources.

WGBH partnered with Tufts University to assess whether student participation in the AIM program would change students’ self-ratings of social, emotional and character-related attributes, as well as improve classroom climate. In the research study conducted over the 2015–2016 school year, the AIM supplemental curriculum demonstrated that embedding high-quality interactive media into classrooms, while using cross-age mentoring, can make a difference in a student’s ability to demonstrate character attributes such as empathy, honesty and forgiveness. The AIM study results show that students who participated in the AIM program were more likely to be able to deal with the complexities of difficult topics than were students who did not participate. These results were evident in students even six months after the AIM program intervention:

  • Little Buddies in high fidelity programs had statistically significant increases in their empathy, future-mindedness, and positive perceptions of their classroom climate. 
  • Both Little and Big Buddies in high fidelity programs had statistically significant increases in their levels of empathy and tolerance. 
  • Both Little and Big Buddies were four times more likely to show a better understanding of honesty.
  • Both Little and Big Buddies were two and a half times more likely to show a better understanding of forgiveness and learning from others. ­ 

“‘Arthur’ has helped kids deal with childhood issues and difficult emotions for twenty years, so bringing ‘Arthur’ characters into the classroom was a natural extension of our mission to engage young learners,” said WGBH’s Carol Greenwald, Arthur Senior Executive Producer. “Participating in a character-focused buddy project helps establish positive peer relationships between older and younger kids and offers them a context to have meaningful conversations about issues that are sometimes complicated and hard to understand.”

“The ability to practice coping with difficult situations in a safe and structured environment is critical for children to develop healthy social and emotional skills, and AIM is proving to be an effective tool in that area,” said Dr. Richard Lerner, AIM Buddy Project Principal Investigator and Director of the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University. “We are grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with WGBH on the AIM project and to the schools that provided valuable feedback for our research.”

The AIM Buddy Project: An ARTHUR Social, Emotional, and Character Development Curriculum is available at no cost on PBS LearningMedia: http://bit.ly/AIM-Buddy-Project

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