The Education Innovator #38
Volume II
Archived Information

The Education Innovator
 October 12, 2004 • Number 38
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What's inside...
Postcards from Buster Television Program
What's New
U.S. Department of Education offers new e-learning tool for teachers and hosts a national principals' workshop; The Achiever newsletter features one family's experience with supplemental services; National Center for Learning Disabilities and Schwab Learning publish booklet on students and NCLB; Gilder Lehrman Institute launches History Now; PBS to produce Destination America; Henry Ford Museum and America Online are looking for the greatest innovations over the past 75 years; has new section in Spanish; PBS offers web guide for Closing the Achievement Gap; and offers information on education grant opportunities.
Innovations in the News
Since 2002, Sarasota, FL, has seen a 7 percent growth in music, visual arts, and dance education, plus information on charter schools, economics education, and teacher quality.

Buster Sends Language and Learning Through Video Postcards
"Are we there yet?" Those might be the four most feared words in the English language, at least if you are a parent on a family road trip. While traveling is a great way to learn about geography, different people, and diverse cultures, cross-country trips with young children are not always possible or practical. Now, parents and children can take a virtual voyage around the United States, with stop-offs in Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, from the cockpit of an airplane and through the eyes of a new TV cartoon character named Buster—a bunny who records video postcards to send to his friend, Arthur, the popular TV aardvark, and his other friends back home.

Postcards from Buster premiered on October 11 and is the latest Ready to Learn Television production for young children. This new, half-hour television program is a spin-off of the popular Arthur series. Designed for 4- to 8-year-olds, with a special emphasis on 6- to 8-year-olds, the program is the first children's television series to blend animation with live-action footage throughout the show.

The series has two goals:

  • to help children build a greater understanding and appreciation of the varied cultures in North America and
  • to help children, particularly English language learners, develop their language and literacy skills.
To meet these goals, the show models language and behavior that young English language learners need for social interaction. Characters in the program imitate new customs and language, hold sustained conversations, share information with each other, and ask questions to learn more about others. Each episode contains key vocabulary and sentence structures that emerge from the storyline. This language learning is reinforced throughout the animation and live-action segments.

Music is also used as a vehicle for learning. Each episode has an original song about the region or city Buster is visiting. Through the repetition, rhyme, and lyrics, the songs help to stimulate English language learning, as well as introduce children to the musical styles of different cultures. Musician Wyclef Jean, who performs the theme song, said, "I wanted to be involved...because he [Buster] introduces kids to new cultures in their own country, leading them to appreciate the diversity of the world they live in. Music is a perfect vehicle for getting that message across."

"Buster's travels are a springboard to understanding different cultures," says series producer Natatcha Estébanez. "No mere tourist, Buster is, instead, on a mission to find out about the societies, customs, and traditions he encounters, escorting viewers on an exploration of cultural diversity." And by learning about different cultures, Buster also helps to show children what we all have in common.

Twenty episodes are scheduled between October 11 and November 19, with another 20 to be scheduled in early 2005 (check your local listings). From October into November, Buster will visit such states as Indiana, Illinois, Oregon, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, and South Carolina. When Buster stops in Madison, WI, for example, he will participate in a Southeast Asian festival in an episode entitled, "Among the Hmong." In Jackson Hole, WY, with a "Moose on the Loose," Buster tries to videotape a moose to show his friends, and along the way he discovers fly fishing and bird watching. In Salt Lake City, he meets a Mormon family and learns what it takes to manage a family with seven children.

Since research has shown that a child's watching television by him- or herself does not necessarily contribute to learning, the producers of Postcards from Buster have developed a number of educational tools to engage adults in the learning process. A website features songs, activities, maps, and Buster's travel diary that parents can use to reinforce what the child sees on TV. Online lesson plans are also provided for teachers to use to extend the educational goals of the programming.

Additionally, Using Postcards from Buster with English Language Learners is a comprehensive teacher's guide for elementary classroom and after-school programs. The guide, which will be released later this month, offers strategies for using the series and the website to develop students' oral language and literacy skills.

Buster's Activity Book is also available from Little, Brown, and Company and contains 32 pages of activities children can do that center around the travel themes of the series. In spring 2005, the Passport to Reading book series for 6- to 9-year-olds will also be released, which will connect with Buster's adventures on the show.

Postcards from Buster builds on the research conducted on other Ready to Learn TV programs that emphasize literacy and learning. For example, a study of Between the Lions (an OII-funded program) by the University of Kansas in July 2000 revealed that kindergarten students who viewed 8.5 hours of the program over a four-week period "significantly improved their key reading skills." Also, kindergartners who were tested before and after watching a series of Between the Lions episodes improved their knowledge of word sounds by 64 percent, compared to only 25 percent gains for similar children who did not watch the show.

The program is closed-captioned for viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing, and, beginning in February 2005, a second audio track in Spanish will be available. Postcards from Buster is produced by WGBH Boston and Cookie Jar Entertainment, Inc., in association with Marc Brown Studios and is supported by the Office of Innovation and Improvement's Ready to Learn TV grant program. OII will be conducting a new grant competition under this program in 2005.

Resources: Top

What's New

From the U.S. Department of Education

U.S. Department of Education Secretary Rod Paige addressed participants at the 3rd Annual Summit on English Language Acquisition about bridging the achievement gap. He also presented the Award for Excellence in Teaching English Language Learners. (Oct. 7)

The U.S. Department of Education has a new e-learning tool that offers teachers on-demand professional development training to improve student achievement. The program is part of the Teacher-to-Teacher initiative to help educators share best practices for putting research to work in the classroom. (Oct. 7)

The U.S. Department of Education is hosting a national principals' workshop October 19-20 to share concrete leadership strategies with principals of schools struggling to improve student performance. (Oct. 4)

One of the cover stories in the latest issue of the U.S. Department of Education's newsletter The Achiever is about one family's experience with supplemental educational services. (Oct. 1)

Booklet for Parents

The National Center for Learning Disabilities and Schwab Learning have published a new booklet, Making the "No Child Left Behind Act" Work for Children Who Struggle to Learn: A Parent's Guide. The free guide explains provisions of the act along with action steps, resources, and checklists. (Oct. 7)

American History

The Gilder Lehrman Institute has launched a quarterly American history online journal, History Now. The journal contains articles from noted historians, lesson plans, resource guides, and links to related websites. The Institute has partnered with school districts participating in OII's Teaching American History program. (Sept. 2004)

PBS and others are producing a new four-part series, Destination America, which will tell the story of immigrants coming to the United States for Freedom from Want, Freedom of Religion, Freedom to Create, and Freedom for Women. [More-Biz.Yahoo] (Oct. 4)

The Henry Ford Museum and America Online, with support from DTE Energy Foundation, are offering people the opportunity to vote for the idea or innovation that has most influenced American life over the last 75 years. Voters will select the top ten from a list of innovations compiled by historians and curators. [More-PR Newswire] (Oct. 4)


The OII-supported website has a new section for families in Spanish. The website gives information and resources on supplemental educational services. (Oct. 1)

A web guide to PBS's Closing the Achievement Gap documentary on Amistad Academy charter school provides links to education resources. (Oct. 1)

A new website provides information for the education community on federal government and foundation funding opportunities. (Oct. 6)

The website of the National Teen Resource Bureau sponsored by the National Endowment for Financial Education of Englewood (CO) is designed to encourage a better understanding of personal finance issues and help young people develop good money management skills. (Oct. 8)


Innovations in the News

Arts Education
As a result of the 2002 Sarasota County (FL) referendum that added $28 million to schools countywide, there has been 7 percent growth in the fields of music, visual arts, and dance education. [More-Venice Gondolier Sun] (Oct. 2)

Some see the digital information age as the dawn of a new golden era for artists and designers. International demand for technically sophisticated arts graduates is growing. The postsecondary Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota (FL) is positioning itself to meet this demand. [More-Herald Tribune] (Oct. 3)

Charter Schools
Over the summer, two dozen parents and educators from throughout Virginia gathered for an all-day meeting in Henrico County to study how to submit strong applications to start public charter schools. One of the groups interested in energizing this kind of reform is a newly formed Virginia chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. [More-Free Lance-Star] (Oct. 1)

The Boston Foundation, which is made up of more than 750 separate charitable funds, guaranteed a 10-year, $2.5 million loan for the Massachusetts Charter School Loan Guarantee Fund, a project of the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency. [More-Boston Business Journal] (Sept. 30) [see also the Innovator for September 23, 2003]

Economics Education
The National Urban League Young Professionals organization is educating young people about sensible financial strategies through its Know Your Money seminars in Houston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C. [More-Philadelphia Inquirer] (Oct. 1)

The Jump$tart Summit, which will host over 200 Indiana teachers, highlights the need for financial literacy starting early in the education process and continuing through high school. [More-Inside Indiana Business] (Sept. 29)

Teacher Quality
The University of California Riverside has received an $11.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to increase the number, quality, and diversity of California's science teachers. [More-UC Riverside Newsroom] (Oct. 4)


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Last Modified: 01/25/2008