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Brought to You by the Letter ‘G’
Jul 2010
Jul. 26, 2010 — We weren’t five minutes into the meeting and I’d already said something I knew I would regret. After asking the other editorial folk what was new and learning that little had transpired since I’d last talked to them, I’d responded with the sage observation, “Well, no g-news is good g-news.”

My colleagues had never seen or heard of Gary Gnu (here pronounced “G-nu,” without the silent G), the Muppet-like newscaster from the 80s children’s TV show “The Great Space Coaster.” Nor were they familiar with his spirited catchphrase, which to me is as redolent of the decade as “I pity the fool!” or “Where’s the beef?” They took to the character like a Muppet-like duck to water, though. I spent the next hour or so answering to the name of Gary Gnu (“what do you think, Gary Gnu?”; “do you know what optogenetics is, Gary Gnu, or do you just like saying the word?), and now that I’m writing this I’m sure I’ll be hearing quite a bit more of that particular sobriquet.

Anyway, the episode got me thinking about children’s TV shows in general, and in particular children’s TV shows that impart some kind of knowledge about science. I was once a child myself, of course. And now I have two nephews who like to watch PBS Kids (my niece isn’t yet old enough to hang with Curious George like her brother). So I guess I have some small amount of experience with these shows.

Sesame Street (1969-Present)

We all know the educational opportunities to be had on the Street, courtesy of Elmo and the gang, but you may not have heard this: Last year, as part of the White House’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign, Sesame Street announced a two-year initiative seeking to teach kids about science, technology, education and math (STEM). Twenty of the 26 new episodes during this time will focus on STEM: 13 will emphasize science and seven will delve into math. First Lady Michelle Obama visited the show in November to launch the initiative while helping to kick off the show’s 40th season. 

Curious George (2006-Present)

Everyone’s favorite inquisitive monkey stars in this PBS Kids show, designed to inspire children to explore science, math and engineering. Curious George is not quite as didactic as some of the other shows. Rather, it focuses on the joy of discovery, with the adorable little simian embarking on all kinds of adventures, finding new ways to see and engage the world around him. I couldn’t find a clip of my favorite episode, in which George learns about measurement using a single, 30-foot strand of spaghetti, but here he finds out how hot air balloons work. 

Sid the Science Kid (2008-Present)

I know this show mostly for the hip-hoppy, earworm theme song and the tagline, “Did you hear the one about the kid who wanted to know everything about everything?” In the episodes I’ve seen, the titular Sid comes up with some sort of burning question over breakfast, his parents suggest he ask about it at school and off he goes. It’s a cute show, and certainly engaging – a good way, I’m sure, for kids to learn about a wide range of subjects. Here, Sid and his friends explore magnification. 

Inspector Gadget (1983-1986)

We tuned in to see the telescoping arms and legs and the go-go-Gadget ‘Copter, but we came away with an appreciation of how using our brains can help to foil plots by evil crime syndicates. The bionic yet dimwitted Inspector was the star of the show, but his niece Penny – with her investigative prowess and hi-tech accessories –was always the one to save the day. (By the way, why is it that cartoon characters only ever have nephews and nieces, never children of their own? I have my own theories, but I’m curious as to what others think.) While there’s nothing especially educational here, the show deserves a mention because it emphasizes the importance of smarts over robotically enhanced physicality.

Extra points for the ruby laser. 

Children’s TelevisionCurious GeorgeDifferent WavelengthsEducate to InnovateeducationGadget CopterGary BoasGary Boas BlogGary GnuInspector GadgetMichelleMichelle ObamaObamaPbSPBS Kidsscience educationSesame StreetSid the Science KidThe Great Space Coaster

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