Kareem Edouard has been doing analysis for years on find out how to make youngsters’s media extra inclusive. And lately he’s placing these concepts into observe — on a giant platform.
He’s making use of his analysis as a artistic producer for a brand new present on PBS known as Work It Out Wombats!, geared toward instructing ideas of computational considering to youngsters ages 3 to six.
Edouard is not any stranger to creating media. Earlier than he turned a tutorial, he spent years producing TV commercials and music movies. Then he switched careers to turn out to be a kindergarten trainer and later a highschool trainer earlier than going again to get a doctorate in schooling from Stanford College.
Right now, he’s an assistant professor in studying sciences and STEM schooling at Drexel College’s Faculty of Schooling, and he leads the college’s Casual Studying Linking Engineering Science and Expertise (ILLEST Lab).
EdSurge sat down with Edouard to speak about how his analysis informs his new animated TV present and the way he thinks the media business wants to alter to assist draw extra Black college students into STEM fields.
Hearken to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts, or use the participant on this web page. Or learn a partial transcript beneath, evenly edited for readability.
EdSurge: What’s the hole that you’ve got seen in youngsters’s leisure round STEM subjects that you just’re making an attempt to fill?
Kareem Edouard: The first work with my manufacturing hat is nuance. We’ve this broad dialogue round fairness and inclusion, however we miss the cultural nuance of illustration throughout the spectrum, significantly for younger youngsters. And the work that I do — each in a tutorial area after which additionally the manufacturing work — is ensuring that the lacking voices, significantly of Black and brown college students, immigrant college students and LGBTQ college students, are represented throughout a large [range of media], significantly in youngsters’s STEM media.
That does two issues. One, it offers motivation and inspiration, if you see your self mirrored again at you. And the second factor we run into is the shortage of creators [of entertainment shows], the precise creators of the content material that additionally appear like the younger those who we’re seeking to attain.
If you had been a child watching youngsters’s reveals, did you’re feeling like there was one thing lacking?
As a younger Black male, there was at all times the approaching of age story, and it was at all times white male-focused. So Luke Skywalker in Star Wars — very white male-focused — in addition to all of the cartoons.
And I am not saying that we did not have any illustration [in media], however the illustration wasn’t direct sufficient to talk to me, to see myself mirrored again the place I felt assured, I felt appreciated and I additionally felt the nuance of who I’m seeing on display. And a part of that was that numerous it was by way of a white gaze.
There was a really restricted dialogue on how we represented Black boys, as an example. For those who’re sufficiently old to recollect the TV present “Recess,” one of many characters was a Black male carrying a basketball jersey and high-tops. There nonetheless was one thing lacking, in the truth that this character was very flat — which most ‘80s and ‘90s cartoons had been very flat to start out with — nevertheless it was actually flat, significantly for Black boys and Black ladies.
So that you’re saying it felt out of steadiness?
My dad and mom are from Haiti, so being not solely Black, but in addition being Haitian was one other a part of the immigrant story that I used to be seeking to see mirrored again. And we did not see that. It was at all times a really explicit East Coast story of what a Black boy was.
So the work that I do, significantly on the ILLEST Lab, is that we glance to problem these constructs and actually attempt to advance this dialog that there are alternatives not solely to see ourselves, however to even be energetic creators within the course of.
In your profession, you have got additionally been an elementary and highschool trainer. How has that knowledgeable your considering?No. 1, younger folks aren’t actually listening to you as a trainer, they’re absorbing tradition outdoors of the classroom. So Carol Lee is a tutorial that I actually maintain expensive in my coronary heart, and she or he frames it by way of this dialog of ‘cultural modeling.’ So that you deliver what’s outdoors within the tradition into the classroom. And one of many first strains of engagement for younger folks is the media that they are consuming. So the kindergarten academics that I might hang around with and work with, they might at all times reference their cartoons. So we might do work critiquing a number of the cartoons that they had been watching and actually having a dialogue of find out how to affect their very own growth.
The second factor is simply to be very direct. It isn’t simply cartoons. It is a multibillion-dollar business, and it has tracks the place you may get authorities funding. And you then even have a number of streaming platforms which can be paying hundreds of thousands for creators to develop. So the younger folks, they’re beginning to perceive and see that, and so they’re now starting to ask questions as to how they will have illustration and entry to content material that actually will not be just for them and their very own private progress growth, however then additionally the place this content material sits within the cultural zeitgeist.
How did you come to work on a present for PBS making use of your analysis?
The concept already existed — by two fantastic govt producers, Marcy Gunther and Marisa Wolsky at WGBH Boston — who approached me to have a dialog about variety and fairness. So they’d the framework, the roadmap of this present, and so they actually wished to determine how they might make this present much more accessible.
So the very first thing I did with my accomplice, Dr. Darlene Edouard, we got here collectively and we watched some early samples of the present and began to consider, what are the cultural touchpoints?
One factor was the intro and the musical framing [of the theme]. So we made positive we put some raps in there, and I keep in mind sitting with the younger actors and strolling them by way of find out how to hit the totally different factors within the rap to provide them a extremely clear, nuanced expression of find out how to carry out this.
What’s the fundamental premise of the present?
It facilities across the three wombats — Malik, Sadie and Zeke — and the matriarch of their household, Grandma Tremendous. All of them dwell in a tree, and it follows them utilizing computational considering (CT) abilities to unravel issues. And a part of it’s centered round how these younger wombats are participating — not solely fixing issues within the neighborhood, however then navigating the neighborhood that is constructed.
So a part of what the wombats do for us so far as having this discourse, significantly having a grandmother be the pinnacle of the household, is there are lots of of our college students or our viewers who dwell in a household and not using a mom and father, however grandma raises them. … Actually what we tried to do within the designing of the “treeborhood” was mirror what America appears to be like like. After which additionally couching in the truth that we’re speaking about CT abilities and the way necessary that’s.
How do you’re employed STEM themes right into a present for such younger youngsters?
So it is a crew factor. I am sitting right here, nevertheless it’s nonetheless a crew factor. And my favourite episode is the cornbread episode. So No. 1, we began the cultural framing speaking about, how do you make cornbread? Everyone makes cornbread otherwise, and we wished to interact that within the present. However a part of a CT framing is course of, logic and group.
They wished to make Grandma Tremendous’s particular cornbread, however they had been lacking substances. In order that they needed to style various kinds of cornbread to determine and isolate what was the lacking ingredient. And that is the work that you just do if you’re beginning to code and you are going by way of nested “if” statements. However how do you current that to a 3- to 5-year-old, proper? So a part of it’s ensuring that we sofa all of these seven CT abilities inside actions and likewise storylines that later, if you go to the web site, you play the interactive recreation otherwise you interact in any of the curriculum that you just discover within the classroom, that is the place not solely the video games, however then additionally the academics are capable of proceed to strengthen the educational that was accomplished on the present.
Do you assume issues are altering and enhancing in representations of STEM in youngsters’s media broadly?
No. The artistic and the writing groups are nonetheless not reflective of the viewers that they are seeking to strategy. After which second, [there’s a need to] present fellowship and alternatives for the profession pathway for people which can be within the underrepresented communities to be part of it.
One of many issues at Work It Out Wombats that we satisfaction ourselves on is that we’ve got a writing fellowship as a result of myself and my spouse made it very clear that with the intention to create these cultural, nuanced discussions, we want writers, not solely writers which can be underrepresented, however we additionally want girls. We additionally want of us from immigrant backgrounds as a result of we’ve got characters on right here which can be from numerous backgrounds. To be able to have an actual genuine voice for all of those characters to be introduced, you want the writers to create that.
How does your lab play into that?
The first focus is, how can we create culturally sustaining STEM engagement for Black youngsters? And we’ve got one thing known as the Sneaker Lab the place I’ve about 600 sneakers in there, and we design and create sneakers by way of the idea of fabric science. And being within the animation enterprise and dealing in an area the place creativity is at its actual apex, I made a decision to open an animation lab [in ILLEST Lab] and I am bringing Black college students from West Philadelphia Excessive Faculty to return into the lab and interact.
It is proper now in its starting levels, the place we’re doing a little bit little bit of stop-motion work. Within the newest Spider-Verse film there’s a [14-year-old] Black male who was making animation on YouTube and TikTok who was requested to return in and create a sequence with Legos for the film. And I feel these are the alternatives that we have to begin cultivating and starting to strategize to get as many younger folks to be on this area to allow them to design and create, in order that approach they will get alternatives additional down the road.
Hearken to the total dialog on this week’s EdSurge Podcast.