McDaniel professor is consultant for new PBS KIDS math series

October 04, 2013

When PBS KIDS new children’s math series PEG + CAT premiered the morning of Oct. 7, McDaniel professor and mathematics education expert Francis “Skip” Fennell was among its viewers – with a grandchild or two by his side.

Fennell has been involved with the show since its beginnings more than a year ago. He consulted on scripts, apps and games for the animated preschool series created by Billy Aronson (“Rent,” “Postcards from Buster”) and Jennifer Oxley (“Little Bill,” “The Wonder Pets!”) of 9ate7 Productions, and a production of The Fred Rogers Company.

In each episode a spirited little girl named Peg and her sidekick Cat encounter an unexpected challenge that requires them to solve problems using important mathematics and problem-solving skills in order to save the day and ultimately develop foundational mathematics concepts and skills. The PEG + CAT website features games, activities and adventures that support the mathematics concepts and problem-solving approaches developed in the show.  

As the educational consultant, Fennell verified that the show’s math was correct and that it was coming in at the appropriate time not only within each episode of the show but at the developmental level of the mostly pre-school viewers.

Every show, Fennell says, has the general theme of problem solving. Peg and Cat don’t walk away from problems – they solve them. And that alone has Fennell cheering.

“I’ve always told my students that the reason to learn mathematics is to solve problems,” he says, explaining that too often children and adults alike are intimidated and shy away from solving problems involving mathematics. “When Peg gets stuck, she counts backwards and that helps her as she prepares to get over the hurdle presented by the problem. All the shows end with celebrating how Peg and Cat solved the problem.

“That’s what we want to instill in children at a young age – to want to solve problems and to learn mathematics so that they can solve problems.”

Peg + Cat

Fennell’s expertise in mathematics education and his position as director of the Brookhill Foundation-supported Elementary Mathematics Specialists and Teacher Leaders Project at McDaniel have also led to his recent selection as a member of the panel of experts for VTech, a leader in age-appropriate and developmental stage-based electronic learning products for children, and his appointment several years ago to the advisory board of Dreambox Learning, an online math learning program for use in homes as well as schools, including many Carroll County elementary schools.

The L. Stanley Bowlsbey Professor of Education and Graduate and Professional Studies at McDaniel, Fennell is a past president of the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE), the Research Council for Mathematics Learning (RCML), and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).

Widely published in professional journals and textbooks related to PreK-8 mathematics education, Fennell has also played key leadership roles for the Mathematical Sciences Education Board, National Science Foundation, and the U.S. National Commission on Mathematics Instruction. He served as a writer for the Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (NCTM, 2000), the Curriculum Focal Points (NCTM, 2006) and for the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSO, 2010). He also served on the National Mathematics Advisory Panel (2006-2008). He served as a member of the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) Commission (2012-2013) and was recently appointed to the inaugural CAEP Board of Directors.

He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including Maryland’s Outstanding Mathematics Educator, McDaniel College’s Professor of the Year, the Glenn Gilbert National Leadership Award from the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics, the CASE-Carnegie Foundation Professor of the Year for Maryland, the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators’ Distinguished Outstanding Teacher Educator, and, more recently, the 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

The series will air daily following its 9 a.m. Oct. 7 premiere on MPT (Check local listings.) To learn more, visit pbskids.org/peg.

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