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Learn Your "Plurals"

Powderpuff girls

Learn Your "Plurals"

What you can learn from, and how to help teach, today’s youngest generation of students.

By Christina Miller

“Plurals,” if you haven’t heard, is the recently minted moniker for the youngest generation of Americans. Those born after 1997 have grown up in a world of touch screens, mobile devices, and easy access to the Internet. Plurals are unlike any generation that came before them, especially when it comes to how they interact with the digital world.

This generation explores digital content on their own terms before they can even speak in full sentences. Between 2011 and 2013, mobile usage among children younger than eight doubled worldwide, and tablet usage more than quadrupled. Plurals expect choice and demand control over the sights, sounds, and stories they engage with online. They want to be able to dive deep on the things they love, create their own personalized spinoff content, and share it with their friends.

As the president of Cartoon Network, I’m inspired by this generation. They are creative, inventive, and imaginative, and their thirst for exploration is remarkable. We have learned that to entertain and engage this generation of kids, we need to not only create great shows but also make them accessible in as many ways as possible. Plurals need to be able to interact with content directly wherever and whenever they want—and even make it their own. That’s why the characters and worlds from Cartoon Network’s series are available for viewers to play with, interpret, and remix.

It’s also why we didn’t hesitate to get involved when the White House recently announced its commitment to making coding and computer science an integral part of every student’s education. We were thrilled to celebrate the ingenuity of today’s youth at the annual White House Science Fair on April 13, where we had the opportunity to release new components of our computer science initiative. We’re creating original, long-form content featuring storylines about computer science and characters who code—you can view the trailer for an upcoming coding-themed episode of Powerpuff Girls here. We also launched our first public service announcement focused on creative coding, which we hope will inspire kids to code themselves. We’ve seen that hands-on learning projects are what today’s kids are asking for—and what they need to be successful. For these kids, creation is about more than filming short video clips and riffing on popular memes. It’s about merging the roles of consumer and creator, becoming entrepreneurial users, and making their creative voices part of the conversation.

So how should the plural generation’s unprecedented demand for interactive content shape the classroom? When it comes to digital resources, educators need help distinguishing between distraction and enrichment. Success in advancing science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) education will mean providing teachers with hands-on resources that kids can interpret, interact with, and make their own—and build new skills along the way.

The most exciting innovations for kids today are tools and programs that encourage their thirst for creative self-expression while teaching them critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. To do just that, the MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten Group developed Scratch—a free and easy-to-use coding platform and programming language specifically for kids. Scratch enables kids to snap together graphical programming blocks to make characters move, jump, dance, talk, and interact with one another— giving them endless opportunities to express their own ideas. Scratch also taps into kids’ natural instinct to collaborate by providing a safe, social space for them to share ideas and interact with each other’s creations.

Cartoon Network’s recent investment in STEAM initiatives builds on our partnership with Scratch. In December 2015 we launched a series of tutorials and sample creations that bring characters from one of our most popular series We Bare Bears to life using Scratch technology. Since launching the tutorials, kids have developed more than 20,000 games, animations and other creations—learning the basics of coding while they make something all their own. And as we all know, the skills you learn while you’re having fun are the ones that stick.

I hope administrators will check out the resources we’ve provided for integrating the tutorials into classrooms and afterschool programs. I’m excited to see what kids will learn when they use the tutorials and see coding featured in their favorite shows. But I’m even more excited to see what they create.

The creative identities of the plurals generation will shape the world around us. If we simply give young people the skills and tools they need to express themselves, this generation of fast thinkers and collaborative learners will build worlds reaching far beyond our own imaginations.

Christina Miller is president and general manager of Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and Boomerang.

Photo courtesy of Cartoon Network

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in edu Pulse are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.