Interactive Media and Social-Emotional Learning

Growing up, many of us learned valuable social-emotional skills from television shows like Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, or ARTHUR. Every Saturday morning, I remember getting up early so I could watch Arthur and his sister DW navigate their lives in Elwood City, learning lessons about the importance of being kind and listening to others.

As media becomes increasingly interactive, educators have a chance to use media to further strengthen students’ social, emotional, and character development. The AIM Buddy Project, a social-emotional character development curriculum, uses characters from the PBS series ARTHUR to do just that.

Created through a partnership between WGBH and Tufts University’s Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development, the AIM Buddy Project seeks to use interactive media to encourage positive relationships with peers across grades and throughout the entire school. The curriculum helps students learn to think critically about the impact of their actions on other people, helping them become more accountable.

The curriculum, which is offered free of charge, consists of five units split into 20 classroom sessions that focus on empathy, honesty, forgiveness, generosity, and learning from others. Each unit features an online comic or a game based on an ARTHUR episode. The curriculum can be used to supplement existing social-emotional lessons or used stand-alone and comes with training videos and implementation support.

A research study to evaluate the program, involving 90 teachers and 1,155 students from two school districts in Massachusetts, found that the program led to “statistically significant increases in [students’s] empathy, future-mindedness, and positive perceptions of their classroom climate.” Students participating in the program were “four times more likely to show a better understanding of honesty and two and a half times more likely to show a better understanding of forgiveness and learning from others.”

This program represents an exciting way to use engaging media to help children develop the social and emotional skills they will need to be successful, empathetic students and someday professional adults.

I invite you to review the free AIM Buddy Project curriculumwhich contains everything you need to plan and implement the AIM program with your students. And if you’d like to hear more about the AIM Buddy Project, Mary Haggerty (WGBH) and Milena Batanovna (formerly at Tufts and now at the Harvard Graduate School of Education) will be presenting at this year’s Learning Differences Conference.

See you there!

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director