Finding Math in the Everyday with Sesame Street and Google’s Course Builder

Editor's note: Today’s guest author is Kayla Nalven, Content Specialist in Sesame Street’s U.S. Social Impact department. Through her work, Kayla aims to support the many adults in children's lives in their use of Sesame Street content and resources. She managed the content development for the “Make Believe with Math” course.

To date, more than 5,000 early childhood educators have enrolled in a free online course from Sesame Street, “Make Believe with Math”, created through Google’s Course Builder platform. The course - which will run through October 31st - emphasizes finding everyday opportunities for math in any setting and seeing pretend play as a tool for math learning.
This self-paced, three-hour experience includes videos featuring Sesame staff members, short activity challenges, discussion boards for reflection, and access to new content, so educators can bring activity ideas and strategies into their own settings.
Built with Google’s Course Builder platform, the course was a natural extension of Sesame’s legacy as the “first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC),” according to a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Course Builder gave us a way to continue this work more literally by creating a modern online course with a goal of reaching thousands with no cost to the user; furry monsters and giggles included.

Although creating virtual classroom experiences for adults is an area we’re growing into, the process guiding us is a familiar one—in essence, it’s no different than the method behind making an episode of Sesame Street.

Our team at Sesame Street started with a goal and a concept. We wanted to make the task of incorporating math into the early childhood setting less intimidating for educators by highlighting opportunities that exist to “find the math” in everyday moments and interactions. Research describing the benefits of combining math―which relies on language as well as object/people relationships―with a highly social activity like pretend play inspired the approach featured in the course.

Next, we engaged our end users. We asked expert teachers to provide guidance on how to present information to fellow educators in a way that would add value and adhere to the standards they must follow. We developed the course curriculum based on their feedback and the Sesame Street Framework for School Readiness (which aligns with National Head Start and National Research Council math standards).

We then tested our ideas in a formal research setting. We held a focus group with educators and program directors, and heard from them that the course needed to look and feel like Professional Development―except “Muppetized”.

To ensure what we were offering felt unique, we focused on providing actionable tips and strategies that could be used by educators right away. We worked to streamline the course format and include relatable imagery and additional, single-page resources, all based on what educators told us they wanted to see and experience.

We then held a pilot offering in August, and monitored closely to ensure educators were completing activities successfully and finding value in every aspect of the course.

After the pilot, we knew there was still more work to be done. We followed up with participants and listened closely to their feedback. The data from the first launch was promising. We saw an above-average percentage of course completion, and educators told us there was a strong likelihood that they would implement strategies offered in the course in their own settings.

Finally, we set our sights on iterating. For the current offering, we applied what we learned from rich Course Builder analytics and survey data to continue making this online learning experience worthwhile for educators. We also partnered with multiple states to offer credit/contact hours to educators in those states who complete the course.

We hope to continue learning from our users so we can offer more free trainings directed at educators, parents, and community providers―and continue doing what we do best: reaching learners wherever they are. Course Builder was a natural platform to enable us to do just that.

So get your thinking caps and imaginations ready, and join us in class! Register now at The course will run through October 31st, so don’t wait until the “number of the day” is 0.