Eductional programming:

We've clearly come a long way from the days when 'educational media' meant an A.V. squad armed with a stack of 16mm films about good manners and traffic safety. The children's TV industry has wrought a renaissance in what's available to...
August 1, 2000

We’ve clearly come a long way from the days when ‘educational media’ meant an A.V. squad armed with a stack of 16mm films about good manners and traffic safety. The children’s TV industry has wrought a renaissance in what’s available to teachers. Since 1989, Cable in the Classroom (CIC), a public service initiative of the U.S. cable TV industry, has been providing educational programming free to schools and teachers on a daily basis. More recently, this type of fare is being augmented by numerous on-line edu-offerings.

PBS, a longtime educational TV presence in schools, recently inked its first public/private deal with JuniorNet to provide an on-line kids service to schools. In addition to educational content, the JuniorNet Online Service features games, activities and stories from content providers such as Highlights for Children, Weekly Reader, Ranger Rick, Sports Illustrated for Kids, Zillions and Jim Henson’s Bear in the Big Blue House. Stations led by Maryland Public Broadcasting Foundation, Nebraskans for Public Television and South Carolina Educational Communications, will provide JuniorNet’s safe ad-free service to schools and homes, supporting the initiative with promo power, and in 2001, debuting a daily half-hour TV series produced by JuniorNet subsid Lancit Media that’s designed to familiarize kids with the Internet.

National Public Radio and also recently inked a deal to provide original on-line learning material to America’s schools this fall. The Web resource will feature NPR content and audio, lesson plans, student activities and classroom participation opps. Election coverage is one of the first big topics coming up.

The cable industry is also getting interactive as part of its ongoing CIC activities. More than 8,500 local cable companies and 36 U.S. cable programmers have together invested US$2 million per week in America’s schools for the last 10 years. Nine of those cable nets have daily program blocks allotted to CIC commercial-free programming. Local cable companies provide free cable service to all area schools, and the schools, using the CIC monthly program guide (available as hard-copy or on-line), choose programs to tape in off-hours. As long as they remember to set their VCR, teachers can provide a variety of audio-visual lessons that are copyright cleared for one year of free classroom use.

Three dozen cable channels are part of the program, offering everything from history (A&E, History Channel), geography (The Travel Channel), math (ESPN2), government issues (C-SPAN), cooking (Food Network), music appreciation (VH1) and more. Additional networks, such as National Geographic (launching this winter), are joining the initiative each year. All of this programming is aimed at three groups: preschool, elementary and high school level students.

‘The teachers I know really use Cable in the Classroom programming,’ says Vickie Deneroff, a teacher for the L.A. Unified School district. ‘For science teachers like myself, it’s a real plus. For example, you can’t show what a tornado is like from still pictures or books.’

Does Deneroff see the Internet replacing CIC? ‘How you use the Internet is completely different from how you use Cable In the Classroom programs,’ Deneroff says. ‘I use the Internet to download lesson plans and information of interest to the class. The Internet is like a vast encyclopedia and newspaper-and is more interactive. But Cable In the Classroom certainly offers a more dramatic and entertaining way for my students to learn and understand a particular subject. They don’t really compete with each other, and they often compliment each other.’

KidScreen took a look at the leading U.S. kids cable channels to see what each has to offer and what’s ahead. . .

Over at Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting Systems, its 11-year-old in-house educational arm Turner Learning (which coordinates the CIC activities of TBS’s various channels and sites) is launching this month with CNN Interactive. The content-rich news and info site created for middle and high school students features areas designated for teachers and students linked by a main daily news page. ‘Middle and high school students are very interested in news and news features and are accustomed to using the Internet as a learning tool,’ says Scott Woeful, president and editor-in-chief of CNN Interactive. ‘This site will be interesting, useful and age-appropriate for young people.’ content partners are: Harcourt (on-line learning site), (on-line high school) and Riverdeep Interactive Learning (on-line education site).

Turner Learning operates on two levels. One develops the educational programming that is free, generally funded by TBS, the other generates income. Turner Learning’s revenue is derived from educational partnerships, sponsored programs where companies develop co-branding positions, strategic partnerships where there is a shared payoff (such as the presence on fyi, which provides free content and association for both companies) and merchandising. They don’t break even, but Dr. John Richards, senior VP and GM of Turner Learning, says the division is more interested in long-term rewards resulting from a wholesome brand than in a short-term cash payoff.

TL execs are sensitive to concerns voiced about ads in the classroom. The unit prefers to tread softly, avoiding full-blown ads in favor of underwriting deals and sponsorships announced by a simple logo. ‘Frankly,’ says Richards, ‘I think that it’s important that schools remain a commercial-free zone.’ He acknowledges that many schools are underfunded, but Richards feels opening the door to extensive advertising can confuse the message. So, for services like the new, TL fostered educational partnerships. The companies-in fyi’s case Riverdeep, and Harcourt-pay for a presence on the site in return for co-brand recognition with the Turner product, in addition to getting traffic directed to their sites.

In ongoing CIC fare, CNN Newsroom airs a daily block of news and features especially for school use. This year, each episode through November contains a special report, Democracy In America, to coincide with the Presidential election. Cartoon Network devotes a half hour each month to Animate Your World, a program (and accompanying educators kit) designed to inspire individuality and creative expression. Cartoon also continues its relationship with Sesame Workshop in co-producing Big Bag, the preschool problem-solving anthology show featuring muppets and animation. In October, TCM presents the annual ‘TCM by the Book:’ Week one this year highlights Film Biographies with classic films about Curie, Edison and Lincoln.

WAM! (America’s Kid Network), part of the Starz Encore Super Pak pay cable service, is a commercial-free channel that offers more hours of CIC qualified elementary and high school programming (60 hours per week) than any other net. The daily 12-hour Mind Zone programming block, from 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, offers regularly scheduled curriculum-specific strips. ‘Our goal, 24 hours a day, is to provide information and problem-solving tools for kids,’ says Midge Pierce, WAM’s programming VP. Targeted to kids ages eight to 16, the most popular series are WAM! originals Mark’s Web World, which teaches responsible Internet use, and Caught in the Middle, a ‘real world’ look at what goes on inside an actual high school (Franklin High School in Seattle). New series set for a fall debut include: Club Write, which addresses writing skills and language arts; Nature’s Secret World, which explores earth science; and three new math/entertainment series-Math Vantage, Math Media and After Math Crew.

The Discovery Channel is one of the founding members in CIC, and Discovery CEO Judith McHale is the current CIC chair. ‘Our commitment to Cable in the Classroom is large and long-term, with over 20 hours of programming each week,’ says Mary Rollins, Discovery’s director of marketing for the Education division. ‘We schedule four theme weeks which air each semester, each has five hours of programming.’ For the fall, Discovery has new programming based around science and social studies: earth science, life science, health, energy and ancient civilizations. The channel estimates that it forgoes over US$3 million dollars a year in lost revenue on commercial-free air time. Discovery also has a website that supports the programming with lesson plans. ‘We have a teachers advisory board that helps select, produce and market the programs, so we work very closely with educators, addressing all their needs.’

Fox Family Channel has had a long relationship with CIC that dates back to its Family Channel years. Aiming for kindergarten through grade eight, the channel devotes a prime midday hour monthly to CIC. ‘For each month of the school year, we’ve designated themes that are already recognized or that we felt suited the needs of the school,’ states Fox Family’s Donna Mitroff, senior VP of Policies & Practices. Fox Family kicks off the new CIC block next month with the Emmy-winning Afterschool Special Boys Will Be Boys, which ties into National School Success Month. For a science theme in November, Fox’s animated The Why Why Family tackles science questions; and for February’s Black History Month, Crosses On The Lawn, a School Break special about racial intolerance, is featured. Fox acquired a library of ABC Afterschool Specials and CBS School Break programs, recruiting specific episodes for the CIC initiative. Original programming produced for the Fox Boyz Channel and Girlz Channel, also fit the CIC criteria. ‘In March [tying into Women's History Month], we’ll be airing companion episodes of Boyzopolis and Girlzopolis, which deal with the question, ‘What does it mean to be a man?/What does it mean to be a woman?’ says Mitroff. ‘We’ve created supplementary materials, available on-line, which teachers can use in the classroom.’

Kids kingpin Nickelodeon devotes a half hour each weekday morning to CIC programming. The varied block includes special episodes of Nick News, Mr. Wizard’s World, Teacher to Teacher, Launch Box and even educational episodes of Charlie Brown. Each program is tied into a monthly theme, for example August features On-Line Technology. A special website ( provides class guides and related material, along with a teacher’s bulletin board and a Nick/CIC broadcast sked. In addition, The Bright Orange Teacher Contest 2000 is Nick’s second national cash-and-computers award for the teacher with the most creative and effective lesson plan based on an environmentally focused Big Help activity (TBA November 15).

Nickelodeon and Sesame Workshop’s Noggin offer 20 hours a day of CIC-cleared preschool programming, including episodes of Sesame Street, Square One TV, Gullah Gullah Island and Blue’s Clues, and beginning in September, Noggin will add the Emmy-winning Bill Nye, the Science Guy to the CIC lineup.

The Disney Channel runs its two nature shows, Amazing Animals for preschoolers and Going Wild With Jeff Corwin for elementary-age kids, in special blocks for CIC use. The channel’s new specials and original movies are, when appropriate, also rerun accompanied by teacher’s kits. In the fall, Disney plans to add Learning Differences, an examination of kids with learning disabilities, to its CIC programming.

HBO Family devotes an hour and a half each weekday to CIC. Episodes of HBO originals such as the mixed-media pre-school series A Little Curious and the elementary level Crashbox feature interactive games focusing on math, social studies and language arts. These offerings are joined by 30 BY 30: Kid Flicks, HBO’s innovative, self-produced filmmaking series. This summer, HBO Family brings the movie-making experience up close and personal to 12 U.S. cities with The HBO Kid Flicks Studio Tour, a hands-on 34-foot mobile film studio filled with touch-screen iMac stations that lets kids navigate through the filmmaking process. HBO info kits include a poster encouraging kids to submit projects to the Kid Flicks Online Film Festival. Soon the kids will need programming on picking an agent. . .

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