Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition
Animated trio leads adventures to make STEM fun in kids’ show
“Work It Out
Wombats!,” a new animated series for children ages 3 to 6, recently premiered on PBS Kids.
The stars of the show are marsupial siblings Malik, Zadie and Zeke, who take their young audiences on a parade of adventures, tackling challenges, problem-solving and seeking creative solutions — all while having fun. The adults who got federal and major funding for the series call all that computational thinking key to the STEM disciplines, which Wombats artfully lays the foundation to explore.
The trio’s Treeborhood is a diverse place, where their friends are many different kinds of animals. They sometimes speak different languages and have varied customs, but all share the same adventurous world.
That’s all right up Kareem Edouard’s alley. The assistant professor in Drexel University’s School of Education in Philadelphia researches the intersectionality of race, culture and STEM engagement for students of color. He and wife Darlene Mortel Edouard, head of the media consulting organization Ole Greens Group, are co-creative producers of the new show.
The couple has guided the show’s culturally inclusive content and spirit. Their 5-year-old daughter was their resident expert and at-home test audience.
Kareem Edouard’s goal is to motivate Black and brown students to be active in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
This interview with Edouard has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: One of your goals is motivating students of color to pursue STEM. How do you think “Work It Out Wombats!” can plant that seed?
A: The design of the show is really providing a creative approach to look at STEM, but particularly computational thinking and ideas. Computational thinking really is about problem-solving, and engaging in problemsolving is using computer science principles. Those can be complicated on the surface. But thinking about patterns and how to solve problems using patterns are very common ideas. What we do on the show is create creative fun opportunities for young people to see our primary characters — Malik, Zadie and Zeke — try to be change-makers and solve issues that are in the Treeborhood. Fun is really the heart of the show.
Q: What do you hope “Work it Out Wombats!” brings to its viewers?
A: One word: agency. I hope that this show provides and supports agency for young people to identify not only with the characters, but how they solve problems and interact with the world around
them. I personally identify with Zadie. She is always headfirst and looking to engage, and that’s how I’ve always been. And that’s what I want young people to take from this — that their agency and engaging in computational thinking is absolutely important for not only their own development, but also their STEM identity development.
Q: What is something any adult can do to encourage kids to pursue STEM?
A: Listen. The most important thing that I’ve learned as both a classroom educator and as an academic and researcher is listening to young people. They have wonderful questions, but then they’re also absolutely capable of providing solutions.
Not only listening is paramount, but also taking the advice that young people give. Because at some point, we’re going to age out of this system. It’s going to be them who will be creating the infrastructures, designing solutions, and it’s really important to have them be a part of the process early. If we talk at them, we’re not going to be able to really fully engage with young people.