March 7, 2023
Introducing kids 4–8 to computational thinking, Lyla in the Loop premieres early 2024.
Associate Professor of Computing and Innovation Amon Millner is contributing his expertise on cultivating computational thinking skills in young children to a new PBS KIDS show called Lyla in the Loop.
Created by Emmy-winning producer Dave Peth, founder of media production and consulting company Mighty Picnic, Lyla in the Loop stars Lyla, an energetic 7-year-old Black girl, as she works with her close-knit family and diverse community to solve problems using concepts underlying computing fields, such as creativity, logic, and critical thinking.
Millner serves as the show’s curriculum director, reviewing scripts and visual designs to ensure scientific and computational accuracy. He also helps Mighty Picnic build and maintain an ecosystem of creative contributors that reflect the backgrounds, perspectives, and lived experiences being infused into the Loops neighborhood to “embody the kinds of work environments we hope that young people watching the show can enjoy or cultivate when they enter the world of work,” says Millner.
“Lyla in the Loop has multiple layers of exciting opportunities because we’re working on a part of something that we know is so much larger,” says Millner. “As one of the first shows for kids that centers not only early computing concepts but also personal identity development and its relation to computing, bringing Lyla to life involved building an age-appropriate computational thinking framework that will serve other shows exploring these central ideas in the future.”
As director of the Extending Access to STEM Empowerment (EASE) Lab, Millner’s focus has long been on expanding hands-on STEM experiences for young learners, particularly those from areas with fewer resources and among groups historically excluded from STEM study and careers.
“Olin’s concept of Engineering for Everyone means leaving behind some of the traditional baggage in many STEM fields of who is ‘allowed’ to be involved and how things get done,” says Millner.
“Lyla provides an alternative model for computational thinking through a fun, fictitious family that comes alive on television screens and on digital devices in ways that connect to the world around viewers, allowing young people to advance their idea of what computer science is and how they can be involved.”
Instead of depicting computer science as sitting at a desk and coding, Lyla in the Loop will show characters working through problems aloud and collaborating through computational thinking on issues such as building a kid-sized train set or searching for a mailed package that’s gone missing.
“Maybe one of the most exciting things for me about the show is that it features a family who takes joy in finding creative solutions to problems and making mistakes along the way,” says Peth. “That’s important because making mistakes, hitting dead ends, and persevering through them is a natural part of the problem-solving process. We want kids to see these kinds of activities as enjoyable and rewarding ways to pass their time, just like sports, the arts, and other activities they’re drawn to.”
Representation is also key for Lyla in the Loop, featuring a Black family; friends and neighbors spanning multiple continents and cultures; and a fuzzy blue sidekick named Stu.
“Women and people of color have been traditionally excluded or marginalized within many STEM fields. Our lead character, Lyla, is depicted as Black to offer both a counter example to those negative messages and an invitation,” says Peth. “We hope kids at home will recognize themselves in Lyla and be inspired to jump in and explore their own creative problem-solving abilities.”
Aimed at kids ages 4–8, Lyla in the Loop premieres in early 2024. Funding for Lyla in the Loop was provided by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and a grant from the U.S. Department of Education as part of the Ready to Learn Initiative, a federal program that supports the development of innovative educational television and digital media targeted to preschool and early elementary school children and their families.