A Lifelong Love of Science
The Informal Science Education (ISE) program, created in 1984, is one way that NSF nurtures a lifelong love of science. ISE projects include everything from film and radio to exhibits in museums and technology centers. The idea, says Hyman Field, deputy division director of the Elementary, Secondary, and Informal Education Division, is to "engage everybody from pre-kindergartners to senior citizens in activities outside the formal school system."
About a third of ISE-supported projects involve radio, television, or film. Two particularly successful shows are aimed at young audiences. The Magic School Bus began as a series of commercial books published by Scholastic Inc. for children of elementary school age. The series features a wacky science teacher named Ms. Frizzle who takes her class on educational field trips in her magically transformable bus. "Building on [the books]," says Field,"we supported development of a television seriesone of the first animated series on the Public Broadcasting System for early elementary school kids."
The television exposure stimulated fresh outlets for the project. A live, traveling version of The Magic School Bus now brings fun science activities to schools, malls, and theaters. Related materials, such as videos, CD-ROMs, and teaching guides are also available.
Older children have benefited from the televised exploits of Bill Nye, the Science Guy. A mechanical engineer who moonlighted as a stand-up comic, Nye first appeared as the Science Guy in 1987 on Almost Live!, a local version of Saturday Night Live in Seattle. Six years later, Nye and two producers had expanded the concept into the outline of a popular science show featuring Nye's zany but educational demonstrations using inexpensive, safe household items. As with The Magic School Bus, NSF provided the initial funding that has allowed the Science Guy to take off and succeed.