For generations, children’s television and other informal learning supported by NSF has sparked a lifelong interest in science.
To the bus!
With those words, millions of children, aided by TV antennas and active imaginations, climbed aboard a shape-shifting school bus to go careening through the solar system, the blood stream – wherever “the Friz” resolved to go.
This September marks 25 years since Scholastic’s Magic School Bus veered off the written page and into our television sets, bringing with it a credo that emphasized taking chances, making mistakes and getting messy. Support from the National Science Foundation helped bring the celebrated book series to the airwaves and to young viewers (like you!) sitting frog-legged on living room floors across the country.
NSF’s support for children’s television programming is part of the agency’s multi-decade effort to boost science learning beyond the classroom, through television, museum exhibits, film, radio, citizen science projects, the internet, and more. Magic School Bus, 3-2-1 Contact, Reading Rainbow, Zoom, and Bill Nye the Science Guy were just a few of the early NSF-funded shows that took an innovative approach to bringing science to life on the small screen. These evidence-based programs served up science education alongside entertainment, inspiring new generations of science enthusiasts.
Today, Cyberchase, SciGirls, Peep and the Big Wide World, Peg + Cat, Design Squad and other shows continue that tradition, breaking new ground in children’s science learning through media. Peep and the Big Wide World, for example, was one of the first programs to show that toddlers could learn basic science concepts and skills like measuring, comparing and estimating through television shows geared toward their age group. SciGirls launched as a response to the fact that women in the U.S. remain underrepresented in STEM, especially in fields like engineering and the computer sciences. The show engages tween viewers in STEM by following a group of real-world girls as they predict, observe, experiment and otherwise don their “scientist hats” to understand the world around them.
Many of today›s shows have also adapted to living in a multimedia world, augmenting their TV programming with innovative web content. Kids who love Cyberchase, a show designed to make math fun and accessible that NSF began funding in the late 90’s, can now visit the Cyberchase page on the PBS Kids website to access educational games, videos and hands-on activities. The webpage for Design Squad, another NSF-funded show on PBS, offers short videos on how to make everything from a two-wheel balloon car to bristle bots made from toothbrush heads.
As youth across America begin to trickle back to school this month, NSF is highlighting some of the NSF-funded shows – past and present – that have helped keep kids’ science cylinders fired up beyond the classroom.
These and other NSF-funded projects and resources contribute to a rich – and freely available – informal learning environment that often plays a critical role in kick-starting a child’s lifelong love of science.
But don’t take my word for it!