Programs for Science Learning

Several fundamental challenges common to after-school science programs can be alleviated or addressed through the integration of media programming. After-school programs are usually run on very limited budgets. In addition, recent shifts in the policy landscape have increased the emphasis on measurable academic and social growth for participants. Although many budgets have increased to support more focused programming, practitioners do not typically feel well trained to address the increasing academic demands and cite limited training and materials as limitations to their effectiveness (Nee, Howe, Schmidt, and Cole, 2006). Furthermore, many programs are committed to serving poor students, resulting in additional concerns for keeping costs of programs low.

A number of programs are integrating media to support children’s and adolescents’ academic and leisure-time engagement with science. Afterschool science programs have harnessed broadcast media (e.g., Bill Nye the Science Guy, Cyberchase, Design Squad) and digital media (e.g., Kinetic City). The Fifth Dimension Program (described in Chapter 6), though not science specific, offers an interesting example of an interactive, moderated virtual world.

Science learning media can support science and academic learning outcomes with relatively modest investments. For example, the Rockman Et Al (1996) evaluation of Bill Nye the Science Guy found that the popular television series was being used in after-school settings. The positive cognitive (Strand 2) and science practice gains (Strand 4) associated with participation were discussed earlier in this chapter. In addition, field researchers observed that children chose to watch the program over unmoderated free play activities with peers (Strand 1). They also observed upper elementary grade children holding sustained conversations among themselves about the program during and after viewing it with little facilitation from adults (Strand 5).

Boys were more likely to view Bill Nye regularly than girls. This observed gender disparity is perhaps one consequence of minimal instructional support and training. While leaning heavily on a standalone television program with little facilitation is not the optimal design for rich learning, the Rockman Et Al (1996) findings are interesting and suggest the possibility of developing strong, easily implemented after-school science learning programming.

We did not find studies exploring the use of media in adult programming.


We have identified key ideas in particular segments of the literature on media and learning science in informal environments. Five cross-cutting themes or issues are raised by this literature:

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