Why 8- to 13- year-olds
Child development research consistently demonstrates that curiosity, exploration, and even simple experimentation are almost instinctive parts of human behavior. The same research, however, also shows that these activities drop off as kids mature. Once kids start to lose enthusiasm, it is difficult to get them back. Focusing on 8- to 13-year-olds allows us to promote continued interest in science and inquiry throughout this period of development.
In addition, this is the first point in development that kids generally have the conceptual ability to engage successfully in more abstract science inquiry. Four-year-olds can recognize that certain objects either float or sink. It isn’t until roughly age seven or eight that they can begin to grasp how this happens and draw broader, more abstract connections about the principles involved. Focusing on 8- to 13-year-olds allows us to engage kids in the deeper inquiry they are now capable of, as well as focus on the consistent difficulties that kids (and often adults) have with the process of science investigation.
The core of science is inquiry: developing questions and investigating them. Scientists and educators agree that the most effective way to increase science literacy in children is by having them engage in inquiry. Students of all ages naturally carry out inquiry, investigating topics in ways that are original and personally meaningful. This results in learning that is rich, interconnected, and memorable. Children are not merely recreating an experiment from a book or kit; rather, they are pursuing questions that are relevant to their world.
Prove Your World focuses on learning through inquiry. Our approach is grounded in the Next Generation Science Standards (2013) based on the National Research Council’s A Framework for K-12 Science Education and developed in cooperation with the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve. The NGSS were created by specialists in the fields of science content, education, assessment, and professional development and focus on research-based models for the teaching and learning of science. The standards are considered the “framework” of science education in the U.S.
A science education experience targeted at 8- to 13-year-olds must be entertaining, and the science content must be accurate and effectively presented. Many of us can easily think of current or past shows that have had limited success meeting one or more of these criteria. More entertaining programs tend to be of the “blow it up and ask questions later” variety that can be limited in both accuracy and actual learning. Others present better content but are too dry or “school-like” to hold the attention of this audience.
The use of puppet characters gives Prove Your World a unique solution to these problems. The three puppet “kids” have irreverent and distinct personalities that our audience will recognize and identify with. The social relationships and interactions among all the characters will be immediately appealing and developmentally appropriate, and those relationships will grow over time. Initially, many viewers may be more drawn to an engaging social world populated by interesting characters than to the science itself. The puppets also present additional creative opportunities for interaction and character development that would be either inappropriate or impossible with live actors. Having Popper growl when he’s frustrated is amusing. The same behavior in a child actor would be odd and disturbing.
Using puppets, Prove Your World can also successfully present the process of accurate, inquiry driven science within the limits of relatively short video segments. Our characters can be more focused and knowledgeable about science than might be possible or even believable in a 12-year-old human actor. The Prove Your World characters can be simultaneously more scientifically effective and more entertaining because they’re puppets.
Why educational video/informal STEM learning
Effective science education is simply difficult. Many schools and parents already feel legitimately stretched to the limit meeting basic educational needs in reading and mathematics and dealing with the often mandatory assessments in these areas. Informal science education projects like Prove Your World are a powerful supplement to kids’ science experiences in school. Video content that is entertaining, developmentally appropriate, and scientifically accurate is an undeniably effective way to reach a large and diverse population on a regular and cost-effective basis. The accompanying website will expand the depth and interactive nature of this experience.
Most children’s science programing is developed by individuals with expertise in video/television production. In most cases, an individual science expert is brought in to oversee the science content. The science qualifications of these individuals can vary dramatically. Few, if any, programs go so far as to employ additional expertise in science education and child development. This makes maintaining the scientific accuracy, educational focus and developmental appropriateness of the content extremely difficult. Prove Your World is unique among both current and past children’s science television programming in that it is written and produced by PhDs in the natural sciences, education, and child development, as well as experts in the arts. We start with science and kids and go from there.