Science in the City

Sunday, February 14, 2016: 3:00 PM-4:30 PM
Wilson B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Jennifer Cutraro, WGBH Educational Foundation, Boston, MA
On Earth Day 2014, WGBH and PBS KIDS launched Plum Landing — a digital series that connects 6- to 9-year-olds to nature, teaches them about ecosystems, and encourages them to discover the outdoors through a collection of videos, games, apps, and hands-on activities. It’s almost counterintuitive – produce digital media to connect kids with nature? In a nutshell, yes. As Richard Louv so compellingly wrote in Last Child in the Woods, if we want to connect kids with nature and help them develop an understanding of it, they need meaningful experiences in the out-of-doors. Giving kids these experiences, however, is not always easy, especially in a world where kids seem ever more attached to digital devices. At WGBH, we turned this problem on its head: what if we took advantage of the digital and used it as a medium to encourage kids to go outside, explore their worlds, and get to know the very ecosystems they live in?

To that end, we have developed a suite of innovative digital resources meant to get kids and their families to not just explore the outdoors but to explore it as scientists: observing, predicting, recording data, drawing conclusions and sharing results. For example, Plum’s Photo Hunt is a smartphone app that send sends kids and families on adventures outdoors to photograph things like plants in the city, shadows, and insects, and to then write about these things in the context of an ecosystem: how might that insect hide from predators?  How does that plant get water in the city? Our digital badging program, Outdoor Adventures, similarly sends kids and their families outdoors to complete simple activities that encourage them to think about how the pieces of the ecosystem they live in fit together. Since our launch, families have used our media to explore biodiversity in the heart of New Orleans, learn about water resources in the city of Detroit, and even explore a mangrove ecosystem in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Research suggests this approach of learning science by doing science is helping to move the needle: kids using our resources demonstrated significant increases in their environmental science content knowledge as well as their interest in exploring nature; the adults in families participating in our programming have reported the same.