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New ComArtSci and WKAR Research Encourages STEM Careers

Curious Crew cast and female host
Amanda Pinckney
Curious Crew cast and Williamston Middle School Teacher Kelly Eddy participate in a research about how children may learn differently when content is presented by a male or a female host.

A new research project asks how children can be encouraged to think of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) as possible careers.

A collaboration between WKAR Public Media and the MSU College of Communication Arts and Sciences (ComArtSci), the research explores the impact of a science program designed for elementary and middle-school students on their perceptions of science and a possible career in STEM.

“We wanted to gain a better understanding of how science-focused programming for children might help enhance their interest in learning about these topics and pursuing careers in STEM areas,” said Department of Advertising + Public Relations Associate Professor Elizabeth Taylor Quilliam.

The WKAR original television series, Curious Crew, was used in the study by Quilliam and her colleagues Professor Kenneth J. Levine and Associate Professor Vernon D. Miller from the Department of Communication and Assistant Professor Anna R. McAlister from the Department of Advertising + Public Relations.

Curious Crew allows inquisitive kids to take a hands-on approach to investigating principles of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) with award-winning educator Rob Stephenson.

“We're so excited that Professors Quilliam and Levine are using their expertise to help us learn as much as we can about how students are interacting with the show and what we can do to improve the experience and academic value,” said WKAR Interim Director of Broadcasting and General Manager Susi Elkins.

The research project was partnered with two mid-Michigan schools districts, Owosso and Okemos, and according to Quilliam both the students and the teachers were quite enthusiastic about the research project.

“We want to create lifelong learners who are independent thinkers and problem solvers and the Curious Crew program allowed our students to be inquirers within their research questions,” said Bryant Elementary School 4th Grade Chair Matt Friend.

Friend also shared that the research project received a positive response from parents who wanted to know more about how their children could become even more involved in science. This then further lead to some students attending the Girls STEM Day conducted by Michigan State University this past October.

The experiment had 252 fourth grade students participate in viewing two versions of a Curious Crew episode; one with the regular male host and the other with the same content but with a female host. The cast in both versions also included three students, two males and one female, who were around the same age as the participants.

Among other findings, the study found that watching a show that "makes science come alive," such as Curious Crew, can lead children to believe they can become scientists. Levine reported that the study also produced evidence that attitudes and perceptions of a career in science were not affected by the gender of the show host.

“Curious Crew is a fun and entertaining show, but it's more than that,” said Elkins. “We really want to have an impact on kids’ lives and inspire them to look for science in everyday experiences so that they are constantly learning about the world around them.”

The public can possibly look forward to the publication of at least two articles from this research after the second round of data collection, which will take place early 2017.

“One article will focus on the active versus passive learning conditions and the other will examine the career socialization effects of the program,” said Levine.

For more information on the Curious Crew series and to stay informed on the progress of this research please visit wkar.org.

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