Promoting a Culture of STEM and Health Learning Through Public Libraries

Knology is evaluating an education program that is promoting a culture of STEM and health learning for youth in the DC, Baltimore, and New York metro areas, developed by the Children’s Research Institute at Children’s National Hospital

by Shaun FieldRebecca Joy NorlanderRupu GuptaKathryn NockAdam Musser
Dec 1, 2021

Knology has been evaluating Discover SCIENCE with Dr. Bear®️ (Discover SCIENCE), an initiative that aims to promote a culture of STEM and health learning among children from kindergarten through fifth grade. Evaluation of the fourth year of the initiative found that the program has continued to serve the educational needs of these young learners even with the challenges posed by COVID-19. The program’s leadership was able to successfully adapt the interactive curriculum to work in virtual environments. Facilitators who used the content described it as engaging and noted that it worked well for children of different ages.

This initiative began as a partnership between the Center for Translational Science at the Children’s Research Institute and two library systems in Washington DC and Maryland. Among other aims, the project aims to expose young learners to the scientific process and also to meet various educational standards by using art and manipulations to increase awareness and understanding of scientific and health concepts. Existing lesson plans cover topics such as asthma, where students learn about things like the basics of breathing as well as things in the environment that affect how people breathe. Another lesson plan focused on nutrition teaches students about how food is digested and the importance of staying hydrated among other topics. A third lesson plan focused on teaching children about the immune system and offered hands-on activities such as making models of vaccines and designing germs.

Knology has evaluated the use of this curriculum since its inception as Being Me, a health curriculum developed by scientists and educators for children in grades 3-5. The Being Me curriculum was evaluated in three schools. Science teachers and students who tested the materials and lessons in school could participate in family learning events and be invited to a science camp called Dr. Bear’s Cubs Summer Science Experience.

The current project, Discover SCIENCE, has expanded on the Being Me materials, bringing these lessons into out-of-school informal education settings. Starting as a partnership with the DC Public Library and Baltimore Libraries, by year four of Discover SCIENCE, project leadership had expanded programming through connections with the Girl Scouts of Greater New York (GSGNY), New York Edge, and other out-of-school time informal education organizations. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most programming had to be done virtually. Staff at one library offered Discover SCIENCE programming to learners through video recordings posted on its YouTube channel.

The project leadership also trained a cohort of troop leaders from GSGNY, and representatives from New York Edge. Lastly, project leadership offered professional development training to library staff aimed at equipping them to teach health and STEM lessons to youth in libraries in the third year of the project. Knology evaluators assessed the impact of this training as part of the year four evaluation

To evaluate the value and impact of the professional development training, Knology researchers conducted focus groups with librarians who had participated. Knology also interviewed Girl Scout troop leaders to get their assessment of the Discover SCIENCE curriculum for young children and whether or not the lessons worked well when translated to a virtual environment.

Key Findings

The results of the evaluation highlighted the value of the resources and training that the Discover SCIENCE project team has developed. Girl Scout troop leaders told the evaluators that they appreciated the hands-on nature of the training sessions, and they described the lesson content as engaging and accessible for children of different ages. The leaders were also able to modify the lessons and activities as needed, and most described them as easy and straightforward to implement. For their part, library staff who participated in professional development training found it helpful and enlightening. Librarians said that their participation helped them feel more confident about developing or facilitating STEM/health library programming at their institutions.

Next Steps for the Evaluation

Discover SCIENCE is entering its final project year with the focus on developing new partnerships and studying the usability of project resources off the shelf by informal educators who have not received training. Knology plans to evaluate the summative phase of Discover SCIENCE by recruiting such educators to provide feedback on the project’s website that houses the Discover SCIENCE curriculum, and to detail their experience using Discover SCIENCE resources off the shelf. This will help the project team to create a suite of user tested resources as a final product for this grant.

About this Project

Discover SCIENCE (a Scientific Creative Innovative Engaging New Cool Experience) with Dr. Bear® (Discover SCIENCE or “the project”) is a partnership between the Center for Translational Science at the Children’s Research Institute (CRI), within the Children’s National Medical Center, and two area library systems, Washington, D.C. Public Libraries (DCPL) and Enoch Pratt Free Library (EPFL) in Baltimore. The project is supported by cross-sector partners and by the National Institutes of Health R25 Award (5R25GM129225-03).

Photo credit: Van Tay Media on Unsplash

Join the Conversation
What did you think of this? How did you use it? Is there something else we should be thinking of?
Support research that has a real world impact.