6791 Views (as of 05/2023)
  1. Jessica Andrews
  2. Project Director
  4. WGBH Educational Foundation
  1. Marion Goldstein
  2. http://ltd.edc.org/people/marion-goldstein
  3. Research Scientist
  5. Education Development Center
  1. Marisa Wolsky
  2. Executive Producer
  4. WGBH Educational Foundation

PLUM RX: Researching a new pathway for bringing active science exploration to...

NSF Awards: 1516466

2018 (see original presentation & discussion)

Grades K-6, Informal / multi-age

PLUM RX is a research-design project that is creating innovative opportunities to bring environmental science learning to the hard-to-reach audience of urban families. The project capitalizes on the appeal of PLUM LANDING—an NSF-funded PBS KIDS property that uses media and hands-on activities to motivate 6- to 9-year-old children to investigate nature—in order to research and develop new resources that help educators infuse active, outdoor science learning into youth and family programming in urban communities.


Over the course of the three-year project, content developers from WGBH and researchers from EDC adopted an iterative research and design process, during which the project team went through multiple cycles of implementation and revision to create the PLUM LANDING Explore Outdoors Toolkit. This Toolkit consists of digital media resources (animated stories, live-action videos, an online badging system, and an app for families), along with hands-on science activities and support materials for parents and caregivers, educators, and program directors.


Now that the Toolkit has been completed, it is being distributed nationally to audiences such as outdoor prescription programs, urban park and recreation programs, environmental education organizations, and other informal education groups. The project team is also focused on sharing what we have learned about the challenges facing informal educators in urban environments, and how digital media can best be designed, supported, and disseminated so that it is useful and relevant for educators and caregivers seeking to support outdoor exploration and STEM learning among urban children and families.

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Discussion from the 2018 STEM for All Video Showcase (13 posts)
  • Icon for: Jessica Andrews

    Jessica Andrews

    Lead Presenter
    Project Director
    May 14, 2018 | 09:04 a.m.

    Thank you for viewing our video! Our team spent the last several years researching and iteratively developing the PLUM LANDING Explore Outdoors Toolkit, a collection of media, hands-on activities, and training materials that fosters outdoor nature exploration among children and families from urban, low-income communities. We worked with a variety of youth- and family-serving organizations to develop and test materials, with a focus on outdoor prescription programming.


    A summary research report is forthcoming, and will report on what WGBH and EDC learned about leveraging assets in urban communities to address needs and overcome barriers to provide children and families with meaningful, outdoor science learning experiences. Findings address 6 key areas: increasing access to science learning opportunities, preparing parents and educators to lead outdoor activities with children, optimizing available time and space, helping programs to achieve multiple priorities, ensuring safety, and using technology in developmentally appropriate ways to inspire and enhance outdoor science exploration.   


    The final PLUM LANDING Explore Outdoors Toolkit is available online now at:  www.pbskids.org/plumlanding/toolkit

    We welcome your comments and questions and are particularly interested in knowing more about your experiences in leading children and families in outdoor environmental science exploration, and in using media and technology to foster engagement with nature.  

  • Icon for: Stephen Uzzo

    Stephen Uzzo

    Chief Scientist
    May 14, 2018 | 12:54 p.m.

    Great project, and looking forward to your summative findings! Wondering if you had the opportunity to do  preliminary research on the audiences' prior knowledge or perceptions of nature as part of the design of the activities. Also, was there a feeling about how best to connect what audiences learn from these programs with their daily experience? Finding ways to help audiences think of themselves as part of nature, rather than outdoors being a separate place might help them generalize knowledge gained from these experiences. But maybe you're planning to test for this in your summative work.

  • Icon for: Jessica Andrews

    Jessica Andrews

    Lead Presenter
    Project Director
    May 15, 2018 | 10:30 a.m.

    Great questions, Stephen! Yes—during the first phase of the research, EDC conducted a Needs Assessment in which they visited three outdoor prescription programs across the country to learn more about their work with urban, low-income communities. EDC also conducted surveys with parents and caregivers at various points throughout the project that shed light on attitudes about nature. Researchers found that parents are interested in getting outdoors with their children, and value the idea of nature exploration, but often have low levels of science knowledge and feel disconnected from nature, particularly when they do not live near large parks or green spaces. Likewise, programs told us that the children they serve are often unfamiliar with the range of living things in their area, including local flora and fauna.


    In creating materials for the PLUM LANDING Explore Outdoors Toolkit, we continually emphasized the message that nature is all around—even in a big city. Media and hands-on activities help kids and families explore the wealth of city nature that may not be obvious at first glance, investigate the ways living things get what they need in a city environment, and consider the interdependence among living and non-living things in the city.


    Our summative evaluation, planned for Fall 2018, will include an experimental study in which our evaluator, Concord Evaluation Group (CEG) will compare outcomes of participants at afterschool education programs that use the PLUM LANDING Explore Outdoors Toolkit and those that do not (randomized block design). As a part of this study, CEG will compare pre/post surveys from children in both groups to look for changes in environmental habits of mind (i.e., questions you need to ask when investigating an ecosystem), enthusiasm for and interest in the environment, and environmental science content knowledge.


    You bring up an interesting point that helping audiences think of themselves as part of nature might help them generalize knowledge gained from their outdoor experiences. I shared this with the team, and we will discuss whether we might be able to include this in the summative evaluation when we review our impacts and indicators later this week. Thank you!

  • Icon for: Anushree Bopardikar

    Anushree Bopardikar

    May 14, 2018 | 02:15 p.m.

    Thank you for sharing your work. I think it's exciting to learn about how young children, their families and the broader communities in which they live can be supported to explore science through engagement with nature! I look forward to the summary research report which I suspect may address some of my questions :-) I am curious how both formative and summative assessments informed the iterative design process in your project. For example, as you were piloting the prototype toolkit, what kinds of formative assessment informed your design work? And with summative assessment, what kinds of impact did you set out to measure on educators, parents and children? What changes are you hoping to see and how are these being measured? I am also wondering if you had the opportunity to address children's and/or families' attitudes towards nature and (environmental) science - if shifts in attitudes is a meaningful component of active science learning in outdoor settings. 

  • Icon for: Jessica Andrews

    Jessica Andrews

    Lead Presenter
    Project Director
    May 15, 2018 | 10:31 a.m.

    We love sharing our work, Anushree! Our project team developed the PLUM LANDING Explore Outdoors Toolkit through multiple phases of work. These consisted of: a needs assessment that identified assets and obstacles that influence how urban children and families engage with science in outdoor and informal contexts; a formative resource review in which program directors and educators reviewed early prototypes of Toolkit materials; a pilot study in which three outdoor prescription programs implemented draft Toolkit materials; an implementation study in which Toolkit materials were implemented in 10 outdoor education and outdoor prescription programs; a scale-up review in which a broad range of informal education organizations offered advice on how to ensure widespread appeal; and finalization and national dissemination of the PLUM LANDING Explore Outdoors Toolkit and research findings.

    The Needs Assessment was most beneficial in helping us understand our target audience. EDC researchers found that many families are interested in getting outdoors and exploring nature with their children, but face significant barriers in doing so: they have little to no disposable income for participating in outdoor programming; they often view outdoor green spaces as dangerous places and therefore fear spending time in nature; and some families are limited in their ability to participate in outdoor programming by their reliance on public transportation and/or limited English proficiency. Families exploring nature on their own are often hindered by lack time or ideas for where to go or what to do. Still other families prioritize activities that afford positive social, fun, interactive experiences over activities that emphasize physical fitness, being outdoors, or learning.

    We developed our Toolkit materials to help educators and families overcome these barriers, for example, by providing images of our animated characters enjoying nature and observing common flora and fauna in urban spaces; creating videos that offer tips and guidance for parents and educators on exploring the outdoors safely; creating hands-on activities that can be explored on sidewalks, in local playgrounds and small urban parks, and other settings within walking distance to families’ homes; and developing an app that allows families to incorporate nature exploration into their everyday routines. These materials were refined over several rounds of development and implementation.


    Now that the Toolkit is complete, we plan to work with our summative evaluator, Concord Evaluation Group, to conduct a three-part summative evaluation in order to learn more about the Toolkit’s impact on children, parents/caregivers, and educators in the three models common to outdoor and prescription programming: afterschool programs for kids, educator-led programs for families, and self-guided programs for families. These evaluation studies will explore how educators, parents, and children’s attitudes are influenced by exposure to the Toolkit materials, as measured through surveys, interviews, and in-person observations.

    Discussion is closed. Upvoting is no longer available

    Anushree Bopardikar
  • Icon for: Lesley Markham

    Lesley Markham

    Informal Educator
    May 14, 2018 | 04:00 p.m.

     Thanks for your excellent video Jessica! I'm curious to know where you will publish your summative findings please? Will they be available on informalscience.org?

  • Icon for: Jessica Andrews

    Jessica Andrews

    Lead Presenter
    Project Director
    May 15, 2018 | 10:51 a.m.

    Thank you for your interest, Lesley! EDC’s summary research report—which looks across multiple phases of work to discuss the project’s contribution to broader knowledge about supporting children’s active, outdoor science exploration in informal, urban settings—will be available on informalscience.org most likely within the week. In the meantime, we have published a short brief summarizing lessons learned from our research through Connected Science Learning, which is available at: http://csl.nsta.org/2018/01/connecting-urban-families/

    Over the next year, we will also be also working with Concord Evaluation Group to conduct a three-part summative evaluation in order to learn more about the Toolkit’s impact on children, parents/caregivers, and educators in the three models common to outdoor and prescription programming: afterschool programs for kids, educator-led programs for families, and self-guided programs for families. These evaluation reports will be made publicly available on informalscience.org when they are complete.

  • Icon for: Lisa Miller

    Lisa Miller

    May 15, 2018 | 10:42 p.m.

    Thank you for sharing your video!  It makes me want to get outdoors.   I am interested in the use of technology in education and am curious about your findings related to "Using Technology Appropriately".  I'd love to hear more about what you learned about using technology in informal science settings.  Did anything surprise you along the way? Thanks!

  • Icon for: Jessica Andrews

    Jessica Andrews

    Lead Presenter
    Project Director
    May 17, 2018 | 10:00 a.m.

    Hi Lisa! Yes, we learned quite a bit about using technology to inspire and enhance outdoor exploration.

    EDC and WGBH found that many parents and educators are wary about using technology as a part of outdoor exploration. They are concerned about the amount of time their children spend with screens, and many see technology as a distraction from their ultimate goal of getting kids and families outdoors and engaged with nature. Some programs also find it difficult to use technology and media during facilitated activities because they do not have technology devices allocated for on-site programming.

    At the same time, our research found that digital media can actually enhance kids’ and families’ exploration of nature by providing novel ways to engage children in science learning. Animated videos, for example, can inspire kids’ interest in science topics and prime them to go outside to explore, and they can take the burden off parents and educators who many not be comfortable introducing science topics to kids. Videos for teachers and parents can help them prepare for outdoor science activities by providing tips and inspiration.

    Apps can also enhance outdoor science exploration by providing ideas, structure, and opportunities for documentation and reflection during families’ outdoor explorations. Apps that use common features of digital devices, such as a stopwatch, compass, or camera, can support learning by providing tools that children can use to aid them in their exploration. 

    Apps on mobile devices can also make it easy for families to incorporate science exploration into their everyday routines. For example, in our study, families used the Outdoor Family Fun with PLUM app to explore nature on their walk to and from school, and in the car on their way to soccer practice.

    Educators and families were inconsistent in their use of digital resources during our research, but when they were used, evidence showed that the resources captured children’s attention, provided opportunities for learning, and got them excited about being outdoors and in nature. We think it would be worthwhile to conduct additional research in the future to learn more about how to help educators and parents see the value of using technology and digital media to support active, outdoor science learning.

  • Icon for: Jan Heiderer

    Jan Heiderer

    Communications Coordinator, GLOBE Implementation Office
    May 16, 2018 | 01:18 a.m.

    Hi Jessica. I really like this video! Makes me want to check out the Plum Landing TV series. 
    One question.. do those badges really help incentivize participation? 
    Your org and ours, The GLOBE Program, feel similar. Check us out at http://stemforall2018.videohall.com/presentatio...

  • Icon for: Jessica Andrews

    Jessica Andrews

    Lead Presenter
    Project Director
    May 17, 2018 | 04:39 p.m.

    Hi Jan – I agree, our projects do seem to complement each other well. The goal of PLUM LANDING is to connect 6- to 9-year-old children to nature, teach them about ecosystems, and get them excited about their role as caretakers of the planet. Our materials address plants, animals, waste, weather, water, and human impact, topics that are fundamental to understanding ecosystems. I love that your program offers kids concrete opportunities to make their own contributions to our understanding of Earth’s systems!

    Our Outdoor Adventures digital badging program asks kids to choose a mission, (like “draw a weather report” or “find plants growing in unusual spaces”), go outside to complete it, and then log back online to draw a picture and answer a few simple questions about what they saw or did. When children submit their drawings, they earn a digital badge, and their drawing may be selected to be featured on the PLUM LANDING site.

    We started the program with 12 badges and recently added 12 new badges that focus on actively exploring nature in urban environments. So far, kids have earned about 250,000 badges. Most of these represent kids and families exploring on their own, but our outreach partners have used the badging program in creative ways as well—for example, Vermont PBS partnered with local libraries to sponsor a digital badging challenge in which families came to the library to access Outdoor Adventures online, then earned physical rewards for completing badges.

    You can check out the Outdoor Adventures program at the link below.


  • Icon for: Rebecca Deutscher

    Rebecca Deutscher

    May 19, 2018 | 02:59 p.m.

    Very interesting project and great video! I like how are you working with a popular PBS series to increase the appeal for the kids and families. I was wondering if you are targeting schools at all with your program or are you mainly focused on informal spaces? I was also wondering if your project has currently been focused in a few urban areas or have you been doing this across the country? Thanks so much!

  • Icon for: Jessica Andrews

    Jessica Andrews

    Lead Presenter
    Project Director
    May 21, 2018 | 04:49 p.m.

    Thanks, Rebecca! Our research did not include looking at how the PLUM LANDING Explore Outdoors Toolkit might work in school settings. However, we have heard anecdotally from quite a few teachers who are using PLUM LANDING resources to teach environmental science in their classrooms. We’ve made it easier for other classroom teachers to do the same by aligning all of our animated videos and educator-led hands-on activities for kids to the NGSS standards, and by creating a small collection of media-enhanced lesson plans specifically for classroom use. (These materials are available on the Educator section of the PLUM LANDING website, and via PBS LearningMedia, a digital library hosted by PBS containing more than 100,000 assets for teaching and learning used by more than 1.6M educators.)

    For the PLUM LANDING Explore Outdoors Toolkit, we conducted testing of draft Toolkit resources with the help of informal outdoor and education programs in urban centers across the country. Three of our test sites were in the mid-Atlantic region, three in the New England region, two in the Pacific region, one in the Mountain region, and one in the North Central region. As we were nearing completion of the final Toolkit, we also conducted an additional set of interviews with program directors from informal education programs serving children and families in urban centers across the country. Four of these programs operated nationally, two were based in the Mountain region, two in the North Central region, and one each from the New England, Pacific, and South Atlantic regions. Soliciting this feedback helped to ensure that the environmental science materials we created work in a range of urban ecosystems.

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