1. Jessica Andrews
  2. Project Director
  4. WGBH Educational Foundation
  2. https://www.edc.org/marion-goldstein
  3. Research Scientist
  5. Education Development Center (EDC)
  1. Marisa Wolsky
  2. Executive Producer
  4. WGBH Educational Foundation

PLUM LANDING: Explore Outdoors

NSF Awards: 1516466

2019 (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 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. A summative evaluation is currently wrapping up.

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Original Discussion from the 2019 STEM for All Video Showcase
  • Icon for: Jessica Andrews

    Jessica Andrews

    Lead Presenter
    Project Director
    May 13, 2019 | 09:14 a.m.

    Thank you for viewing our video! Our team spent the last several years researching, developing, and disseminating 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.

    Last year, WGBH and EDC published a summary research report that shares what we learned about leveraging assets in urban communities in order to address needs and overcome barriers to provide children and families with meaningful, outdoor science learning experiences. Currently, Concord Evaluation Group is wrapping up a summative evaluation study that is looking at the Toolkit's impact in afterschool programs, in facilitated family education settings, and among families exploring the Toolkit at home on their own. 

    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: Jake Foster

    Jake Foster

    May 13, 2019 | 03:37 p.m.

    Hi 'GBH! You have developed a thoughtful and broad set of education resources for outdoor science targeted to urban educators, families, and students. Thank you for sharing your work. It is fascinating to consider the role of media in motivating outdoor exploration, and of personal exploration motivating the desire to learn more through media, particularly with urban students and families. Does your evaluation work to date speak to this interplay? What are some key features of the media, or key roles of the parent/facilitator, to spark that motivation to get outside and explore?

  • May 13, 2019 | 03:56 p.m.

    In a related vein, how have you dealt with interactions around the media while outside (if this is applicable). I wonder about how the media might support or interfere with family or educator interactions with children and whether there are any lessons learned around how to leverage media in outdoor settings.

    I'm also curious about whether you've seen any evidence that the digital badging feature was successful in motivating children to explore the outdoors above and beyond the other resources available through this project.

  • Icon for: Jessica Andrews

    Jessica Andrews

    Lead Presenter
    Project Director
    May 14, 2019 | 12:37 p.m.

    Hi Camellia, you are right that the question of using technology to promote outdoor nature exploration is a complicated one. Despite the benefits we uncovered, WGBH and EDC found that some educators and parents were not convinced of the value of technology in supporting nature-based exploration, either because they wanted to minimize children’s screen time, or because of logistical issues with using technology in venues that are oriented towards outdoor exploration.

    To address concerns about the minimizing screen time, we made sure that the videos we created were short, the digital tools were as interactive as possible, and that all media was positioned as a way to introduce or reinforce (rather than replace) outdoor, hands-on exploration. We also emphasized that the media is optional: Programs can start a PLUM LANDING program based entirely on our hands-on activities if they wish.

    To address logistical concerns, we provide a viewing guide with advice for informal educators who wish to use media and digital tools in outdoor settings. Tips include trying out tech ahead of time to ensure they are familiar with it before using with kids and families, starting or returning to their center to show videos or play games in order to reduce glare on screens and ensure access, downloading apps and videos to mobile devices ahead of time if they wish to use these tools outdoors where wifi may not reach (we ensured videos were downloadable from our site for this reason), and  encouraging families to use digital tools at home, including potentially creating a mobile-device lending library with apps and videos pre-downloaded.

    You also asked about our Outdoor Adventure badging program. This 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. There are now 24 badges in total, and we have noticed that once kids get started, many are motivated to complete the entire collection. We have been pleased to see that some 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.

  • Icon for: Breanne Litts

    Breanne Litts

    May 13, 2019 | 07:31 p.m.

    Thank you for sharing your work! Sounds like you've developed quite a lot of incredible resources for engaging young people in STEM. I especially like the outdoor focus of your work. I am curious how you developed a scalable program to investigate nature in a way that works in all locations and geographical areas. 

    I also wonder what the role of the young people and educators were in designing the program. Were they on the design team? If not, how did they give feedback? 

    Lastly, how has this program been taken up? Do folks use it? If so, how and in what contexts? Have folks struggled to adopt in in certain contexts over others? 

  • Icon for: Jessica Andrews

    Jessica Andrews

    Lead Presenter
    Project Director
    May 14, 2019 | 06:59 p.m.

    Hi Breanne! In creating the PLUM LANDING Explore Outdoors Toolkit, WGBH and EDC 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. (In our testing, we drew heavily on data collected via researcher observations and through interviews and surveys of parents and informal educators.)

    Our goal in creating the Toolkit was to develop resources that worked in as many areas of the country as possible. For this reason, many of our resources were developed to focus on features common to nearly any setting – clouds, wind, grass, and insects, for example. At the same time, we found that there was a demand among educators for activities tailored for local environments. We responded by creating a selection of hands-on activities that encourage educators to make connections to special features of their local ecosystems via “plant and animal fact cards” that highlight common urban flora and fauna in different regions of the US, and by creating training videos that encourage educators to highlight local features.

    Since the Toolkit’s launch, we have been working with a wide range of partners to promote its use in local program settings. These include outdoor prescription programs, afterschool organizations, PBS stations, nature centers, museums, libraries, and parks and recreation organizations.  

  • Icon for: Jessica Andrews

    Jessica Andrews

    Lead Presenter
    Project Director
    May 14, 2019 | 12:41 p.m.

    Hi Jake, I can't seem to reply directly to your comment, so I'll respond here. 

    Thank you for your kind words about PLUM LANDING! The project has given a lot of thought to using media to motivate families to get outside and explore nature. Some of the ways we have done this include:

    Parent videos: During our initial Needs Assessment, WGBH and EDC learned more about the constraints facing urban parents in exploring the outdoors with their children. We found that there are many reasons families may be reluctant to explore nature in their neighborhoods: Some parents view parks and other outdoor spaces as dangerous places, either because they are actually unsafe or because they fear elements of nature like bees and ticks. Some parents are unaware of the many mental and physical health benefits of getting outsides. Others may not see opportunities to explore nature in their neighborhoods, or may need ideas and encouragement doing so. We created a set of parent videos that provide inspiration and support for families to explore the outdoors with their children. Parents can view these on their own on the PLUM LANDIDNG site, and we also encourage our partner organizations to screen them during community events and share on their social media channels to motivate families to get outdoors with their kids.  

    Animated videos: In our research, we found that short, animated videos can spark children’s interest and prepare them for learning by introducing science concepts and stimulating discussion. For example, our hands-on activity Fly It and Spy It asks children and families to go outdoors to look for living things in a small patch of grass. To prepare them for the activity, we suggest they begin by watching Wild, Wild Life, a 3-minute video in which two of the PLUM LANDING characters shrink down to the size of bugs and discover the wildlife that’s living right beneath their feet. We found videos like this to be a motivating segue to get kids to engage in more sustained hands-on outdoor science exploration.

    App: As a part of this project, we also created a new app, Outdoor Family Fun with Plum. The app includes over 150 “missions” that prompt families to investigate features common to most urban environments (e.g., leaves, squirrels, pigeons). Each mission makes use of a counter, checklist, or camera device, and contains additional information and discussion prompts to further families’ learning. We found that apps like this can provide a way for families to overcome concerns about time and space for outdoor exploration by integrating collaborative scientific play into their daily routine. 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 soccer practice.

    As you suggest, once families are engaged in learning about nature, it is our hope that they keep they cycle going by searching out more resources to supplement their learning. This is why, at the end of every activity, we provide ideas for kids and families to “Explore Some More,” including recommendations for additional videos, apps and games, online guides and maps, and citizen science projects.  

  • May 14, 2019 | 08:47 p.m.

    Jessica, regarding the app did you find that the mission-based approach had repeatability or did kids move on to different missions once one was completed and not revisit past missions?

  • Icon for: Jessica Andrews

    Jessica Andrews

    Lead Presenter
    Project Director
    May 15, 2019 | 05:27 p.m.

    Hi Camellia, I asked our digital team to look into this today. Looking back at our analytics data, it appears that when players open a mission in the Outdoor Family Fun with Plum app, about a quarter of the time, it's one they've done before. 

  • Further posting is closed as the event has ended.

Multiplex Discussion
  • Icon for: Jessica Andrews

    Jessica Andrews

    Lead Presenter
    April 3, 2020 | 02:48 p.m.

    Thank you for viewing our video! Over the last several years, we've researched and developed the PLUM LANDING Explore Outdoors Toolkit, a collection of media, hands-on activities, and support materials designed to help urban families get outside and actively explore nature. The Toolkit has materials for families exploring nature on their own, educators who work with families, and educators who work with children in afterschool settings. We welcome you to check out the Toolkit, and the entire PLUM LANDING website, where you'll find even more videos, games, and activities for kids ages 6 to 9. 

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