2028 Views
  1. Joan Freese
  2. Executive Producer, Ready To Learn
  3. Presenter’s NSFRESOURCECENTERS
  4. Twin Cities PBS TPT
  1. Beth Daniels
  2. https://www.linkedin.com/in/bethdanielsmn/
  3. Senior STEM Content and Education Manager
  4. Presenter’s NSFRESOURCECENTERS
  5. Twin Cities PBS TPT
  1. Momo Hayakawa
  2. Managing Director, Research
  3. Presenter’s NSFRESOURCECENTERS
  4. Twin Cities PBS TPT
  1. MAI LOR
  2. Outreach Specialist
  3. Presenter’s NSFRESOURCECENTERS
  4. Twin Cities PBS TPT
  1. Carol-Lynn Parente
  2. Executive Producer, Hero Elementary Television
  3. Presenter’s NSFRESOURCECENTERS
  4. Twin Cities PBS TPT
  1. Dennis Ramirez
  2. Sr. Digital Program Manager
  3. Presenter’s NSFRESOURCECENTERS
  4. Twin Cities PBS TPT
Presenters’
Choice

Hero Elementary: The Power of Science, Literacy & Media

U295A150012

2021 (see original presentation & discussion)

Grades K-6

Hello World: A Heroic Launch in Tumultuous Times 

The year 2020 was paradoxically both eventful and uneventful for the cross-disciplinary team that produces Hero Elementary at Twin Cities PBS. On June 1, our multi-platform educational media initiative launched nationwide on PBS Kids television and digital networks as planned, but in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis not only affected staff work life and premiere events, but also sent our outreach partners scrambling to serve the children in their communities from a distance—tricky business when your audience is 5-8 year-olds!

Like true superheroes, our team pivoted to adjust the child-facing playlist content, educator support materials, and parent resources and to remain focused on serving our partners and their programs for children in grades K-2 living in low income communities. At the same time, national racial reckoning, which began in our own community but soon focused on many aspects of American life, including educational and media equity, added to the complexities of the unprecedented year. Fortunately, the Hero Elementary team had focused on equity throughout the project, so we were well positioned to lead in this arena.

“Hero Elementary is an exceptionally crafted animated series about four young kids who are learning how to use their superpowers and their knowledge of science to solve problems and help others. In addition to prominent themes of kindness, teamwork, and creative thinking, the characters’ experiences demonstrate for kids the value of curiosity, as it inspires all of the learning and helping that they do.”  Common Sense Media  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Hero Elementary is funded by a cooperative agreement with the United States Department of Education’s Ready To Learn program (U295A150012). 

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Discussion from the 2021 STEM For All Video Showcase (32 posts)
  • Icon for: Joan Freese

    Joan Freese

    Lead Presenter
    Executive Producer, Ready To Learn
    May 10, 2021 | 06:23 p.m.

    Hello from Hero Elementary, where science is super! Hero Elementary is a multi-platform initiative that combines science and literacy to promote early learning for children in grades K-2. The project is the result of a 5-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Ready To Learn program. Our interdisciplinary team collaborated to make television, digital games and resources, a national engagement program and substantial research including formative and summative studies, run by external research group, WestEd. Our education team kept us focused on equity, pedagogy, and content that aligns to Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core English Language Arts standards. 

    We are proud of our work and so pleased to be part of the 2021 STEM For All Video Showcase. In addition to sharing our work, we are really excited to learn more about how other projects rallied during the pandemic, in order to complete their projects. We are still processing how the epidemic changed our approach and what it means for the future. We know learning more about other work in the field as part of the Showcase will be time well spent! 

    Thanks for visiting and please share your feedback and questions. We are happy to engage! 

     
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    Sabrina De Los Santos
    Remy Dou
  • Icon for: Renee Fall

    Renee Fall

    Researcher
    May 10, 2021 | 07:06 p.m.

    Hi Joan and team:  What a fun program! Great to hear you were able to launch during 2020, with all its challenges. Your researcher mentioned a randomized control trial; I'm curious if that was your original plan or did the pandemic pivots make that possible (or more difficult?). What are your plans to do more research on the impact of Hero Elementary? Thanks for sharing your work!

     
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    Sabrina De Los Santos
    Remy Dou
  • Icon for: Momo Hayakawa

    Momo Hayakawa

    Co-Presenter
    Managing Director, Research
    May 11, 2021 | 10:20 a.m.

    Hi Renee,

     Thank you for your question. As our co-presenter Beth mentioned, we had already planned for an RCT in the spring of 2020 - of course, we weren't anticipating school closures and distance learning for the rest of the year. We were very fortunate that many of our treatment teachers wanted to continue the program - which was already mostly on a digital platform. While educators were frantically figuring out how to teach language arts and math, they appreciated that the Hero Elementary program, aligned to NGSS, already existed. Our team quickly pivoted and added video demos for hands on activities - and this provided educators with the flexibility to watch the videos synchronously or asynchronously.  Of course, attrition rates were quite high - but this was identical across treatment and control groups so we don't think it is due to the program - rather, due to the shift to distance learning.

    We're in the middle of conducting an RCT with first graders and life science content. Stay tuned for results coming in this summer!

     
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    Sabrina De Los Santos
    Remy Dou
  • Icon for: Beth Daniels

    Beth Daniels

    Co-Presenter
    Senior STEM Content and Education Manager
    May 10, 2021 | 07:26 p.m.

    Hi Renee,

    Our researcher, Dr. Momo Hayakawa, can tell you more. But quickly, yes, we had always planned randomized controlled trials. The pandemic pivots were a challenge, to be sure. But we were able to continue our research once we established our distance implementation. We are currently running another study, via distance, and it is going quite smoothly. We have also done some case studies and an evaluation of our professional development training. And there's more to come. Thanks for asking!

     
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    Remy Dou
  • Icon for: Dionne Champion

    Dionne Champion

    Facilitator
    Research Assistant Professor
    May 11, 2021 | 09:19 a.m.

    Thank you sharing your project! It is wonderful to see science presented in such a bright and colorful way with such a diverse cast of characters.  Can you talk a little about the ways that you have worked to pair science with conversations about equity for young audiences?

     
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    Sabrina De Los Santos
    Remy Dou
  • Icon for: MAI LOR

    MAI LOR

    Co-Presenter
    Outreach Specialist
    May 11, 2021 | 10:37 a.m.

    Hi Dionne,

    We've created a set of equity strategies to help educators bridge the gap between science and equity. Many of the educators we work with have little to no experience with science curriculum for 5 to 8-year-olds. These strategies are guiding principles to incorporating a child's cultural background and lived experiences in the curriculum.

     
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    Remy Dou
  • Icon for: Beth Daniels

    Beth Daniels

    Co-Presenter
    Senior STEM Content and Education Manager
    May 11, 2021 | 11:17 a.m.

    Hi Dionne, 

    Thanks for the question. As Mai mentioned, we have a set of equity strategies for educators to use. These were based on the work in NGSS for ALL Students, by Okhee Lee, Emily Miller, and Rita Januszyk. These strategies support educators in connecting the science content to the lives and communities of children from a wide variety of racial, ethnic, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds. We develop coviewing guides to foster meaningful conversations about the science in the Hero Elementary episodes. And our hands-on activity guides include recommendations for age-appropriate science discourse, with attention to supporting children who are becoming bilingual.

    Throughout the development of our project, we took intentional steps to ensure that equity concerns would permeate the very "DNA" of everything we create. We developed a framework, the Transformative Transmedia Framework for Early STEM Learners (https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1282814), to guide our work. We have found that children and educators respond very positively to our diverse cast of characters -- the main characters as well as supporting cast! Educators report that kids identify with the characters and with the settings and experiences depicted in the animated show; and we have our Framework to thank for that! We introduce family members in the show, to provide depth and context for who our characters are. And throughout the project, we emphasize the equity-focused message that the "Superpowers of Science" -- otherwise known as Science and Engineering Practices -- are powers that everyone has and that everyone can use. In addition, we promote three social-emotional themes: teamwork and collaboration, the importance of resilience and persistence, and using science to help one's community. 

     
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    Remy Dou
  • Icon for: Jennifer Borland

    Jennifer Borland

    Director of Research Programs
    May 11, 2021 | 04:46 p.m.

    I love the emphasis on flexibility as a programmatic (and STEM) superpower.  Are there specific things you learned about flexibility (or flexibility best practices you developed) as a result of the pandemic that you plan to carry forward? 

     
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    Sabrina De Los Santos
    Remy Dou
  • Icon for: Beth Daniels

    Beth Daniels

    Co-Presenter
    Senior STEM Content and Education Manager
    May 11, 2021 | 05:54 p.m.

    Great question! I'd say the most important thing I have learned about flexibility is to keep the needs of our constituency front and center. First and foremost, we are here to engage young children in STEM + literacy. Of course, this means engaging their educators and their families, too! So every change and every innovation has to be viewed through that lens. How does it help kids? How does it help the folks who work directly with the kids? We always operated that way. But the pandemic made it even more urgent, even more crucial. This laser-sharp focus on benefitting our constituency makes it simpler to make effective decisions and to change direction when needed. Also, the focus on what's really important (in life!) helps us remember to put caring and appreciation for humanity at the core of who we are and what we do. 

     
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    Remy Dou
  • Icon for: Remy Dou

    Remy Dou

    Facilitator
    Assistant Professor
    May 11, 2021 | 10:21 p.m.

    Comments: The impacts of this work truly resonate with me and my childhood in particular. Having grown up across various underprivileged communities, I attribute much of the sustainment of my STEM interests to media programming like this one. Of course, now young people have the advantage of accessing and engaging with this inspirational content in multiple ways through multiple platforms. "Hero Elementary" seems to be living up to the high standards of iconic PBS STEM programming that has inspired prior generations of learners, including me.

    Questions: I enjoy keeping up with children's STEM programming on PBS stations and platforms. I'm curious about the considerations you take into account to differentiate your work from similar programming while also leveraging the successes of similar programming. What lessons have these considerations taught you about what makes for engaging and effective STEM programming?

     
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    Sabrina De Los Santos
  • Icon for: Joan Freese

    Joan Freese

    Lead Presenter
    Executive Producer, Ready To Learn
    May 12, 2021 | 10:22 a.m.

    Hi, Remy--

    It's always great to meet a former PBS Kid! I love hearing which programs people watched growing up. It really demonstrates the importance of our work in public media and the system's long-term commitment to educational programming.

    To answer your question about STEM content differentiation, PBS Kids -- the network -- has frameworks (based on national standards) and aims to make sure all content areas are covered. So if they have a gap in content, some topic that isn't covered, they will encourage producers to fill it. Another consideration is age. So if you are a preschool show, your work covers different topics than a school age show. We are always interested in what our colleagues in the system are doing -- in terms of television, digital, and education programs. We know our colleagues are the best! This is particularly true in the digital space because other networks typically don't invest in digital the way PBS Kids properties do.

    Your question about what lessons these considerations have taught us about what's engaging is very interesting! I'm not sure I have an answer to that. Television typically does the world building for PBS Kids properties. And creating a new show really is about having an idea and building from there. It's more art than science, if you pardon the pun! We all think about what's come before us and what we like that's being done now. And of course originality is important, too!

    I hope this answered your question(s)! In closing, I see that you are from FIU. A colleague, Dr. Monica Cardella, is on her way to Miami from NSF/Purdue. I can't wait to see what she does there!   

     
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    Remy Dou
    Rita Karl
  • Icon for: Dennis Ramirez

    Dennis Ramirez

    Co-Presenter
    Sr. Digital Program Manager
    May 12, 2021 | 10:40 a.m.

    Hi Remy,

    Thanks for the kind comments! Like Joan said, we definitely built on successful practices of other PBS properties that teach STEM concepts. We give viewers fun and engaging stories with relatable science concepts, we show the characters working through problems, and invested a lot of time and effort into shaping our characters. For our outreach, we also built on successful models like the one use in our other TPT property, Sci Girls.

    That said, one thing I think sets Hero Elementary apart from similar programming is the focus on overarching science practices. In our episodes, you don’t just learn about how plants grow, you learn how important it is to make observations, collect data, and test your hypothesis. I think the team did a great job in presenting those science practices as super powers that anyone can use allowing kids to roleplay those concepts at home.

     
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    Remy Dou
  • Icon for: Beth Daniels

    Beth Daniels

    Co-Presenter
    Senior STEM Content and Education Manager
    May 13, 2021 | 04:05 p.m.

    Hi Remy,

    Building on what Joan and Dennis said... It has become very clear in recent years that kids are moved by multifaceted play and learning experiences. The Hero Elementary team happens to have deep roots in digital learning environments, which helped us meld the TV world with the digital world and also into the real-life world. From the curriculum perspective, we were fortunate to be able to build from existing frameworks to create a unique framework that linked science and literacy. The NGSS Science and Engineering Practices became the key connection point -- every one of those practices involves communication. And our brilliant Television team helped us  envision these as "superpowers of science" that every child has and can use to be a hero in their own corner of the world. We set out to build a world that empowers kids -- particularly those from historically marginalized communities -- via engaging, heroic stories in contexts that ring true to kids' lived experience.

  • Icon for: Sabrina De Los Santos

    Sabrina De Los Santos

    Facilitator
    Research and Development Associate
    May 12, 2021 | 12:14 a.m.

    What an engaging and essential program! I love the integration of science and literacy, as well as your dedication to present diverse characters and use multiple modalities. I am curious as to how you have engaged the parents/caregivers of these young participants. Have you collected data on how the program might have influenced the family as a whole, or how families might have engaged in other science activities after participating?

  • Icon for: Momo Hayakawa

    Momo Hayakawa

    Co-Presenter
    Managing Director, Research
    May 12, 2021 | 10:23 a.m.

    Hi Sabrina - great question. We're currently in the middle of conducting caregiver focus groups of Hero Elementary participants- so we'll know more in a couple of months! Anecdotally, because of children accessing the program virtually due to the pandemic, we've seen caregivers step in to scaffold the learning and extend the learning beyond classtime. For example, when kids were exploring the "Heating and Cooling" playlist, we saw a child record a video of their parent making pancakes and describing what is happening with the batter. 

     
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    Sabrina De Los Santos
  • Icon for: Dennis Ramirez

    Dennis Ramirez

    Co-Presenter
    Sr. Digital Program Manager
    May 12, 2021 | 10:57 a.m.

    Hi Sabrina,

    Great question!  When it comes to family/caregiver engagement we try to find entry points for further discussion outside of the show. We have produced co-viewing guides that parents/caregivers can follow along with to discuss the concepts brought up in the show. We also have programs geared for family participation where participants can work through several activities together including a game, operation investigation, where the whole family plays together to observe the traits of a mystery animal. The goal of these programs is for the families to continue talking about the event long after by continuing to watch the show, downloading the game, or playing pretend with the hero cape they make.

    Anecdotally, during one of these events I was lucky enough to observe a family working together to find a mystery animal in operation investigation. The Dad was convinced that the animal was a Piranha because “Piranhas eat only meat”. The kid was not as convinced and wanted to test more. They ended up going with the Dad’s guess and getting it wrong (Piranhas are omnivores!) at which point the kids said “See! we needed to use our super powers of science!” They were talking abut this the entire night, and I’m guessing they’ll never forget that Piranhas are omnivores.

     
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    Sabrina De Los Santos
    Rita Karl
  • Icon for: Sabrina De Los Santos

    Sabrina De Los Santos

    Facilitator
    Research and Development Associate
    May 14, 2021 | 03:39 p.m.

    Thank you for your responses, Momo and Dennis. This work is fascinating. Thank you for sharing those wonderful anecdotes that clearly describe how families engage with the content beyond the program. I look forward to learning more about the project as you collect more data through focus groups. I also look forward to viewing the show and playing the games! 

  • Icon for: MAI LOR

    MAI LOR

    Co-Presenter
    Outreach Specialist
    May 14, 2021 | 03:51 p.m.

    Hi Sabrina, you can watch the show on PBSLearningMedia and play the games on our website!

  • Icon for: Liandra Larsen

    Liandra Larsen

    Graduate Student
    May 12, 2021 | 01:21 p.m.

    How cool is this?! I love that you all mentioned the focus on equity in your description, especially with everything going on in the country. You managed to make learning so much more engaging through this animated series. Really great work!

     
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    Beth Daniels
  • Icon for: Dennis Ramirez

    Dennis Ramirez

    Co-Presenter
    Sr. Digital Program Manager
    May 13, 2021 | 10:16 a.m.

    Thank you very much, Liandra. We're so happy to see that the kids love the show!

  • Icon for: Lindsay Adams

    Lindsay Adams

    K-12 Teacher
    May 12, 2021 | 08:00 p.m.

    I am passing along this program to my elementary teaching friends.  I can see how this would be beneficial during the summers to keep kids engaged during their break and could also be a tool to close the learning gap.  

  • Icon for: Beth Daniels

    Beth Daniels

    Co-Presenter
    Senior STEM Content and Education Manager
    May 13, 2021 | 11:03 a.m.

    Thank you, Lindsay! We have resources for educators available at PBSLearningMedia, please pass along to your teaching friends.

  • Icon for: Anne Stevenson

    Anne Stevenson

    Higher Ed Faculty
    May 13, 2021 | 05:06 p.m.

    Hello HERO friends!

    So glad to see your video and especially glad to be part of helping others use the HERO resources!  I look forward to connecting further to see what's next! I loved doing the partner trainings for HERO and am amazed at ALL that you  have done and continue to do!

  • Icon for: Beth Daniels

    Beth Daniels

    Co-Presenter
    Senior STEM Content and Education Manager
    May 13, 2021 | 05:15 p.m.

    Hi Anne, 

    Thanks for stopping by and thanks for all you do! I know that our partners have benefitted greatly from the trainings. It's been quite a year -- launching the show during lockdown, retooling our activities, education program, and training on the fly to support kids learning from home, publishing our equity framework, launching our games website (kudos to Dennis and the digital team), and all the work on our research studies! Here's a question for everyone -- if you were us, where would YOU go from here? I've got some ideas but would love to get some crowd-sourced input!

  • Icon for: Kara Dawson

    Kara Dawson

    Higher Ed Faculty
    May 13, 2021 | 06:29 p.m.

    I really enjoyed learning about this project! The animations look so professional and engaging. Our project engages kids using a diverse set of comic book characters who are on a cyber adventure while learning about cryptology and cybersecurity. The comic book serves as an anchor to a series of tablet or web-based activities and unplugged activities and discussions. We have often talked about how great it would be to have animated characters in the future. Who knows, maybe we could collaborate in the future. Keep up the great work!

  • Icon for: Beth Daniels

    Beth Daniels

    Co-Presenter
    Senior STEM Content and Education Manager
    May 13, 2021 | 06:43 p.m.

    Hi Kara,

    Thanks for writing! I'm eager to look at your work. Coincidentally, we are working on some Hero Elementary comics! I'd love to talk further.

    Comics, heroes, engaging STEM content, and animation all work so well together. And yes, we totally agree that digital and unplugged activities need to go hand-in-hand. In fact, as part of our pandemic pivot, we developed "do at home" versions of the same unplugged activities and discussions that we had originally created for informal and formal educators. We are about to do a study that will look at how these were received.

  • May 14, 2021 | 10:57 a.m.

    Great video - and it looks like a such a fun project. Congrats! I am curious what you used for a control group in your RCT. And what are you using to measure learning outcomes?  thanks, jodi

  • Icon for: Momo Hayakawa

    Momo Hayakawa

    Co-Presenter
    Managing Director, Research
    May 14, 2021 | 11:34 a.m.

    Hi Jodi, Thanks! Participating classrooms in schools from underserved communities in northern and southern California were randomized into treatment and control groups. Control classrooms were conducting business-as-usual curriculum and treatment classrooms replaced their science activities with the Hero Elementary program. As for learning outcomes, we used the ScienceQuest digital assessment which is aligned to NGSS. (We also had teacher interviews that provided a lot of context around how it was actually implemented when we pivoted to distance in April). Interestingly, control teachers told us that once they had to pivot to distance, they scrambled to put together language arts and math learning experiences- and science was not a focus. 

  • Icon for: Shannon Schmoll

    Shannon Schmoll

    Researcher
    May 17, 2021 | 11:57 a.m.

    This was a great video. I didn't realize all the aspects of Hero Elementary. My kids love the show and I have also sat with my 8 year old while we work through the games on the PBS games app. How do you think your results will affect future programs post-pandemic?

  • Icon for: Beth Daniels

    Beth Daniels

    Co-Presenter
    Senior STEM Content and Education Manager
    May 17, 2021 | 12:26 p.m.

    Thanks, Shannon! I'm glad you and your kids are enjoying Hero Elementary! And if they are looking for even more games, please check out https://heroelementary.org/. It has been a joy to work on such a comprehensive project; it has reminded me, again, of the holistic nature of teaching and learning. What we have learned will certainly affect future programs! Random thoughts here... We have a ton of ideas for future work! The pandemic has given us new ways of working with each other, with educators, and with children. I do think that some kind of distance learning modality is here to stay, even for learners this young! We have gained insight into the importance of providing comprehensive technology support to families. We have seen where stress points exist and have a better idea of where things have to change as we move toward a more equitable learning landscape. It will take persistence, changes to organizational priorities, and lots of cross-organizational work. The partnerships that we have developed over the course of this project will help in this area.We expect to continue moving forward with our equity and social-justice work with content development and educators in the field. We have learned a lot from our research and outreach efforts; in particular the importance of building strong relationships with organizational partners. We want to get our distance learning materials into the hands of more educators, perhaps on PBS LearningMedia. And digital learning experiences will grow in importance and we will continue learning from those experiences. We are very interested in refining and expanding methods for assessing and responding to children's learning and to support language development. 

  • Icon for: Candice Woods

    Candice Woods

    Manager, Development and Partnerships
    May 18, 2021 | 10:11 a.m.

    Great job HERO Team! Have you considered partnering with libraries and museums to integrate unplugged activities?

  • Icon for: Joan Freese

    Joan Freese

    Lead Presenter
    Executive Producer, Ready To Learn
    May 18, 2021 | 10:18 a.m.

    Great idea, Candice! Thank you.

    Originally, we planned to work with libraries, but it turns out most do not have programs that engage with the same children over time -- they have more of a drop in model. We have worked with several museums, especially if they have ongoing relationships with after school (or in school) programs in their communities. This kind of approach was required because our engagement program requires PD training for educators and commitment for children to have access to the playlists over time. 

    But your idea about hands on activities (and our existing family science event) at libraries and museums is a good one. We will pursue it. Thank you!

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