Project Profile

STEM Tales: Investigating the effect of media read-alouds on young children's STEM and literacy learning and interest in STEM careers


Exciting young children's interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is an essential way to attract more students to STEM course work and STEM careers. This project will use a variety of tools to engage four- to eight-year-old children and their families. First, the project will create a five-episode STEM media series for the Public Broadcasting System. The series will include diverse STEM professionals, including astronauts and engineers, reading STEM picture books from space, Earth, and sea. The picture books will be complemented by related media that shows diverse children engaging in STEM activities in their homes and communities. Next, 10 family-friendly, low-cost STEM activity kits that are aligned to the PBS series will be created. To continue STEM learning at home, these kits will be shared with a national network of libraries that serve diverse, low-income communities. To support STEM learning in their local library, librarians will engage in professional development. The innovative combination of digital media and libraries as hubs for STEM learning and sharing take-home kits is expected to support young children’s interest in STEM, their confidence for pursuing their STEM interests and their early literacy skills.  The project is a partnership among Twin Cities Public Television, T2 Science and Math Education, American University’s School of Education, and the Space Science Institute.


Reading aloud to children increases their literacy. In turn, literacy skills are strongly linked to STEM success. However, the literature on read-alouds is based largely on reading in person. Less is known about how digital media read-alouds support children’s STEM and literacy learning. This 30-month Developing, and Testing Innovations project will explore the extent to which digital media read-alouds impact children’s STEM content learning, STEM-aligned literacy skills and children’s interest in and awareness of STEM careers. It aims to increase the quantity and quality of digital STEM media read-alouds and STEM library programs for children and families of color and from low-income communities. All media and hands-on STEM activities will be shaped by: 1) Established curriculum frameworks, including the Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy and Mathematics; 2) A diverse project team and advisory board; 3) Evidence-based research on the use of effective read-aloud strategies, best practices in children’s media production, and STEM activities; and 4) Evaluation that includes parents and librarians’ voices from the communities this project will serve. The mixed-methods project will use quantitative data, in the form of pre- and post-surveys around children’s STEM and literacy skills, knowledge and interest to assess change over time. Qualitative data in the form of interviews and observations will investigate children’s use of STEM and literacy skills and interest in STEM careers. Themes around these constructs will be developed through constant comparison of interview data and triangulation. Data collection sampling will occur at the library level through a simple randomized sampling of children within the targeted age range. Formative evaluation with parents and librarians will provide feedback on the new media and aligned activities. An independent evaluation will examine librarians’ professional development and program implementation, seeking to understand how library educators engage and motivate children and parents/caregivers around STEM topics and career pathways. The project involves eight research sites and 21 outreach sites across the country with the goal of engaging 42 librarians working with over 200 children and over 400 parents/caregivers.  More broadly, the STEM Tales media will appear across multiple national PBS digital platforms where it will reach an estimated two million viewers (including children, librarians, educators, and parents) over a seven-year rights period. This project is funded by the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program, which supports projects that build understandings of practices, program elements, contexts and processes contributing to increasing students' knowledge and interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and information and communication technology (ICT) careers.


This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.



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Co-Principal Investigator(s)
Primary Contact


Award Number
Project Duration
2022 - 2024
Developing and Testing Innovations (DTI)
Twin Cities Public Television, Saint Paul, MN
Project Work State
Target Gradespan(s)
Elementary school (K-5)
Project Setting(s)
Informal Education
Geographic Location(s)
Project Status
Environmental sciences
Life sciences
Physics and astronomy
Target Participants
Youth / students
Parents / caregivers / families