Broadcast Television and STEM Learning

January 1st, 2016

This article was migrated from a previous version of the Knowledge Base. The date stamp does not reflect the original publication date.


Broadcast television offers a variety of ways to present STEM-content and informal science education programming to public audiences. The educational program “Watch Mr. Wizard” (NBC 1951-1965) introduced a generation of young viewers to science. The original “Cosmos” series (PBS 1980) was the most widely watched series in America for more than a decade and a revival of the show “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” (FOX 2014), hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, introduced new audiences to the wonders of our universe.

ISE television programming comes in a variety of formats including series, (e.g., NOVA, Nature, Scientific American Frontiers, Quest, Time Team America, DragonflyTV, Sci Girls, Design Squad, Cyberchase), mini-series or special programs (e.g., “Earth the Operators Manual,” “The Mystery of Matter,” “Strange Days on Planet Earth,” “The Music Instinct”), and science inserts in other programming, (e.g. the Science Units broadcast on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer).

Findings from Research and Evaluation 

For coverage of research trends and evaluation findings about broadcast media and STEM programming, please see Rockman, Bass, and Borse (2007) Media-Based Learning Science in Informal Environments.

Directions for Future Research 

  • Establishing a knowledge base of effective production features from the accumulation of formative evaluation findings
  • Exploring differences result between types of viewership (adult vs. youth, active vs. passive, social vs. solo, occasional vs. regular, etc.)
  • Longitudinal impacts of viewing STEM programming.
  • Considering the impact of screen-size on viewing outcomes (i.e., on a small screen such as a mobile device, a computer screen, small television screens, large television screens, etc.)


Barinaga, Marcia. “Science Television: Colleagues on Cable.” Science 1991.

Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) (2006) Primetime Audience Research for Public Television: Narrative Descriptions of Audience Segments. Washington, DC: CPB.

Crowley, K., & Galco, J. (2001). Everyday activity and the development of scientific thinking. In K. Crowley, C. D. Schunn, & T. Okada (Eds.), Designing for science: Implications from everyday, classroom, and professional settings (pp. 123 – 156). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Falk, J. H. (2001). Free-choice science education: How we learn science outside of school. New York: Teachers College Press.

Hornig, Susanna. “Television’s ‘Nova’ and the Construction of Scientific Truth.” Critical Studies in Mass Communication (Annandale, Virginia), March 1990.

Tressel, George. “Science on the Air: NSF’s Role.” Physics Today (New York), 1990.