The Blue Whales Project: Engaging audiences in adaptation related science content through a giant screen film and educational activities in science centers and rural libraries

October 1st, 2021 - September 30th, 2024 | PROJECT

This award is funded in whole or in part under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (Public Law 117-2).

Despite the rich scientific evidence of adaptations and their evolutionary basis, there are concerning public misconceptions about evolution, processes of natural selection, and adaptations in the biodiverse world. Such misconceptions begin early. Younger elementary school children are often resistant to the idea that one “kind” of animal could descend from a completely different kind of animal, and they see features as having always existed. Other misconceptions lead to an inaccurate belief that changes in individual organisms acquired in a lifetime are passed directly on to offspring or that entire populations transform as a whole. These cognitive biases and "intuitive” misunderstandings can persist into adulthood. This Innovations in Development project will counter that narrative through an informal science project focusing on the blue whale one of nature’s most spectacular stories of adaptation. It is a species that lives life at extremes: a long-distance migrator, a deep diver, an extravagant eater, the largest animal to ever exist. With its awe-inspiring size and rich mosaic of anatomical, physiological, and behavioral specializations, it serves as a bridge to an enriched understanding of universal concepts in elementary biology and can begin to dispel the deeply rooted misconceptions. The project deliverables include a giant screen film documenting the field work of research scientists studying the blue whales in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Mexico; multi-platform educational modules and programs that will build on the blue whale content from the film for use in science center programs and rural libraries; and professional development webinars that will offer content utilization and presentation skills for ISE facilitators. Project partners include California Science Center, STAR Library Education Network, HHMI Tangled Bank Studios and SK Films.

The external evaluation studies will gather data from 20 participating rural libraries and 6 science museums. A formative evaluation of the film will be conducted in a giant screen theater setting with 75 families. After viewing a fine-cut version of the film they will complete age-appropriate post-viewing surveys on the film’s engagement, storytelling, content appeal and clarity, and learning value in communicating key science concepts. An external summative evaluation will include three studies. Study 1 will assess the implementation of the project at the 26 organizations, addressing the question: To what extent is the project implemented as envisioned in the libraries and science center settings? Baseline information will be collected, and later partners will complete post-grant surveys to report on their actual implementation of the project elements. In addition, the study will examine outcomes relating to professional development. Study 2 will be an evaluation of the film as experienced by 400 youth and parents in science centers and examining the question: To what extent does experiencing the film engage youth and parents and affect their interest, curiosity, and knowledge of blue whales, adaptations, and the scientific process? Study 3 will examine: To what extent and how does experiencing an educational module (virtual field trips, hands on activities, augmented reality) affect youth and parents’ interest, curiosity, and knowledge of adaptations and scientific process?

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Team Members

Charles Kopczak, Principal Investigator, California Science Center Foundation
Gretchen Bazela, Co-Principal Investigator


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 2115860
Funding Amount: $1,114,452.00


Access and Inclusion: Rural
Audience: Elementary School Children (6-10) | Families | Museum | ISE Professionals | Parents | Caregivers
Discipline: Life science
Resource Type: Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: Films and IMAX | Library Programs | Media and Technology | Museum and Science Center Programs | Professional Development | Conferences | Networks | Professional Development and Workshops | Public Programs

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This material is supported by National Science Foundation award DRL-2229061, with previous support under DRL-1612739, DRL-1842633, DRL-1212803, and DRL-0638981. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations contained within are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.

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