The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!™ boosts preschoolers’ understanding of science

URI study finds PBS KIDS Series The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!™ boosts preschoolers’ understanding of science, engineering

KINGSTON, R.I. — April 23, 2020 — A study led by the University of Rhode Island has found that preschool children who interacted with multimedia learning materials created for the PBS KIDS show The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!™ provided opportunities to learn about science for all participating children. The results of multiple analyses revealed that the free and accessible media had a positive effect on children, regardless of gender, socioeconomic status of the family or whether they receive special education services.

The University of Rhode Island team that researched the effectiveness of multimedia learning materials created for the PBS KIDS show The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!™ enjoys a light moment. From left are: Susan Brand, professor of education; Kayon Murray-Johnson, assistant professor of education; Sara Sweetman, assistant professor of education and research team leader; Beth Holland, a postdoctoral fellow; Hyunjin Kim, associate professor of human development and family studies; and Kelly Shea, an education specialist with URI’s Guiding Education in Math and Science Network. URI photo by Nora Lewis.

Findings suggest that by the end of the eight-week study twice as many children (56%) were able to accurately depict what scientists and engineers do than at the start of the study (24%).

“The study’s results are really encouraging,” said Sara Sweetman, URI assistant professor of education and lead researcher on this project. “If free and publicly available media can support early science awareness and knowledge within young children as they start school, we can begin to narrow the science opportunity gap prevalent in kindergarten.”

The study was conducted with 137 preschool children from 13 classrooms in Rhode Island public school districts where up to 49% of the children in each class receive special services. The children received two tablets containing video stories of The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!™ and a mobile multi-game app, The Cat in the Hat Builds That™, to use at home and at school for up to eight weeks. Parents and teachers also received printed resources from PBS LearningMedia to support real-world activities. URI researchers visited the classrooms to observe and assess the children’s understanding of the nature of science and engineering and their perceptions of science on five occasions over the course of the study. Parents and teachers also reported their observations in a weekly media log.

Preschool children broadened their understanding of the nature of science: who can participate in science and engineering, how science and engineering are practiced, and what is learned from science and engineering. Scores on a University-developed assessment tool called the Nature of Science and Engineering Survey (NOSES) significantly increased after exposure to The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!™. The 23-question, picture-based survey asked children to choose picture responses to prompts like “Touch the pictures that show people acting like scientists.”

The study also found:

  • In the Draw A Scientist Test and the Digital Design A Scientist Test, children demonstrated increases in positive perceptions of science and engineering.
  • 77% of the children depicted scientists and engineers working in everyday spaces and places, such as backyards, playgrounds, etc., by the end of the study rather than in stereotypical settings, such as chemistry laboratories, or fantastical settings, such as secret locations in caves and castles, compared with 44% percent at the beginning of the study.
  • 86% of girls drew female scientists at the end of the study compared to 49% at the beginning of the study.
  • In the Nature of Science and Engineering Survey, children from the lowest income households increased their scores the most, 12.3% compared with 6.3% of children from higher income families.

Developing a deep understanding of the nature of science and engineering allows people to engage more critically in and interpret information about the world in which they live. According to the Next Generation Science Standards, when children understand the nature of science and engineering they are better able to answer their own questions and solve problems and will be better able to engage critically in their formal K-12 science curriculum.

Sweetman serves as an adviser to the Ready To Learn Initiative, an early learning project of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and PBS, with funding from the U.S. Department of Education. As part of the initiative, Sweetman was awarded a research grant to explore how multimedia experiences at home and at school influence young children’s attitudes and perceptions about science, in support of their pathways toward science and engineering careers.

Read more about this study on the URI site.

PBS KIDS’ series The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!™ supports learning by modeling science practices and language and exploring science and engineering content through animated stories. Study resources focused on videos, digital games, and hands-on activities from the third season funded by the CPB-PBS Ready To Learn Initiative. The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!™ is a PORTFOLIO ENTERTAINMENT INC. production and is derived from properties held by Penguin Random House and Dr. Seuss Enterprises.

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