How We Know It Works

Other Science Demonstration Shows: For decades, smart, talented and well-meaning chemists and chemistry students have claimed that the demonstration shows they perform are educational. How do they know? Some claim the audience was educated because they asked the audience, “Did you learn something?” and got an overwhelming positive response. Some asked the audience questions like, “Have you heard the word [some science word] before?” and had a majority of respondents answer, “Yes.” Some say you don’t need evidence because you can tell by the look on their faces.” Many don’t mention evidence at all.

Evaluating Learning: We wanted to apply the methodology of science to our outreach programming. If the goal was to promote learning, we needed to _MG_2610define what we wanted our audience to learn, and then have some way of measuring if they learned it. That’s why we included some form of assessment with every show.

Goals for FST Shows: Cognitive assessment is accomplished through an embedded vote. It often takes the form of before-and-after balloting to determine the number of children who understand the show’s central concept before seeing the demonstrations vs. after seeing them. Using ballots in this way not only provides a measure of learning, it also helps children focus on the information they’re receiving and motivates them to pay attention throughout the show. When ballots are an integral part of a show, the script will include dialog that instructs children when and how to fill them out and turn them in.

Although our shows focus on learning, we also wanted them to have an affective impact on children in the audience. Goals for this impact include:

  • Make children want to learn more science;
  • Make children feel confident to be able to learn more science;
  • Make learning enjoyable and entertaining.
  • Have children enjoy the show!

A very brief post-performance questionnaire is provided for all shows to determine how a show affected children’s engagement and attitudes toward learning science. The questionnaire has just four rating scales and one opportunity for children to say in their own words what they thought of the show.

Watch for Yourself! Below is an informal interview, hosted by FST executive director Holly Walter Kerby with children from the Madison community. These children were asked about their knowledge of conductivity of electricity immediately following a performance of Will it Light. Performers featured are Robert Helfenstine and Elizabeth Cassarino.