Local that Works

Local that Works spotlights innovative and replicable content, engagement and revenue initiatives at public radio and TV stations and nonprofit and digital news organizations in the U.S. LTW includes an annual contest and a database (below). LTW produces webinars that offer insights into projects and organizations that are reshaping local civic journalism.

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Vegas PBS STEAM Camp

Vegas PBS
Public TV
Jessica Russell

We conceived the idea for Vegas PBS STEAM Camp in May 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, to help prevent learning loss amidst months of school closures. At that time, estimates were that 11 percent of households with school-aged children in our county did not have internet access. We knew we could use our airwaves to provide unique, localized content to promote learning at home amidst this digital divide.

To determine the subject matter of the program, we assessed our state’s needs, including a review of the State of Nevada Advisory Council on STEM Strategic Plan, which says, “Not enough Nevada students are prepared for the challenging STEM jobs of Nevada’s economy.” Furthermore, the Nevada Governor’s Office of Science, Innovation & Technology states, “One-third of boys and girls lose an interest in science by the fourth grade and a child’s interest in STEM is largely formed by the time he or she reaches upper elementary and middle school.” We wanted this new program to address these needs, by sparking children’s curiosity in STEAM through accessible, engaging, and high-quality content with real-world ties to Southern Nevada.

To bring the concept to fruition, we collaborated with science and curriculum experts to develop a framework for the program. Then, we established partnerships with multiple community organizations, such as the Nevada Department of Transportation and the National Weather Service, to transport kids directly to where STEAM is happening in Southern Nevada. These child-friendly segments answered questions like, “How are bridges built?” and “How do we measure the weather?” to demonstrate how STEAM extends beyond just subjects learned in school—it helps improve our lives and community!

Every episode includes a variety of simple, fun, hands-on projects teachers or families can do with children to extend the show’s learning goals, using common household items, with local students modeling how they used science inquiry and engineering design practices to complete the tasks. Viewers are encouraged to complete the projects at home and share photos and videos of their work through the Vegas PBS STEAM Camp website or by tagging us on social media. Local librarians close each program by sharing books available for check out to promote further exploration. Lesson plans are available for each episode for use within afterschool and summer settings.

The Vegas PBS STEAM Camp website contains full episodes, curriculum guides, resources, and extension activities for educators to use in afterschool and summer programs, giving the program a unique community engagement component. During summer 2021, Vegas PBS collaborated with the Boys and Girls Club of Southern Nevada and the YMCA, who integrated the program into their STEAM classes. Seventy-five afterschool program leaders have been trained in the program, and seven 21st Century Community Learning Centers have plans to implement Vegas PBS STEAM camp in their science clubs during the upcoming school year.

According to Nielsen ratings, more than 36,300 people viewed the three-episode pilot of Vegas PBS STEAM Camp on Channel 10 during the summer of 2020. The promos and programs were also streamed over 650 times via YouTube and Vegas PBS Video On Demand, and the program website garnered 2,300 pageviews between July and October 2020.
Families have responded to our request for videos of children conducting the at-home activities. For example, on our “Waves and Bridges” episode webpage, you will find young viewers describing how they constructed bridges out of Popsicle sticks, water bottles, and cardboard. We have also received emails from viewers posing their own questions for future programs, like third grader, Gideon, who wrote, “I watched the first STEAM camp episode. I was wondering, how do you make PBS games load so fast on our computer?”

Vegas PBS received a grant for $24,276 from the Nevada Governor’s Office of Science, Innovation, and Technology’s Southern Nevada Regional STEM Network. This funding supported three additional episodes that aired summer 2021. In May 2021, the MGM Resorts Foundation awarded us a grant for $38,090, which will fund four more episodes to air in summer 2022.