The Role of the Brains On! Podcast in Supporting Children and Their Families During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Research Summary

Tuesday, June 15, 2021
Resource Type:
Report | Reference Materials
Environment Type: 
Media and Technology, Broadcast Media, Websites, Mobile Apps, and Online Media
Elementary School Children (6-10) | Middle School Children (11-13) | Pre-K Children (0-5) | Families | Parents/Caregivers | Museum/ISE Professionals | Evaluators | Learning Researchers
Education and learning science | Health and medicine
Science Museum of Minnesota

The goal of this NSF-funded RAPID research project was to advance understanding of how children’s science podcasts can provide families with information to help ease children’s worries during a pandemic by increasing children’s understanding of pandemic-related science concepts and supporting pandemic-related family conversations. Our research was guided by the following questions:

1.     How and to what extent do Brains On!’s coronavirus-based episodes help children and their families understand and talk about science-related pandemic topics?

2.     What kinds of conversations are sparked by these episodes?

To answer these research questions, we drew on listeners of the popular children's science podcast, Brains On!. Brains On! released a number of coronavirus-related podcast episodes over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their first coronavirus episode was released on March 10, 2020. To date it is the highest downloaded of their 190+ episodes with 136,402 downloads within the first 15 days of posting.

We conducted a survey with caregivers of Brains On! listeners in June 2020 in order to understand how Brains On! episodes were increasing children’s understanding of pandemic topics, helping to ease their worries, and supporting child-caregiver conversations. The survey covered the podcast listening period between March - June 2020, which was still early in the COVID-19 pandemic. The sample was 5 to 12 year olds who had listened to at least one of the four Brains On! coronavirus episodes released between March – May 2020. A total of 401 caregivers of kids 5 to 12 responded to the survey.

This research summary provides high level insights into the important role this informal science education medium played during the COVID-19 pandemic. Brains On! positively impacted children’s learning, helped to ease children’s worries and fears, and supported important child-caregiver pandemic conversations. The research also uncovered insights into the design features of the Brains On! coronavirus episodes that helped to create an engaging and educational podcast for children and their families. Although this research focused on one children’s science podcast, the findings can be useful for anyone looking to develop science podcasts for children and their families around a range of topics, particularly in relation to creating child-focused media content during times of science-related crises.

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Team Members

Amy Grack NelsonPrincipal Investigator
Evelyn RonningCo-Principal Investigator
Choua HerChoua HerCo-Principal Investigator

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