Many teachers remember the excitement on kids faces when the theme song for Bill Nye The Science Guy came on in the classroom: “Bill! Bill! Bill!.” Lots of kids of the 90s have memories of learning about the science of storms, outer space, brains and more from his wacky and fun episodes. What if students today could receive the same sort of excitement and engagement from learning about science throughout the entire summer?
This summer, Nye teams up with Sophia.org, an online social education platform that offers 25,000 free academic tutorials on math, science, English and more, to launch the Sophia Summer Challenge. The challenge encourages students to spend time learning online for a chance to win an iPad.
“It is a well-known fact that summer causes brain drain for many students, however it doesn’t have to be that way,” says Steve Anastasi, interim CEO of Sophia.org. “Summer actually is the perfect time for kids to take a break from the traditional classroom schedule and with our new partner Bill Nye, we’ve developed many activities to keep them engaged, learning and even entertained.”
Thirty percent of what students learn over the school year they forget over summer, adds Nye. Teachers report that it takes an extra bit of time to ramp back up again. Kids today spend up to 7 hours a day on screens – between smartphones, computers and tablets – why not spend it learning, asks Nye.
“Learning can happen anywhere and at anytime – the important thing is that it should never stop,” Nye adds. “We’ve put together fun, free and easy activities that will make this the summer of learning versus the summer filled with the dreaded words ‘I’m bored.'”
“The more time you spend learning,” says Nye, “generally the better off you’ll be.” He adds that the continuous effort at learning has a ripple effect throughout students lives. Students who set aside time to learn with online programs like Sophia.org online do better in school, have higher confidence, land better jobs and obtain a higher quality of life.
Nye believes the interest in self-guided learning, even in the math and sciences, is prevalent. “Reports show that 25 million searches a month are for answers to math problems,” says Nye. “Those are students who are interested in what’s going on. They have time on their hands and they want to understand math.”
Sophia developed a Bill Nye library featuring 40 science experiments, which includes experiments students can safely do their in home kitchens, that students can try out over summer break. “I have always believed that we need to take science out of the textbook and make it interactive and fun,” Nye says. “With just a few items around the home, kids can see science in action.”
Nye pioneered video learning with his science tv series, Bill Nye The Science Guy, throughout the 90s. Today, other organizations like Sophia.org and Khan Academy are leveraging video to better engage students and extend the reach of great teachers.
“Video is so much clearer to the viewer,” says Nye. “It’s very reasonable to believe that in the future we’ll teach students not only how to write well, but how to create compelling and understanding video.”
As the CEO of the Planetary Society, Bill also is raising awareness for the latest Mars mission that has the Curiosity rover landing on the planet on August 5, 2012. “We want people all over the world to share in the experience of landing on Mars,” says Nye. “It’s an extraordinary thing.”
Nye developed tutorials about the mission and plans to provide updates throughout the summer on Sophia. He says that it’s likely we’ll find some evidence of life – microbes or bacteria – on Mars given the historic elements that once existed on the planet.
“If we were to discover evidence of living things on another world,” says Nye, “it will change this world.”
Nye adds that the future will bring lots of changes that we need to work to prepare for today by offering the learning experiences to build the scientists, engineers and technology inventors of tomorrow.
“We have 7 billion people on this plant. We’re going to need to do more with less. We’re going to need extraordinary amounts of energy and we’re going to need to process extraordinary amounts of waste material. And we’re going to want to raise the quality of life of living for every one of us,” says Nye. “And for that we need engineers and scientists.”
“We have enormous problems.” He concludes, “Let’s change the world!”
The challenge, which launched June 5, 2012, allows students aged 13 and older to complete tutorials and quizzes with Sophia’s learning pathways in order to win. Sophia will be giving out an iPad a week during the 8-week challenge. To learn more, visit www.sophia.org.