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Research shows kids benefit from watching PBS Kids’ Molly of Denali

Tallahassee, FL. April 12, 2021 — Education Development Center (EDC) and SRI International (SRI) announce the release of their new research Mahsi’choo for the Info! Molly of Denali Teaches Children about Informational Text.*

Molly of Denali is an award-winning animated series, produced by GBH Boston that airs on PBS stations throughout Florida. It follows the adventures of curious and resourceful 10-year-old Molly Mabray, an Alaska Native girl who lives in the fictional village of Qyah, Alaska. Recently renewed for a second season, it is the first nationally distributed children’s series to feature a Native American lead character. 

Molly of Denali involves Alaska Native voices in all aspects of the production, both on screen and behind the scenes. Informational text, the underlying literacy curriculum, is integrated into the series’ episodes, games, app, website, and assets for educators, families, and kids. Informational text—oral, written, or visual text designed to inform—is essential to navigating daily life, and it includes activities such as reading a map, critically engaging with websites, and posing questions to an expert.

Two separate rigorous studies found that children from low-income households who were given Molly of Denali videos, digital games, and activities were better able to solve problems using informational text. Most children have access to stories and other narrative texts but little to no access to informational text. Yet informational text is a fundamental part of literacy. Comprehending informational text paves the way for future learning, particularly in social studies and the sciences, and success in life. 

“In a year where children have been forced to learn through screen time, there has been a great deal of debate on what is good programming and bad programming,” said Tasha Weinstein, education and engagement manager at WFSU in Tallahassee. 

“Knowing what is quality content is really important and we now know that screen time can work when you have effective programming.”

WFSU has organized “Molly of Denali”-inspired workshops in its viewing area and collaborated with the Muskogee Tribe to create a virtual museum that links the Muskogee with the native Americans of Alaska. 

Ten families were selected, and each week included a different area of study, including maps, traditions, biographies and animals. Kelling said she was thrilled to take the proven content of the TV program and put it to use in the community through the virtual museums. 

To see the virtual museums visit, https://wfsu.org/education/molly-of-denali-virtual-museum/. For more information on the study, visit edc.org/infotext. For more information about WFSU visit, https://wfsu.org/television/

Key Findings

Two nine-week studies included 263 first-grade children from low-income households across the country. The study team randomly assigned each child to receive either a tablet loaded with Molly of Denali resources (treatment condition) or a tablet that blocked access to Molly of Denali resources (control condition).

  • Problem-solving: Access to Molly of Denali digital resources improved first-grade children’s ability to use informational text to solve problems, for example, choosing the right book or website to answer a question or using an index to find a topic in the book.
  • High return for minimal time investment: Children benefited from the Molly of Denali resources after using them for only about one hour per week, on average, over nine weeks—similar to the time that children might access educational media at home. Many educational programs require more time or engagement before learning benefits are seen. 
  • More screen time = more learning: Children who used Molly of Denali resources for longer periods showed greater learning benefits. Findings demonstrate that more exposure to high-quality educational content results in greater learning gains.
  • The power of replication: The second study was a replication of the first study, adding further evidence of the impact of the Molly of Denali resources. Although replication is a critical part of the scientific process, few findings in education research are confirmed by conducting the same study a second time.

Molly of Denali has received much critical acclaim, including a Peabody Award, a Television Critics Award and a Kidscreen Award, and has a television reach of over 42 million peopleand over 450K users on PBS KIDS digital platforms each month.2 Now Molly of Denali also has the backing of two studies that demonstrate children’s learning.

The studies were commissioned as part of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and PBS Ready To Learn Initiative, with funding from the U.S. Department of Education. The Ready To Learn Initiative brings educational television and digital media resources to children ages 2–8 and aims to promote early science and literacy learning. 

The studies, conducted during the pandemic, pioneered innovations in remote data collection with families across the nation, providing evidence that research remains possible when in-person visits are not an option. The Molly of Denali content also provided a free resource to help develop children’s literacy skills to families experiencing pandemic-related disruptions in schooling.

“Never before has there been a study of children’s media supporting young children’s use of informational text to solve problems,” said Shelley Pasnik, EDC senior vice president and principal investigator of the joint EDC-SRI research team. “That we were able to see positive results not once but twice during a year of great educational turmoil makes the case for providing all families with quality early learning opportunities.”

“This research shows the power of well-designed educational media,” said Joy Lorenzo Kennedy, EDC’s lead author. “Not only does Molly of Denali have an engaging storyline and compelling cast of characters, it also embeds informational text in ways that improves children’s learning outcomes.”

Claire Christensen, lead author for SRI, added, “This research comes at a critical time when parents and educators are searching for guidance about how best to support children’s learning when they can’t be in the classroom.”

This study is one of a series of Ready To Learn Initiative studies demonstrating the impact of educational media on children’s learning. The full report is available online at edc.org/infotext

About EDC
Education Development Center (EDC) is a global nonprofit that advances lasting solutions to improve education, promote health, and expand economic opportunity. Since 1958, it has been a leader in designing, implementing, and evaluating powerful and innovative programs in more than 80 countries around the world. 

About SRI International
SRI International is an independent, nonprofit research center that works with clients to take the most advanced R&D from the laboratory to the marketplace. For more than 70 years, SRI has led the discovery and design of groundbreaking products, technologies, and industries—from Siri and online banking to medical ultrasound, cancer treatments, and much more.

About MOLLY OF DENALI 

Molly of Denali is co-produced by GBH and its animation partner, Atomic Cartoons, in association with CBC Kids. Funding for Molly of Denali™ is provided by a Ready To Learn Grant from the U.S. Department of Education; the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American People; and by public television viewers. Additional funding made possible with the participation of the Province of British Columbia Production Services Tax Credit. Corporate funding provided by the T. Rowe Price College Savings Plan and Target. Alaska Native collaborators: Adeline P. Raboff, Dewey Kk’ołeyo Hoffman, Luke Titus, Princess Daazhraii Johnson  and Rochelle Adams. Language Advisors: Adeline P. Raboff, Lance X’unei Twitchell, Lorraine David, Marie Meade and Marjorie Tahbone. Informational text advisor: Nell K. Duke, University of Michigan.

About the Ready To Learn Initiative
The Ready To Learn initiative is a cooperative agreement funded and managed by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE). It supports the development of innovative educational television and digital media targeted to preschool and early elementary school children and their families. Its general goal is to promote early learning and school readiness, with a particular interest in reaching children living in low-income households. In addition to creating television and other media products, the program supports activities intended to promote national distribution of the programming, effective educational uses of the programming, community-based outreach, and research on educational effectiveness.

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Contact:
Patrick Yack. pyack@nullfloridapublicmedia.org

1Nielsen NPOWER L+7, 7/15/2019–7/12/2020, 50% unif, 1+ mins., P2+, K2-11
2Google Analytics, January 2020–December 2020

The contents of Molly of Denali were developed under a grant from the Department of Education. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government. The project is funded by a Ready To Learn grant (PR/AWARD No. U295A150003, CFDA No. 84.295A) provided by the Department of Education to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.


* Mahsi’choo (Mah-see-cho): “Thank You” in Gwich’in.