Bill Nye The Science Guy Who Always Knows Why

Age Levels targeted:
8-18

Background:
Bill Nye the Science Guy is a PBS educational TV program about science that was created and ran on television in the mid 1990s. The show was produced by Walt Disney’s educational division and hosted by scientist Bill Nye, a former assistant of Christopher Lloyd’s when he’d perform his experiments on the animated series version of ‘Back to the future.’ The show is still used in many schools, having been designed as an in-school program to be used by instructors as part of the classroom curriculum. The show is applicable to a wide range of ages.

Bill Nye the Science Guy ran for 100 episodes and has spanned three spinoff science shows (so far) also hosted by Bill Nye: The Eyes of Nye, 100 Greatest Discoveries, and Stuff Happens. The original Bill Nye the Science Guy show covered topics similar to those discussed in Beakman’s World, another science show that I have discussed, that ran at around the same time and even shared a writer/director. Both shows have a great sense of humor and a fast paced method of coming directly at the young watcher and keeping him constantly engaged with the subject material thus keeping him focused.

Overview of the show:
I’ve already noted in the last section, the connection between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Beakman’s World. Another comparison that has often been made is between Bill Nye and Don Herbert, the famed Mr. Wizard, the ‘father’ of science teaching on TV who had two popular series of this sort. Bill onscreen is dressed as a typical scientist wearing a bow tie and lab coat and teaching people, mixing in humor while teaching the science of everyday objects and phenomena. To that extent he is similar to Herbert. But there the similarity between Herbert and his followers end. Mister Wizard is a much more straightforward ‘pure’ hands-on science show which is slower paced and thus very different from his later follower hosts such as Bill Nye and Beakman. I plan to discuss him and his shows in another entry on the site in future.
As with Beakman’s World and the Mister Wizard shows, Bill Nye the Science Guy is a show geared for the elementary school set to teach them scientific topics – and yet it’s very different from either show. For starters, it’s more focused than Beakman’s World. While Beakman’s World would try and give a taste of two or three unrelated topics on each show (for example ‘vaccinations’ and ‘friction’), Bill Nye the Science Guy almost always focused on a single topic which Nye would come at from a wide variety of angles and in a varied selection of places. Location is another major difference. On Beakman’s World, all the action happens inside Beakman’s laboratory. Bill Nye the Science Guy couldn’t be more different in this respect. Bill does spend a fair amount of time in the lab, with most shows starting with him walking onto the set, known as “Nye Labs.” However, large sections of the show involve his getting outside. He won’t just create you a model volcano – he goes out to Mount Saint Helens to show the effects of an actual volcanic explosion.

He won’t just stick on a pair of goggles and pretend he’s flying to discuss flight – he’ll actually spend time in a plane.

Bill Nye the Science Guy is also far less insular than Beakman’s World in the matter of scientific expertise. Beakman’s lab consists of only himself, his assistant and Lester. Even when he brings so-called ‘experts’ to explain the concepts he’s teaching, the ‘experts’ are actually (and obviously) he himself, in costume. Bill Nye, on the other hand, constantly interacts with people of all ages and backgrounds outside his lab. He also works with and interviews people from outside his show, each of whom is expert in fields of study relevant to the episode’s topic of study.

Another nice touch Bill Nye the Science Guy features is the inclusion of parodied spoof song videos, wherein he takes a popular song and changes its words to explain the concept he’s been teaching during the course of the episode. This culminates in an entire episode devoted just to science through song entitled “NTV Top 11 Video Countdown.”

None of what I’ve said above, of course, should be misconstrued as an attempt to criticize either Beakman’s world, a wonderful show unto itself which I have nothing but the highest praise for, or Mister Wizard which is the pioneer of TV science shows. My point is that despite the shows’ similarity they also have a great number of differences and each of the shows, while appealing to many of the same target audiences, may strike more of a chord with different viewers so that the shows all essentially complement each other and are best used together to demonstrate various principles as I’ll note below in my anecdotal section.

The Main Characters
The two main characters on the show are Bill Nye a.k.a. ‘ Bill Nye the Science Guy ‘ and Pat Cashman who is the show’s announcer. We never see him on the show but he often interacts with Bill from offscreen. In addition to this there’s a ‘typical American family’ who appears in several episodes in comic relief. Other than that though, the characters tend to change completely from one episode to the next depending on the topic.
Types of skills the show teaches:
Bill Nye the Science Guy is a show that teaches scientific concepts and does so in a fun and engaging way that keeps kids attention focused so that they absorb a lot of useful educational material without feeling bored or overwhelmed. The show is appropriate for a wide range of ages. My kids started enjoying it even before they entered elementary school but I recently had someone who goes to one of the top high schools in the US tell me that they used it in his high school as well. I don’t claim to be a science expert by any means but I do find the show personally interesting, informative, and witty. It will stimulate your child to be more inquisitive about the world around him if he’s not already and will answer questions for them if they’re inquisitive already.
Site review:
To my mind this is probably the best science show out there for school level kids of the present generation. The fast pace, different ways of getting at serious subject material, the songs, and the humor all combine to create a wonderful learning environment that kids used to that kind of television can relate to. It’s real people as opposed to the animation style of the magic schoolbus (another wonderful show) which while excellent is likely to be considered babyish around the time they hit junior high. It has a wider range and scope of place then either of the other two shows I’ve mentioned in this review, Mister Wizard and Beakman’s World, which are both in-lab shows. Another major advantage is that the show was designed to be an in-school program meaning that its subject matter is likely to apply fairly specifically to subjects your kids will be taught in class.

My Kids Perspective:
My kids constantly watch and rewatch the episodes of this show and ask me to find out if there are more episodes out there that they haven’t watched yet, This has been true of all my kids at all ages. Even the youngest, who isn’t up to understanding anything in it at this point, still loves to watch it with his siblings because of the catchy music and fast moving action. They’ve constantly drawn upon facts they learned from the show in real life situations and I’ll often hear them debating scientific subjects only to have one or the other of them bring something from Bill Nye the Science Guy.

The one time my kids are definitely not free to choose their TV preferences is when they have a test to study for. That is unless it’s a show where TV can help in studying for a test. I’ve found Bill Nye the Science Guy to be one of the best shows for this. Naturally this isn’t in place of their actual study material. But rare is the child who is going to study their test material non-stop before a test. They need breaks. And if they’re willing to spend the break watching TV and the program they happen to watch is an episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy dealing with the test topic it can only help. Mister Wizard is also a pretty useful show for study purposes though Beakman, (except when the topic’s a perfect fit) less so. As of the time of the writing of this piece, my children have always received exceptionally high grades in science so I figure it can’t be hurting!

Anecdotal: Two or three years back, my daughter was standing with a parent who homeschools and whose kids are quite advanced educationally and her son (a high school graduate by age 14). As they were standing there a helicopter passed overhead and my friend asked “do you know what’s keeping that up?” to which her son replied ‘the rotors’ upon which my daughter, at the time around 8 piped up “no –it’s lift…and the Bernoulli effect.” I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about (though I made a point to look it up afterwards – nothing wrong with learning from our kids even if they’re third graders and what they’re teaching us are principles of aerodynamic theory) but she did because she’d been watching the episode about flight

and my friend apparently did and was clearly impressed.

Another time my kids asked a friend’s father to give them trivia questions. “on what subject?” he asked. “Ask us science questions,” they begged. Jokingly he asked them “ok what’s DNA.” in unison they replied “Deoxyribonucleic acid.” It’s not often you see a man’s jaw literally drop and as he sat there agape they went onto explain to him exactly what it is and how scientists use it.

Similar shows
Beakman’s World, Mister Wizard, The Magic School Bus

11 Responses to “Bill Nye The Science Guy Who Always Knows Why”

  1. Gabriela Jones Says:

    I subscribed to your rss :-)

  2. Patricia Dobson Says:

    Wow! This could be one particular of the most useful blogs I have ever run across on this subject. Excellent. I am also an expert on the topic and so I can understand your effort.

  3. Gail Nieber Says:

    As a former student who used the program in school and as a parent who gets DVDs of the show for my kids I’d have to say that Bill Nye the Science Guy is an excellent kids educational TV show for any kids of school age and above but I think it’s most valuable for those kids who struggle with science. The great thing about educational TV in general and especially Bill Nye the Science Guy is that it approaches the material with the goal of entertaining as well as teaching. The medium of television makes it possible to do that in ways unavailable to a teacher in a classroom who doesn’t have the same resources available to them in reaching kids and holding their attention.

    I’d definitely advise any parents looking for a good kids educational TV show for their kids – especially the science challenged among them – to make Bill Nye the Science Guy their educational TV show of choice.

  4. Fiona Ouris Says:

    This isn’t just a fine kids educational tv show but a great educational TV show for teens as well. I used to watch Bill Nye the Science Guy in high school a few years ago. I loved that there was so much comedy in the show. It made science more interesting than when it’s just a lab or a frontal class. While Bill Nye told a lot of jokes, he also gave you lots of information, made you think about things you didn’t know about and ask questions you wouldn’t have previously thought to ask.

    Most Bill Nye the Science Guy episodes include Bill Nye doing experiments and other kids (who could be your kids peers agewise) showing how you can do a topic relevant experiment at home. Often there are also interviews with scientists who works in the field relevant to that episode’s topic and sometimes a music video (usually a spoof of a well known song) relating to the topic as well.

    I’m not saying that watching Bill Nye the Science Guy turned me into a scientist. It didn’t and I’m not. But it did get me to pay attention and to lower my antagonism towards a subject I previously wasn’t so fond of. I’d definitely recommend this as a great educational TV program for parents of kids of any age to expose their kids to.

  5. Gia Guerino Says:

    The most important thing when watching an educational TV show like Bill Nye the Science Guy is to remember that as an educational TV show kids are going to be learning from it and when people learn they generally have questions. Therefore it’s best for the parent to make sure to see it TOGETHER with their child so that they’ll be ready to expand on the issues being discussed if the kids ask (and they WILL ask). Don’t worry though you won’t be bored! While it’s true that its a kids educational TV show it works on many levels and is both fun and educational for adults as well. I always have found myself learning things when watching Bill Nye the Science Guy!

    The one thing I’ve always regretted is that I’m sure there are episodes my kids have missed but after running accross your review I clicked on the link and got to your educational DVDs store where you have episodes of the show available for ordering. I’m going to comb through them and maybe order some of the episodes of the shows (never mind if it’s for the kids or for myself :-)).

    Great job letting people know abouta wonderful educational TV show like Bill Nye the Science Guy. I’ve also looked through some of the other kids educational TV shows you’ve reviwed here and was quite impressed. I plan to bookmark your site and return to visit often.

  6. Pamela Muldoon Says:

    Nye’s goal in this excellent kids educational tv show show is to inquire into any scientific question a kid might inquire about. Bill Nye the Science Guy is appropriate for children of all ages and at different ages kids will take different experiences away from the show and appreciate different segments in it.

    Despite its being created as a kids educational TV show, adults are likely to also be drawn in and find themselves learning new scientific facts. Guess it goes to show there’s a kid in each of us that can enjoy a good educational TV show when done well.

  7. Olivia Brookes Says:

    amazing site, very resourceful. I like it very much. I came across your writing randomly looking for information on a different show you reviewed and then was drawn in to read about other shows including this review of Bill Nye the Science Guy with which I was previously unfamiliar. It sounds like a first rate kids educational TV show. I plan to visit your site frequently and forward it to fellow parents. If the rest of the shows are as good as the clips you posted I may order some of them for my science class as well as I’m always looking for methods and material to motivate my students and have used kids educational TV shows with success in the past. Keep up the good work! I look forward to reading more observations of yours on educational TV shows.

  8. Jane Fitzroy Says:

    Bill Nye the Science Guy is more than just a person and the fantastic kids educational TV show he hosts. He’s the science teacher we all wanted to have in high school or junior high. The one who could do the seemingly impossible task of making science interesting and fun instead of tedious. Shows like this make you wonder whether the education system wouldn’t be better off dumping all the burned out teachers and rplacing them with kids educational TV shows like this so that we could all have Bill Nye the science guy as our teacher. I mean who wouldn’t pay attention in school if they had Bill as their teacher for any subject?!

  9. Sofia Addison Says:

    I was never much of a science buff but Bill Nye the Science Guy is THE ultimate kids educational TV science show enables me to answer my kids questions on nearly any scientific issue. When they start getting interested in a given topic I just get ahold of the DVD (easy enough to do as you know – you have some of them in your site’s kiducation store) on that subject (Bill Nye seems to cover EVERYTHING!) and watch it with them. Then we’re all that much wiser!

  10. Sharona Crispell Says:

    My favorite things about Bill Nye the Science Guy has always been its humor and fast paced style. This program’s unusual for a kids educational TV show in that it’s so engaging and entertaining you practically forget that what you’re being taught is the same data that’s being taught in school (often at a higher level!) in such an unnecessarily dry manner.

    I make a regular point of ordering the DVDs for each topic (I see you have them listed in your DVD store as well – very nice selection you have there by the way. I’m going to go browse there some more once I’m through typing this comment) as my daughter learns about them in school and I’m sure Bill Nye will just be more and more beneficial to her as she gets older.

    Great job by the way writing about a topic like kids educational TV shows. I’ll be back to read more! Keep up the great job you’ve been doing so far.

  11. Hera Botros Says:

    This is my favorite kids educational TV show! I love how each episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy has a theme to it – such as erosion, gravity, the brain etc. and concentrates on one focused topic but then comes at it in all different ways to keep his viewers interested. And he DOES keep us interested! Whether child or adult this is an educational TV show that teaches but not preaches. Bill Nye doesn’t just take things for granted and expect you to accept axioms. He performs experiments and shows you processes out in the field and explains the reasons or at least theories for why those things happen.

    I know I’ve learned a lot from the show and he’s got my older kids hooked on sciences (different ones for each). Great review of a great kids educational TV show

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