STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Here's a way to make the kids' eyes glaze over: Tell them they have to watch an educational science program on television.
And yet plenty of children, as well as adults, have made hits out of science-based shows like �Mythbusters.� NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports on the success of science on TV.
ELIZABETH BLAIR: The hard truth, says President Obama, is that Americans have been losing ground.
President BARACK OBAMA: One assessment shows American 15-year-olds now rank 21st in science and 25th in math when compared to their peers around the world.
BLAIR: He was speaking at the recent launch of a nationwide effort to move the U.S. to the top in science and math education in the next decade.
Invited to the event were prominent scientists from NASA and the National Science Foundation and a couple of cable TV stars.
President OBAMA: Welcome MythBusters from Discovery Channel. Where are they?
(Soundbite of applause)
President OBAMA: There they are.
BLAIR: �Mythbusters� is not a science show per se, but scientists are some of its biggest fans.
President OBAMA: I hope you guys left the explosives at home.
BLAIR: The Mythbusters love to blow stuff up.
(Soundbite of explosion)
BLAIR: The series was created by two former Hollywood special effects guys: Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage. They go to some pretty great lengths to bust myths, like, can a sonic shockwave shatter glass? Or does double-dipping cause germ warfare? In one episode, Adam and Jamie visited the world's largest portable hurricane simulator at the University of Florida to test whether it's better to keep the windows of a house open or closed during a hurricane.
(Soundbite of �Mythbusters)
Mr. JAMIE HYNEMAN: I don't even think those things got up to half speed.
Mr. ADAM SAVAGE: Well, why don't we survey the damage. What do you say?
We don't have pretensions to be teaching.
BLAIR: �Mythbusters'� Adam Savage.
Mr. SAVAGE: We're still very in touch with the 14-year-old pyromaniacs inside us.
BLAIR: Still, says Savage, when they go to speak at engineering schools, they're treated like rock stars. The California Science Teachers' Association even made them honorary members.
Ms. MINDY BEDROSSIAN (Science teacher, Strongsville, Ohio): �Mythbusters� is raw science at its best.
BLAIR: Mindy Bedrossian is a high school science teacher in Strongsville, Ohio. She even wants her students to test hypotheses the way they do on MythBusters.
Ms. BEDROSSIAN: Well, we don't want them to blow up buildings and things like that. But we would like for them to do science in exactly the same way.
BLAIR: Bedrossian says she pays close attention to what science TV shows are out there. She's concluded there's a lot of garbage.
Ms. BEDROSSIAN: Just made up nonsense.
BLAIR: Mindy Bedrossian has some strong objections to shows that focus on animal violence like �Untamed and Uncut� on Animal Planet.
(Soundbite of �Untamed and Uncut�)
Unidentified Man: The 1500 pound bully rams the mother like a freight train trying to drive his horns straight into her.
BLAIR: But as a high school teacher, Bedrossian says her real problem is that there are so little science education in the younger grades.
But there are some TV shows.
(Soundbite of �Sid the Science Kid�)
Mr. DREW MASSEY (Puppeteer): (As Sid the Science Kid) Did you hear the one about the kid who wanted to hear everything about everything?
BLAIR: Last year PBS launched �Sid the Science Kid� partly because head of programming, Linda Simensky, was frustrated there was so little science TV for the pre-school set. So she commissioned to the Jim Henson Company to produce �Sid.�
Ms. LINDA SIMENSKY (Head of Programming, PBS): And I really wanted daily science that you encounter every day in life. And something that models asking questions.
BLAIR: Now Sid, let's just say he's an extremely happy extrovert who can be kind of annoying with his toy microphone.
(Soundbite of �Sid the Science Kid�)
Mr. MASSEY: (As Sid the Science Kid) Hey, is this thing on?
Unidentified Children: (SINGING) Hey Sid, what do you say? Whatcha want to learn today?
SID THE SCIENCE KID: I want to know why things happen and how and I want to know everything now. Oh yeah.
BLAIR: So will �Sid the Science Kid� actually impart any knowledge to little viewers? The producers aren't making any guarantees. But they do hope Sid will get kids excited about science.
And according to Bill Nye The Science Guy, whose show is still revered by educators, that shouldn't be too hard.
Mr. BILL NYE: Everybody loves science when he or she is very young. You cannot find a kid that doesn't want to taste the kitchen floor, or that doesn't want to know how houseflies make a living.
BLAIR: Bill Nye says the U.S. needs young scientists � so why not start with this willing audience?
Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.