One kid flies over skyscrapers, then stumbles on a rattlesnake in a box canyon. Another meets a coyote in the Cedar Ridge Preserve and uses a holographic disk to encounter a teeth-gnashing beaver. Every episode of “The Whynauts” brings a fun adventure in science—through the magic of a green screen, digital effects, and VR and AR simulations.
The Perot Museum of Nature and Science came up with the idea for the series last year, partnering with Dallas agency/studio Groove Jones to script, design, direct, and produce it. Before you could say “Action!” the series was coming to life—and inspiring students across Texas.
The 10-part series is designed to make STEM exciting and accessible. Each episode features scientific experts who lead kids—young actors aged 10-15—on an exploratory journey through some of Texas’ best-known landmarks, including the Trinity River and the Dallas Zoo. The adventures are bilingual, with the kids speaking in a subtitled mix of English and Spanish.
A pandemic idea became an evergreen series
One motive for creating “The Whynauts” was the COVID pandemic, which shut down classrooms across Texas and put field trips on hold. The Perot Musem was looking to boost engagement and reach kids, and its own mini show seemed like a plausible option.
By the time Groove Jones began producing the series in January, it was clear “The Whynauts” could live on as an evergreen adventure series, long after normal life resumes.
“’The Whynauts’ will not only address this immediate, critical need, but will also live on long beyond the pandemic, allowing us to also reach students who typically cannot come to the museum, including those from rural towns or cities where distance is a barrier to visitation,” Dr. Linda Silver, Eugene McDermott CEO of the Perot Museum, said in a statement.
From paleontologists to “Top Chefs”
Watch “The Whynauts” and you might find a former astronaut, Perot Museum paleontologists, a Texas Instruments engineer, a Telemundo meteorologist, or a “Top Chef” contestant. STEM experts are scattered throughout, with locals from SMU, the Dallas Zoo, John Bunker Sands Wetland Center, and other organizations making appearances.
The creative, high-energy series has a big aim: Ensuring that all kids, especially diverse audiences, can see themselves prominently portrayed in STEM fields.
Overall, the series offers a suite of learning materials that include educator resources with robust lesson guides, enrichment activities, at-home engagement, and more. Inside every 15-minute episode, developed in conjunction with Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards, students from grades K-8 can dive deep into physical science, earth science, and life science.
“The Whynauts” is also a way for the Perot Museum to expand learning beyond its walls. Some of the episodes explore its exhibit halls, offering inside access to kids across Texas.
The series is a huge step for the nature and science museum, which hosted more than 2,000 schools and 235,000 students in the 2018-19 school year.
The last year took away the opportunity “for countless students to have those crucial ‘ah-ha’ moments,” Dr. Silver said. “We know from extensive data and our own personal knowledge that those experiences are so critical to sparking a lifelong interest in STEM.”
The Perot Museum expects to reach 250,000 Texas kids this year alone with “The Whynauts.” Dr. Silver aims to quadruple that number to one million kids next year.
Just in time for summer, parents, educators, and youth groups can register for free access to “The Whynauts” through the end of the 2021-22 academic year. According to the museum, more than 40,000 students have already registered for the pilot.
“With The Whynauts’ program, we’ve further cultivated our mission to serve all minds, not only through in-person experiences at the museum but also through innovative outreach that extends far beyond our walls,” Dr. Silver said. “Now we’re better equipped to deal with these new challenges, help close the COVID learning gap, and be a resource for even more students, parents, and school districts.”
How “The Whynauts” came to be
Planning for “The Whynauts” began more than a year ago. Educators from the Perot Museum gathered focus groups with 30 school district representatives to better understand how it could play a role in virtual learning.
The group reached a consensus: “Virtual programming featuring STEM workforce development would be a major asset.”
While the Perot Museum’s leadership—under the helm of Dr. Silver—had the initial big idea, collaboration played a key role in developing “The Whynauts.”
Groove Jones gets on board
In September 2020, the museum’s team met with Groove Jones, a Dallas-based creative agency that uses virtual and augmented reality to produce interactive experiences for brands, on the concept of a one-of-a-kind STEM series.
Museum leadership told Dallas Innovates their initial idea was to bring the resources and magic of the Perot to families and schools across Texas.
That’s exactly what Groove Jones does best. Co-Founder Dale Carman describes his creative studio as a group of storytellers, designers, and technologists dedicated to bringing imagination to life through technological innovations. The agency’s VR and AR expertise has allowed Carman and his team to work with clients across a variety of industries, including AT&T, Amazon, Intel, Samsung, Toyota, MasterCard, McDonalds, Under Armour, and the U.S. Army.
It was a perfect match.
After initial conversations, Groove Jones answered the Perot Museum with “The Whynauts” concept. The museum was sold.
The two partnered so the agency could script, design, direct, and produce the series. The bilingual side of the series was then developed with local writer and director David Lozano of Cara Mia Theatre.
The pilot was filmed in January 2021 and went live in early February. From there, the museum told us it led focus groups to help inform the rest of the series, and began filming again at the end of March.
The Perot team also brought on local and national organizations to serve as advisors, including Seeds 2 STEM, United to Learn, Uplift Education, and Teach For America. PetroCap sponsored the pilot, Texas Instruments sponsored the engineering episode, and NBC 5 and Telemundo 39 served as media sponsors for the weather episode.
Major sponsors of “The Whynauts” are the Perot Foundation, The Lamar Hunt Family, and Lyda Hill Philanthropies’ IF/THEN Fund at Texas Women’s Foundation.
Lyda Hill Philanthropies’ IF/THEN initiative is a first-of-its-kind coalition built on the idea that “IF we support a woman in STEM, THEN she can change the world.” You might recognize the name because most recently, the team unveiled their monument of the most statues of women ever assembled in one location at one time at NorthPark Center.
A core component of the multi-faceted initiative involved choosing a group of women to, in partnership with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, be AAAS IF/THEN Ambassadors. Using a talent agency model, IF/THEN supports the 125 diverse women in STEM-related professions by showcasing them on a national platform.
Multiple episodes of “The Whynauts” will feature AAAS IF/THEN Ambassadors.
“We are so grateful for IF/THEN’s partnership and Lyda’s support,” museum leadership told us. “Knowing it was important to show diverse representation in these episodes, we approached IF/THEN and Lyda after the pilot episode to help drive awareness toward this important series and our partnership.”
The first and second episodes of “The Whynauts” have already launched; the remaining eight will roll out this summer. The Perot Museum hopes to produce additional seasons in the future.
Behind the Scenes
Photos from Groove Jones’ “Whynauts” blog post, ‘A Behind the Scenes Look – Set Pieces and VFX’:
The Whynauts’ holo-deck scares up a rattler.
A rabbit takes shape on the Whynauts’ hand-held holographic disk.
Kennet learns about ecosystems via virtual transport.
The Simulation Station.
Early pencil sketches of Whynauts set pieces.
Working on the cockpit of the QuadCopter.
Early design iterations of the QuadCopter.
3D CGI model of the QuadCopter for visual effects shots.
3D animation and digital hologram effects.
Quincy Preston and David Seeley contributed to this report.
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