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Opening the Door to Discovery

Visiting Innovator Molly Bloom podcasts her way through childhood’s most vexing questions.
We all know that feeling when the lightbulb inside our head switches on. You might call it the eureka effect or an aha! moment, when a previously puzzling problem suddenly becomes crystal clear. This is the curious sensation Molly Bloom chases as host and producer of the award-winning podcast, Brains On!.

“I get to learn so many things and talk to really cool people,” Mrs. Bloom told the audience of Steward students, parents, and visitors from the Richmond community. “There’s something special about audio media. It engages your imagination in a way that watching a video doesn’t, and you can build worlds that would be incredibly expensive and hard to make with animation.”

Mrs. Bloom and two co-creators at Minnesota Public Radio launched Brains On!—billed as a “science podcast for kids and curious adults”—eight years ago when the medium offered few kid-friendly options. The trio longed for a program where kids could share their expertise while filling a growing need for families, providing “a screen-free activity that parents can feel good about listening to with their kids, that kids will actually enjoy,” Mrs. Bloom explained. The most natural vehicle for such a program, they agreed, was science.

Each Brains On! episode addresses one question among hundreds submitted by kids around the world. Recent episodes explore the difference between wool and fur, whether fire is cooler than lasers, why cats act the way they do, and what makes food taste good. Given human beings’ naturally curious nature, there’s been no shortage of fascinating topics to explore on Brains On!.

“We’re lucky to have so many kids writing to us,” Mrs. Bloom said. “We want to make sure our show is as interactive as possible because we know our listeners are super smart and have a lot of ideas.”

Using the initial question as a launching point, Mrs. Bloom and her team head off to find answers using internet research, scholarly literature, and by interviewing scientists. The team makes note of trends and additional questions during this process. For a question about the color of mirrors, the team veered into the science of sequins and glitter because they, too, reflect light.

“Once you open a door and step through it,” she said, “you encounter more doors, and you can choose which ones you want to open.”

The Brains On! team collaborates with kids to produce the show, all of whom earn co-host credits. Together, the group dreams up segments and skits to bring scientific concepts to life in the most interesting, engaging way.

“What is the best method to present information to the smart listeners in our audience?” Mrs. Bloom asked. Brains On! frequently employs songs, “skitplanations,” and interviews between kid co-hosts and experts to keep audiences listening.

One of the podcast’s most popular segments, “Mystery Sounds,” asks listeners to identify the origin of a noise divorced from context. Mrs. Bloom played several rounds of Mystery Sounds during her two presentations in the Robins Theatre. Reacting to the same noise booming from the speakers, one student shouted “turtle!” just as another yelled “birds!” (The correct answer was, in fact, a beluga whale.)

Over the course of her day-long visit, Mrs. Bloom treated students, faculty, and staff with an equal level of interest and respect, responding to questions with a generous, welcoming spirit. “I don’t talk to kids differently than I do grown-ups,” she said. “I’m genuinely interested in what they have to say. I think when you are genuinely interested, kids will tell you amazing things. You can have a conversation with them.”

Steward began preparing for Mrs. Bloom’s visit months ago by asking students to submit their own curious questions for her to answer onstage. With the help of two animal experts from Maymont, Mrs. Bloom fielded a wide variety of puzzlers including:
  • What would a tiger look like without fur? (Their skin is striped.)
  • Do giraffes sleep standing up? (Yep!)
  • How many animals are on Earth right now? (Billions.)
  • Are unicorns real? (Yes … and no.)
Jordan Solomon ’26 was among the handful of students selected to read his fellow Spartans’ questions to Mrs. Bloom. He described her as a “person who’s curious about pretty much everything,” and said that she piqued his own curiosity about podcasting. “I find it interesting how podcasts are essentially updated radio shows,” he said. “Radio was big for a long time, but then TV came along. Now podcasts are bringing stories without visuals to a new audience.”

“The Lower School Bryan Innovation Lab Ambassadors did a great job moderating the conversation with Molly Bloom,” Lower School Enrichment Coordinator Suzanne Casey, who helped organize the assembly, said. “All our students had listened to the Brains On! podcast and were excited to see Molly Bloom answer their questions live onstage.”

Students were also treated to an exciting new addition to the Lower School library: the Curiosity Booth. Throughout February, experts from across the school—teachers, staff, students, even Head of School Dan Frank—spoke to different classes on all sorts of topics in which they had expertise. Maintenance staff member Matt Blackwell answered curious questions about tools, electricity, and golf carts, while senior Matthew Cantor talked to fourth graders about his interest in entrepreneurship and acting.

“The Curiosity Booth was all about getting kids excited about being curious!” said Megan Young, Bryan Innovation Lab program coordinator and technologist. “Our curiosities and questions lead to discovery and innovation. It was also just a great way to highlight some of the diverse expertise we have on campus.”

Cary Jamieson, director of the Bryan Innovation Lab, echoed that same sentiment while introducing Molly Bloom. “Your superpower, to see the world as creative explorers, is something you want to take good care of and treasure for your entire lives. As director of the Bryan Innovation Lab, I cannot be more dependent and grateful for my creative curiosity in all things.”

During Molly Bloom’s visit, Upper School students took part in Steward’s first ever Podcasters Extravaganza. The event, organized by Upper School science teacher Laura Akesson, brought in multiple local podcasters to inform and inspire the Upper School students with the art and the process of audio storytelling. Some of the topics discussed included Richmond history, hip hop and social justice, and finding spiritual meaning in literature.

Upper School Technology Facilitator Bea Leiderman stoked her students’ excitement about podcasting by asking them to do it themselves, a project that culminated in Steward’s first podcast series, Steward Speaks. Middle School English teacher Shannon Elsea is also creating a podcast with her students, which they plan to submit to a contest through the popular story-based podcast Six Minutes. Mrs. Bloom made a special visit to Mrs. Elsea’s class to offer a few pro-tips like where to find free sound effects and creating suspenseful transitions. Like all her expert insight into the world of podcasts, she made the creation process sound whimsical, as if it were second-nature.

“You can do amazing things with just good writing. You don’t need animations or elaborately built sets,” Mrs. Bloom said. “You can sit in your pajamas while making them.”

To see pictures from the day’s events, check out the full gallery on Steward Snaps.
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