Kids TV juggernaut Nickelodeon has released no shortage of "variety pack" collections over the years, based on themes like taking care of the environment, learning your colors, seasons, or even no subject at all. Let's Learn S.T.E.M (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) follows the popular real-world school curriculum and is now in its second volume, with another collection of assorted shorts that more or less falls within those four groups.
Those expecting anything close to a specialized lesson, though, will be sorely disappointed: with very few exceptions, what's here represents what you'd get from just about any typical episode of included fan favorites Blaze and the Monster Machines, PAW Patrol, Dora and Friends, and Team Umizoomi. All four shows regularly blend a mixture of education and entertainment with mixed results, so there's really nothing out of the ordinary here. That's not to say it's a bad collection of shorts, though: Blaze, for example, usually serves up good engineering-based lessons, while Umizoomi---though it's definitely showing its age compared to the other shows---offers plenty of basic education that's appealing to young audiences. None of the seven shorts (listed below) fall flat or avoid the S.T.E.M. theme completely, yet a completely different set of random episodes would've probably done the same job.
For this reason, Lets Learn S.T.E.M., Volume 2 feels more concerned with "flavor of the month" entertainment than improving on the original. Compared to the first volume (which also included seven shorts, but from six different shows instead of four), there's less variety and it doesn't dig nearly as deep since all but two episodes are less than 18 months old. I'm sure most kids won't care either way...but since none of these shows has been released chronologically on DVD yet, random assortments like this only make things more confusing for casual fans and collectors alike.
After a few ads, warnings, and logos, Paramount's DVD opens with colorful menu designs that are easy to use...but honestly, do we really need four separate selection screens for seven episodes? This one-disc release arrives in an eco-friendly clear keepcase with an interior worksheet ready for coloring. No bonus features are included.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Since all but two of these shorts (Team Umizoomi's "Job Well Done" and "Race to the Top of Shape Mountain" [AKA "The Great Shape Race"], both from 2012 and presented in 1.33:1) are less than 18 months old, it's no surprise that these 480p, 16x9 transfers look terrific with strong colors, striking image detail and even a few nice textures along the way. They're uniformly eye-catching and don't suffer from glaring digital issues like excessive interlacing, artifacts, or compression problems...and while the 1.33:1 Team Umizoomi obviously looks softer and less polished in comparison, anyone who's seen these shows on DVD before should know exactly what they're getting here.
DISCLAIMER: These compressed and resized screen captures are decorative and do not represent this title's native 480p resolution.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1/2.0 and sounds relatively consistent overall. Voices and music are crisp and clear without fighting for attention, while a modest amount of channel separation gives the song-driven moments and action a bit of punch. No optional Closed Captions, subtitles, or dubs are included during these episodes.
Nickelodeon has done better than Lets Learn S.T.E.M., Volume 2: it's a well-meaning collection that mostly follows the popular curriculum...but there's nothing that extends beyond what these four shows usually offer, which gives it more of a random feeling than anything else. It's also less varied and much "newer" than the last volume, which means that fans of these shows have likely seen most of this material recently. If your little one is relatively new to this stuff, it's a half-decent impulse buy...though I'd probably look for something with a little more variety (such as the first volume), or just stick with their favorite show instead. The basic material and A/V specs are good enough, but the lack of extras and lower replay value makes this more of a "try before you buy" disc than a keeper. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.