Blog Post

Popular culture and STEM pedagogy

The Slingshot 2100 book is a screenplay and conceptual illustrations and designs for a science fiction movie that engages real life science terms and concepts concerning astrophysics and space travel. The creative team, Jeffrey Morris and Fredrick Haugen, along with many other people, have had success with using the book in educational settings with teen students through workshops that engage in dramatic readings of scenes from the book. According to 6th grade science teacher Richard Wright:

"Reading Slingshot with my 6th grade students resulted in a level of excitement I had not previously witnessed. My 11 and 12 year-olds became completely engaged in discussions about subjects like the scale of the universe. Distances to nearby objects in our own galaxy led to explorations of scientific notation to facilitate the expression of unimaginable distances.
"Now self-motivated, my students checked out books on astronomy and e-mailed me the latest photos from the Hubble telescope to share with their classmates. Descriptive writing, which middle school students ordinarily considered torture, became an inspiring proposition when Morris presented the homework challenge of reporting on the planet Earth from the viewpoint of an alien."

Obviously, achieving the delicate balance of entertainment and education is not accomplished with an unsteady hand; err on the side of the former there is the sense that the educational outcomes both they and the government value as productive are not being reached. (The validity of the parameters of those educations are, of course, always the subject of debate and negotiation.) On the other hand, overplaying the educational element of a text results in that sense among readers that this is an attempted ruse, the spoonful of sugar helping the medicine go down.

I would suspect that the unfinished nature of Slingshot 2100, in the sense that it is presently an unproduced screenplay with a comparatively small number of visualizations, plays a role in students' enthusiasm for the book. The performative aspect of the workshops, allowing students to interpret characters' speech and emotions in particular ways, coupled with the engaging and ludic aspects of science fiction narrative, provide a level of interaction with the text that itself alien to more traditional practices in primary and secondary STEM education.

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2 comments

I was interested to hear about your project. I would be curious to know if your also looking at some of Jim Ottovani's work or Jay Hosler's. It really seems like there is a convergance of interesting things happening in the world of comics based on science and its great to find another academic interested in them.

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Well, my own work is actually not really connected to comics about science, but more broadly about the affordances of comics' formal and cultural aspects for teaching critical literacy, particularly new media literacy.

I've never really gotten into Jim Ottovani. I have read Sandwalk Adventures by Jay Hosler, and would challenge anyone to find a better way to write about evolution than through a story told from the perspective of a mite on Charles Darwin's eyebrow.

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