Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Science For Hip Teens

Moving right along with the TV analogies, this LiveScience.com article (below) reminded me of the Simpsons episode where a new character, Poochie the dog, is introduced into The Itchy and Scratchy Show in a misguided effort to appeal to kids and to boost declining ratings.

Teen Talk: Science Needs to Dazzle
By Jeanna Bryner
posted: 19 December 2006

SAN FRANCISCO - Scientists who want to get their messages across to hip teens should spice up their presentations without dumbing down the science.

When it comes to climate change, educating the next generation of earth-saving scientists takes savvy, scientists said here last week at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

"Teenagers live in an MTV world so most things they are exposed to are slick and well produced," said Katharine Giles, a research fellow at the Center for Polar Observation and Modelling in the United Kingdom. "So anything like a lecture should try and get to the same standard."

The Faraday Lecture of 2006 did just that. With swirling lights, electronic music, videos and lots of audience participation, more than 30,000 attendees got a dose of "Emission Impossible: Can Technology Save the Planet?"

Compare to:

The Itchy & Scratchy Show: "The Beagle Has Landed"

Itchy and Scratchy are driving to a fireworks factory, when they pass a beagle dressed as a surfer dude. Itchy tells Scratchy, "It's our new friend, Poochie."

To show that he's ultra-cool, Poochie uses a rap to introduce himself. Scratchy thinks Poochie is "one outrageous dude", while Itchy opines the beagle is "totally in my face."

Further revealing his character, Poochie then performs a rock guitar solo, before demonstrating how he can skateboard and play basketball at the same time. Before exiting, he uses some more hip language: "Catch you on the flip side, dudemeisters!" He also feigns a high five to Scratchy, before reminding the audience to recycle to the extreme and taking off in Itchy and Scratchy's car (passing the fireworks factory).

Kids just want to see the cartoon violence, right? Explosions and all?? Can a focus group of adult scientists produce videos that will inform and educate teens about climate change (for example) and yet still appeal to them?
"Teenagers that were surveyed thought that celebrities could make more of a difference to mitigating our effect on the climate than engineers and scientists could," Giles said. "This may well actually be true, but I think it raises quite an important issue. There's a misconception about what scientists and engineers actually do."

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At December 20, 2006 8:40 PM, Blogger Sandra said...

Teenagers see through the flashiness, a la Poochy. But at the same time, improving aesthetics may make some information more accessible.

Glam scientists could be one answer, but I think science in general is getting a better image and is more cool for the mainstream anyway.

At December 21, 2006 12:28 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Ah, I knew I could find this, from the 2000 SFN meeting:

S.R. Ginn*
Dept Psychol, Wingate Univ, Wingate, NC, USA
It is unfortunately true that the average person's knowledge of science is woefully inadequate. Science education in this country is in a sorry state despite the obvious advantages of having a scientifically literate society. Carl Sagan (1997) pointed out that the lack of a basic understanding of science explains why people believe that paranormal phenomena exist, UFOs regularly visit our planet and abduct our citizens, that prayer alone can cure cancer, as well as other "facts." It can be argued that rather than learning about science in primary and secondary school, people are learning about science via popular media sources, such as motion pictures and television. The purpose of this presentation is to demonstrate ways in which science and scientists have been depicted by these cultural media. I will focus on these and only briefly touch upon the impact that novels have on scientific literacy. Analysis of motion pictures that deal with the brain and/or mind can be quite hilarious. For example, brains have been depicted as carnivorous monsters inching along on their spinal cords to devour all living creatures in their paths. Many movies have presented examples of brain transplant recipients crazed into homicidal behavior by that knowledge. Even more entertaining are the films in which body parts are transplanted onto hosts who then acquire the personalities of the transplant donor, a feat we know would be scientifically impossible. Such portrayals are potentially dangerous because, while knowledge about neuroanatomy and physiology are very apparent to the educated, the individual who has not studied science lacks the ability to discriminate entertainment from education.

At December 21, 2006 12:40 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Glam scientists...I suppose they're all in forensics.

Here's another SFN poster, from the 2002 Teaching of Neuroscience session:

A.S. Beadles-Bohling1,2*; R.S. Hammond1; K.H. Hill1; C.L. Reed1; C.L. Cunningham1; R. Hitzemann1; D.L. Colbern3
1. Behavioral Neuroscience, 2. NGP, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, OR, USA
3. National Kids Judge! Neuroscience Fairs Partnership, Venice, CA, USA
The Oregon Kids Judge! Neuroscience Fair was designed to explain neuroscience to children using innovative communication methods. Supported by the National Kids Judge! Neuroscience Fair Partnership, Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) hosted a unique science fair where scientists made the displays and kids did the judging. By creating a fun and supportive atmosphere, the organizing committee recruited more than 50 staff, student, post-doc and faculty volunteers from various OHSU departments. Symbolic of their team approach, volunteers wore personalized bowling shirts while presenting 15-minute displays on 12 neuroscience topics they hoped would bowl over the student judges. Examples of the exhibits are Brains on Parade, where kids donned brain swim caps to learn neuroanatomy, and Synaptic Land, where children simulated neurotransmitter release and reuptake using a modified foosball table synapse. In teams of 7, 125 4th graders from Portland area schools judged the presentations. At the end of the presentations students voted for their favorite display, had lunch, and explored the traveling exhibit Brain: The World Inside Your Head at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. The fair ended with an awards ceremony, where everyone learned which exhibits were voted best of the Kids Judge! Fair. Finally, continuing the bowling theme, volunteers were invited to a bowling party to thank them for their hard work. The innovative exhibits created for this fair represent unique methods by which all neuroscientists can convey the importance of scientific research.


At December 22, 2006 7:29 PM, Blogger Sandra said...

Hosting bowling parties, yes, that's the ticket.

Ginn's abstract seems more to do with fictional portayals than educational shows.

At December 22, 2006 7:51 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Oh, the Ginn abstract was in response to your comment, "science in general is getting a better image and is more cool for the mainstream anyway." I think scientists are more often portrayed as not cool (e.g., nerdy) or else fitting the mad scientist stereotype.

Ginn also made the point about how popular media (movies, TV) shape science [mis]education more than schools.

At December 22, 2006 11:27 PM, Blogger Sandra said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At September 12, 2007 5:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

as a teen myself, I feel that an interest of science has to develop in a teenager for them to really "get-into-it", because you can flash them with funny cartoons, and all they are going to remember is the "punchline" of the comical view, not the learning of it--they will simply forget about it. I don't think teenagers think of scientists as "nerdy" or that the common sterotype is of a "mad scientist", but the majority of the time teens just lack the desire of understanding what all science really is. For teens to actually have an interest in science, I think it has to start while they are young, or they have to find that they can actually learn something significant from it by doing something right & it "clicking" in their heads. That's just what I see all the time in my science classes--other teens have to genuinly understand science in order for them to like it, flamboyant teaching methods may work for some teens, but I don't think it would for all of them. :)


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