This Week’s Reads: Communicating about Science

Happy Holidays, all! I apologize for my few months of silence, and my excuses include learning a new role at the New England Museum Association, where I am the new Director of Engagement, running an annual conference, and being out of the country on my honeymoon (reflections on traveling in Japan and lessons I gained there for American museums to come!).

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However, I’m back with a set of interesting reads regarding how better to communicate about science topics with self-identified “non-scientists.”  The Discovery Museums in Acton, which was one of the places that gave me my start in the museum field, has a fabulous fellowship program for scientists and engineers, so when I see examples of great science communication I get warm fuzzy feelings all over.

Here are some cool reads about communication, science, and scientists speaking up:

“Talking Evolution: The challenge of influenza” – What does “flu season” mean to you? How much do you know about why you’re supposed to get a new flu shot every winter, and why does it sometimes seem not to work? This is the first post of two talking about the flu, how and why we get sick, the historical context of the 1918 flu epidemic, and how viruses mutate, from the always awesome National Geographic Education blog.

“A massive global study finds girls are comprehensively better than boys at solving problems together” – A fascinating summary of a test that looks at lots and lots of factors to student success and skill building, and which shows the importance of social skills (communication!) in effective problem solving (a key part of science & engineering).

“Helping students communicate science beyond the classroom “- Sounds like an awesome class that other colleges should be using as a model.  And then collaborating with their local museums to provide their students with public speaking experience!

“Why are paleontologists suing the Trump administration?” – Politics + dinosaurs (and a bunch of other really interesting info on national monuments!).  Also an amazing breakdown from the folks at National Geographic Education.

“The Illustrated History of How Sugar Conquered the World” – History and science and social history and medicine and world domination and I’m baking Christmas cookies this weekend anyway.

Teaching Activist Art

A few weeks ago for PEM’s Arts Adventures Club, I got the opportunity to play ‘guest artist’ and lead an afternoon session focused on art with a message. I had the chance to work with several different sets of kids, and found that (unsurprisingly) it worked best with the oldest group, who ranged from 12-15. I used the following set of slides with all groups, just using slightly different language to carry the examples, and even in the group of younger kids, they turned out some fantastic works of their own.

The structure of the lesson started with a recap of the tour of public art and a reference back to the artist they’d been introduced to in the morning, and then a discussion of the motives behind activist art, using the slideshow and examples of works by Banksy and Shepard Fairey. Then we brainstormed possible topics for artworks of their own based on what interested or concerned them in their own lives: at school, at home, in their communities and in the wider world. Topics ranged from bullying and terrible school lunches to global warming and marriage equality. Next they sketched ideas and brainstormed words or quotes they wanted to include, recording it all in their art journals, and finally went on to create the finished product.

Educator shows group of students a sketchbook with a multimedia drawing/painting of a submerged city and overtaking sealife to express concerns about global warming.

Showing off the layered approach to creating a multi-media artwork

Inspired by the multi-layered prints and other works by Shepard Fairey, the camp coordinator and I decided to introduce the students to a few techniques to create a visually dense multimedia art piece.

Here are the steps we outlined for the kids, though we gave them the choice to depart from the steps as their own inspiration dictated.

1) Cover the page with a watercolor wash.

2) Add basic details in pencil.  Color as desired.

3) Create your own block print out of styrofoam or use the provided stamps to add depth, words, or repeated patterns.

4) Use mod-podge and a bone-folder to do newspaper transfer of print or simply collage black and white imagery to the top layer.

The final products were as varied as the kids that created them, and it was very fun to see them included in the “exhibition” the kids put on at the end of the week.