December 11, 2014

Dr. G’s AGU14 Spotlight – The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic

Posted by Laura Guertin

In just a couple of days, I’ll be off on an adventure to the latest AGU conference.  But my adventure will be quite different than the one experienced by George, the 8th-grade kid that almost overslept his big Earth science test, caught up in a dream of being a superhero who went back in geologic time to 200 million years ago.  Yes, I’m talking about The Adventures of Geo (Vol. 1) in The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic.  We have Dr. Kanani K. M. Lee of Yale University to thank for this clever comic book and for having the creative idea of having part of her NSF Career Grant fund two Earth science-themed comics aimed at middle school students.  Be sure to check out her AGU conference poster on Friday morning, December 19, in Moscone South (ED51B-3433) to meet her and to learn more about this project.

Cover image of The Adventures of Geo, Vol. 1 (used with permission)

Cover image of The Adventures of Geo, Vol. 1 (used with permission)

The comic has defined learning goals.  While Geo (the superhero alter-ego of George) with his robot dog Rocky go “back in time to Pangea, surf a tsunami, and escape an erupting volcano,” the colorful, sharply-drawn graphics teach the reader about the theory of plate tectonics, seismic waves, the layers of the Earth, and hotspot volcanism.  A huge plus about this comic book is the supplemental material at the end of the story (after George gets his score back on his Earth science test).  There are twelve pages that describe in more detail the science of plate tectonics, focusing on continental fit, seafloor spreading, magnetic striping at ocean ridges, earthquakes, volcanoes, and more.  There is a listing of websites with educational geologic activities, and I REALLY like the “What do geologists do?” page that shares career information.

The publisher, No Starch Press, has hopes that this comic will make a strong impact: “When science classes stumble, this lively book can pick up the slack,” says No Starch Press founder Bill Pollock. “We’re committed to helping change the world by making science and technology engaging for kids, and The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic follows in the tradition of our other popular science comics, like the Manga Guide to Science series, and the Survive! series of human biology comics.”   Lee’s abstract hints at a second Adventure – but this time, about the Moon.  I can’t wait to check out her poster to learn more.

But do comic books even belong in the science classroom?  The idea of having comic books in the science classroom is not new (see Tatalovic, 2009), and investigations continue in to the impact and engagement of students using comics and graphic novels (see Colman, 2013; Manno, 2014).  Hughes (2005) has found that for elementary school kids, comic books are “OK” but cannot compete with the popularity of video games.  In higher education, Cheesman (2006) has found comic strips to be useful in getting students’ attention, introducing a new topic, and stimulating critical thinking and ethical discussions in the classroom.

I hope your mind wanders and explores like our superhero Geo (whose superpower, by the way, is high-speed problem solving) while you are at AGU.  Take in the science during the week-long AGU conference, but more importantly, think of how we as scientists and educators communicate this science in a fun and informative way to a range of audiences and ages.  I’ll certainly be visiting Lee’s poster for inspiration, but earlier in the week, I’m going to be sure to catch the talk during the student Pop-Up session discussing Laurentide: The Crime Fighting Geologist, A Comic-Book Curriculum Tool (ED34C-03, Wednesday, December 17, 3:14PM-3:20PM, Marriott Marquis, Pacific H).

For those of you in San Francisco for AGU, I’m told you should be able to pick up a copy of The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic at Barnes & Noble.  For those not attending the conference and/or want to order a copy (or two, or three, etc.) of The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic online, No Starch Press is offering a 30% discount off the price of the comic until January 1, 2015.  Use the discount code AGU14 during online checkout at:

Lee, Kanani K. M. and Adam Wallenta. The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic: The Adventures of Geo, Vol. 1. San Francisco: No Starch Press, 2014. 40pp. ISBN-13: 978-1593275495


Additional sources for exploration

Cheesman, K. (2006). Using comics in the science classroom: a pedagogical tool. Journal of College Science Teaching, 35(4): 48-51.

Colman, D. (2013, July 21). Free Comic Books Turns Kids Onto Physics: Start With the Adventures of Nikola Tesla. Open Culture. (Article online)

Hughes, S. (2005, April 8). Comic book science in the classroom. NPR Morning Edition. (Audio online)

Manno, M. (2014, January 17). Turning struggling students in to superheroes: comic books as teaching tools. (Article online)

Prager, E. (2014, November 17). Why I decided to write fiction novels for 10-year olds. Huffington Post Books [blog]. Accessible at:

Tatalovic, M. (2009). Science comics as tools for science education and communication: a brief, exploratory study. Journal of Science Communication, 8(4). (PDF online)

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