22 April 2019
By Kevin Kurtz
Many science education projects for elementary school age kids start with the assumption that, in order to get kids interested in the science, there needs to be a character like “Barbara Bacteria” or “Larry the Lava Flow” to get their attention. In my over twenty years of experience as a science educator and children’s author, I feel confident in saying that this is not the case. Elementary school age kids are very curious, and they may not need Larry the Lava Flow to ignite their enthusiasm for science.
I have seen this most readily with the books I have written for the JOIDES Resolution/International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP). These books, Uncovering Earth’s Secrets and Where Wild Microbes Grow, were funded through NSF grants and illustrated by Alice Feagan. They are available as free eBooks on the JOIDES Resolution website. The current research of marine geologists and subsurface microbiologists may not sound like fun picture book topics, but the books have been popular, with over 53,000 downloads to date. When I read the books during school visits, I am still amazed by the level of attention they receive, and the number of questions they inspire.
So kids are hungry to learn about current scientific research. Does this mean they’re ready to start attending AGU poster sessions? Obviously, no. Kids have different cognitive abilities and knowledge bases than adults, so you have to steer clear of concepts that are too complex or abstract. I typically start with something they are already familiar with (“people have always been explorers”) then narrow the topic down (“the ocean is still mostly unexplored”) until I get to the research (“the JOIDES Resolution is helping explore the ocean, here is a high level look at how they do it, and here are some of the cool things they have learned”).
I’m currently working on a third eBook for the IODP, this one about the research of the Chicxulub K-Pg Impact Crater expedition. My hope with these books is to create enthusiasm for science that remains until adulthood. Unfortunately, we need a scientifically literate adult population now. These books may be helping with that too. Kids are the only readers who have to go through gatekeepers to get their reading material. Often teachers and parents are reading the books to the kids. Hopefully the adults are catching science enthusiasm too.
-Kevin Kurtz is an award-winning nonfiction children’s author and an education and outreach consultant for the International Ocean Discovery Program. Learn more about Kevin and his books at www.kevkurtz.com.