Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Making STEM Education Fun!

As a dedicated learner, I'm always looking for ways to tie my passion for continuing my education with my interests. I've found that the points where interest and education meet can be found in multiple mediums and forms, from books to educational lectures (online and off) to interactive demonstrations. However, it's often hard to find the time to sit down and take in a long period of learning, especially in a world where it's easy to be interrupted by phone calls, emails, text messages and all other forms of modern living. 

Thus, enter my new favorite fast-learning approach: the educational comic. 

One of my long-time favorites is XKCD. Featured below is one of their typical one-page comics:

Advertised as "a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math and language," XKCD is written by Randall Monroe, a CNU graduate  with a degree in physics who worked on robots for NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia. He has become well-known for his simplistic stick-figure style comics, and combining humor with STEM and other educational subjects. As someone whose background is more arts than science related, I really enjoy the way he visualizes his topics as well as the humor he inserts into them, and he answers a lot of questions that I sometimes find myself pondering (such as the above). 

His webcomics are not always self-explanatory though, and sometimes refers to STEM material I have never learned - thus prompting me to run to google and quickly find out what a "planck length," is or recall how to use functions (something I haven't thought about since I took the SATs). It's refreshing when I remember information that I haven't used in a while, but it's also a great prompt to learn new things! 

XKCD may not be exclusively educational humor - occasionally  Monroe inserts a comic about romantic relationships, surviving cancer, or the occasional prank. But Monroe is dedicated to education and this shows clearly in his side-project, a related blog called, "What If," where he answers hypothetical physics questions such as, "How High Can a Human Throw Something?" and "How hard would a puck have to be shot to be able to knock the goalie himself backwards into the net?" 

Monroe's creations are not the only educational illustrations on the internet, either. Science Cartoons Plus features the work of S. Harold on far more subjects than just science. The Doghouse Diaries gives you information on everything from cuttlefish to nutrition. There are lots of webcomics in this day and age that cater to STEM-themed humor, and teachers could easily use such comics as prompts to help prime students for the rest of that day's lesson. Of course, it would be up to teachers to evaluate comics to find what is most relevant to the material they're teaching.

However, it's becoming more and more apparent that people love to learn, especially when the material is paired with humor. Regular webcomics such as The Oatmeal, which doesn't normally cover education-related topics, have been changing to produce educational webcomics such as this one on the Mantis Shrimp. Oatmeal creator, Matthew Inman is also famed for his enthusiastically-named and fastest-growing Indigogo campaign to save the Tesla Tower and help fund its reconstruction into a Tesla Museum! Harnessing the power of The Oatmeal's large fan-base, the campaign ended with a stunning $1.4 million in funding!

Educational webcomics are a great way to spread a little knowledge paired with a little humor in easily-digestible packages that can be viewed and enjoyed on a daily basis. Whether implemented in classrooms, or left for the individual to pursue in spare time, the rising themes of jokes and humor surrounding STEM subjects is quickly emerging to the forefront, and becoming more available, accessible and popular on the internet every day. I highly recommend them for students, teachers, and individuals to view, learn from, and enjoy!

1 comment:

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