Stargazers & Students: Google Sky & Slooh “Sexy Up” Science!

galaxy1.jpgIf Danica McKellar can ‘sexy up math’ then maybe we need to send her into the science realm to get kids jazzed about starpower beyond Hollywood!

Google Earth just launched Google Sky this week, (demo here) an amazing virtual observatory that can reveal cosmic events as they unfold throughout the universe.

“There’s a huge need to get more young people interested in science,” says California Institute of Technology astronomy professor S. George Djorgovski in this article in Scientific American. Yep, but for kids, I fear this video demo with Sally Ride is still NOT enough to make it go supernova.

Backyard astronomers, telescope tourists, and educators aiming to get kids excited about Google’s Earth’s new Sky features might want to amp up the joy juice with Hack the Sky from MSNBC’s Cosmic log which adds Slooh’s “patented light machine” whisking you 37 million light years away in about six minutes. (talk about a new way to explore space live!)

My tween also LOVES the twinkling amethyst beauty of the Inhabited Sky map where you can actually name a star to help support the aligned WikiSky site and interact with the celestial heavens…

It’s a sliver of perspective that enables kids to see the vastness of the universe, hinting at the ‘one world’ interdependency necessary to ensure our planet’s survival while keeping the concept light and sparkly rather than doom and gloom.

As our partner org, Earthseeds.net says, “it’s much more fun to join a parade than a funeral, keep it positive!” Point well taken…So: To make it extra KID-friendly for easier digestibility…I’d say…

Toss in some fabulous BrainPop internet science for eye candy and bilingual edu-games, a list of Kids Space Sites, and maybe even a dash of fantasy fun from E.T., Last Mimzy, or Star Wars to leverage multimedia for kids’ engagement with the cosmos.

Older teens don’t need much of a nudge to see the inherent romance of stargazing and browsing constellations…Many will easily explore the HubbleSite or take it beyond, with the research grade sophistication of the Global Rent-A-Scope.

But to me…Science for kids needs elevation beyond planetarium programs and school speak…It needs a media makeover.

Google Sky’s Hubble Showcase, Life of a Star, User’s Guide to Galaxies, and Orion Nebula are a start…but there’s a big black hole in our media solar system when it comes to science as “entertainment.”

Sure there are a handful of worthy online communities that encourage science and girls (as this APA article validates the teen need) and there are a gazillion science software titles…(I even wrote the packaging for this Isaac Asimov one myself)

I’m talking about a MASS mainstream deficit at the box office and on the tube…

As you can see by the top flick picks at Common Sense Media, they’ve bundled themes for everything from ‘Best Bunny movies’ to ‘Best’ pirate films, dogs, dance, sports, you name it…but NO list for best math or science portrayals whatsoever! (c’mon team, we need a new category here, help me out, ok?)

Until science and math become ‘cool’ (like the geek chic we’re starting to see with“unconferences” like She’sGeeky which uses that phrase favorably as an identifier)…

Media will portray those of us who value brains as an aberration, not a norm!

In a larger context, this is even MORE troublesome…

Our entire economic viability as a nation is in jeopardy when dumbing down of brainpower and appearance-based messages dominate youth…

This great article by Johns Hopkins President William R. Brody on the Innovate America site hits the nail on the head. (their blog, “Innovate or Abdicate” is worthy reading)

He sums up the recent report by the National Academy of Sciences very simply:

“For those who like math, consider this calculus of innovation that offers a simple formula to describe our problem:

1. Knowledge drives innovation
2. Innovation drives productivity
3. Productivity drives economic growth

To innovate we need to generate knowledge.

This requires two ingredients: people who have the skills, training and creativity to discover and invent, and support for the basic research necessary to employ those talents. Unfortunately, both are threatened.”

The way I see it, media can be part of the SOLUTION rather than the problem if we start putting forethought and exuberance into the messages to kids to bring meaningful content their way in the math and sciences realm.

If that means ‘sexying up science’ to sell smarts as a pheromone, then I say go for it!

Intelligence IS sexy. We all KNOW this, but it’s not being ‘sold’ this way!

Mind you, I’m not defining sexy as ‘come hither’ svelte hotties in lab coats, we’ve got enough damage on THAT front with kids’ psyches, I’m saying integrate the concept of smart, intelligent thinking as a universal turn on…girls AND boys.

In media we’re subjected to tween stereotypes of ‘geek squad’ guys and gals in an ‘outcast’ negative social connotation.

In real life, it’s just ‘not so.’ The “She’sGeeky” topics prove THAT hands down by redefining the moniker altogether, making geek chic a positive!

There’s huge global kids’ empowerment taking place at multiple levels with the democratization of the internet enabling media to mobilize in a nanosecond, yet few kids have even heard about these cool science offerings!

In addition to avant-garde web-rings that push the Boundaries of Science itself, there are NSF’s gender retrospectives for context, the MIT baseball camp for boys that hit a home run this summer, the top 8 science sites for kids, orgs for science equity reform, solid Rutgers’ research, and Joan Korenman’s massive women in science link list and useful roundup of websites for girls!

Point? The opportunities are out there, but the media’s not promoting that worldview as ‘cool.’

Better to plaster your booty via webcam and upload for exhibitionism in Girls Gone Wild style…(Chyeah, THAT’LL help your resume at graduation, you betcha) Ahem.

Besides, hey, kids…that was so ‘last year,’ haven’t you heard the trend now is Girls Gone Mild? Yowza!

Anyway, there are COUNTLESS cool science after-school programs, specialized adventures for girls AND for boys like this Carnegie Science Center program, the wildly successful STEM program, orgs like GirlStart, GirlTech’s offline game cafe, …Yet we’re STILL seeing kids’ associate science via media sound bites when we ask who comes to mind!

Why IS this? Why, why, WHY is ‘mainstream media’ so far behind the digital dialogue?

Usually we hear about Jimmy Neutron, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, or the nerd du jour with Einstein hair who’s just blown up the chem lab…AND…if we’re LUCKY we get some responses veering toward Animal Planet and Discovery Channel. (or pseudo-educational reality shows like my daughter’s favorites, “How It’s Made” or “Dirty Jobs” )

Why aren’t we ‘marketing’ smarts as a must-have? Making it ‘cool’ to be nobody’s fool, and promoting science and math with starpower, if that’s the trend that’s working?

I’m not talking about celebs PRETENDING to know about science, physics, biodiversity and such, like the U.K’s Sense About Science site’s pithy “Science for Celebrities” section revealing the faux pas of inaccurate espousals spewed from celebrity’s lips!

I’m talking about REAL science. Google Sky. International Space Station (ISS) Classroom of the Future Project w/NASA. Educational Model Programs. Kids Heroes. Science Clubs.

Ping me if you know who’d be a good role model to add to the mix that bridges pop culture and youth inspiration…Sally Ride is a given…Now, if we start getting even more, THAT would be “out of this world.”

And…um…Danica, can you do us all a favor and find us someone to write a science sequel to Math Doesn’t Suck? 😉

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Comments

  1. This is my first time,on your site, I can’t wait to see more.
    this is wonderful…Glad you stopped by.

    Dorothy from grammology

  2. Video Gamer says:

    That girl from mythbusters might be pretty good for something like this.

  3. omg! My daughter just said the same thing! THANKS!

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