When I was a young girl, I remember rationing the pages of the last book in the Laura Ingalls Wilder series. I read only five pages a day because I just didn’t want that story to end! Unfortunately, it did end, but the story of Laura Ingalls Wilder started and sealed my passion for adventure stories – a passion that continues to this day. From this experience, I also learned about the power of a good story to engage, inspire, motivate and educate. My colleagues and I often talk about “the power of the story” and aim to share science through stories in our programs, exhibits and shows.
An obvious example is Magic Tree House Space Mission, our planetarium show based on the popular book series by Mary Pope Osborne. In this original story, Jack and Annie go on wondrous adventures – to an observatory, a Moon colony and even a black hole – as they try to complete a task for the mysterious “M.” We, as audience members, travel with them and learn about stars, the Moon and space travel along the way.
Similarly, we integrate myths and legends of the night sky in our live Carolina Skies programs. And Morehead programs like Meet-A-Scientist and Current Science Forum offer firsthand accounts of UNC scientists’ quests to understand our world better. In addition to sharing their research findings, the scientists treat us to behind-the-scenes stories.
Why the emphasis on story in our science education programs? Many reasons. First, good stories are captivating. They are powerful hooks for learning. They capture our minds and our hearts. And, once minds and hearts are opened, our ability to learn science is a snap!
Good stories can also provide context – making something difficult, foreign, scary or dry feel accessible and doable and exciting and real. For example, in our DESTINY curriculum module called Brand Name Genes, rather than giving the textbook lesson about genetics and heredity, our educators developed a scenario whereby the participating students must role-play insurance company employees who are deciding whether or not to provide coverage to particular clients, some who may have the BRCA 1 and 2 genes. Of course, the high school students involved in the role-play must learn about genetics and heredity, but they do so for a purpose and in a context which may have some familiarity for them.
And, a really good story leaves us wanting more – just like my experience with the Laura Ingalls Wilder series. Our staff hopes that sharing science through stories inspires our visitors to become more interested in science, both while at Morehead and after going home.
So, what’s your favorite science story? Feel free to share it here. And, if you’re looking for a good source for high-quality science books for children (and adults who love them!), try Esme Raji Codell’s web site, PlanetEsme.com. Ms. Codell is an award-winning educator and an advocate for sharing excellent stories with children. Fiction and non-fiction science stories are regularly featured on her blog.
Denise Young is Morehead’s director of education and planning. She is currently reading Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them and Grossology.