Heroes, villains … biology: 3 reasons comic books are great science teachers


Caitlyn Forster, University of Sydney

People may think of comics and science as worlds apart, but they have been cross-pollinating each other in more than ways than one.

Many classic comic book characters are inspired by biology such as Spider-Man, Ant-Man and Poison Ivy. And they can act as educational tools to gain some fun facts about the natural world.

Some superheroes have scientific careers alongside their alter egos. For example, Marvel’s The Unstoppable Wasp is a teenage scientist. And DC Comics’ super-villain Poison Ivy is a botanist who saved honey bees from colony collapse.

Superheroes have also crept into the world of taxonomy, with animals being named after famous comic book characters. These include a robber fly named after the Marvel character Deadpool (whose mask looks like the markings on the fly’s back) and a fish after Marvel hero Black Panther.

Read more:
From superheroes to the clitoris: 5 scientists tell the stories behind these species names

I am a PhD student researching bee behaviour and I have spent most of my university life working at a comic book store. Here’s how superheroes could be used to make biology, and other types of science, more intriguing to school students.

1. They’re engaging

Reading has a range of benefits, from improved vocabulary, comprehension and mathematics skills, to increased empathy and creativity.

While it’s hard to directly prove the advantages of comics over other forms of reading, they can be engaging, easy to understand learning tools.

Comics have similar benefits to classic textbooks in terms of understanding course content. But they can be more captivating.

A study of 114 business students showed they preferred graphic novels over classic textbooks for learning course content.

In another study in the United States, college biology students were given either a textbook or a graphic novel — Optical Allusions by scientist Jay Hosler, that follows a character discovering the science of vision — as supplementary reading for their biology course.

Both groups of students showed similar increases in course knowledge, but students who were given the graphic novel showed an increased interest in the course.

Front cover of the Unstoppable Wasp.
The Unstoppable Wasp is a teenage scientist.

So, comics can be used to engage students, especially those who aren’t very interested in science.

Educational comics such as the Science Comics series, Jay Hosler’s The Way of the Hive and Abby Howard’s Earth Before Us series frequently have a narrative structure with a story consisting of a beginning, middle and resolution.

Students often find information inside storytelling easier to comprehend than when it’s provided matter-of-factly, such as in textbooks. As readers follow a story, they can use key information they have learnt along the way to understand and interpret the resolution.

2. They teach important concepts

In science-related comic books, as the story unfolds, scientific concepts are often sprinkled in along the way. For example, Science Comics: Bats, follows a bat going through a rehabilitation clinic while suffering from a broken wing. The reader learns about different bat species and their ecology on this journey.

Comics also have the advantage of permanance, meaning students can read, revisit and understand panels at their own pace.

Many science comics, including Optical Allusions, are written by scientists, allowing for reliable facts.

Using storytelling can also humanise scientists by creating relatable characters throughout comics. Some graphic novels showcase scientific careers and can be a great tool for removing stereotypes of the lab coat wearing scientist. For example, Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wick’s graphic novels Primates and Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier showcase female scientists in labs, the field and even space.

The Marvel series’ Unstoppable Wasp also includes interviews with female scientists at the end of each issue.

3. They can give a visual insight into strange worlds

Imagery combined with an easy to follow narrative structure can also give a look into worlds that may otherwise be hard to visualise. For example, Science Comics: Plagues, and the Manga series, Cells at Work!, are told from the point of view of microbes and cells in the body.

Imagery can also show life cycles of animals that are potentially dangerous, or difficult to encounter, such as a honeybee colony, which was visualised through Clan Apis.

The author would like to acknowledge neuroscientist and cartoonist Matteo Farinella, whose advice helped shape this article.The Conversation

Caitlyn Forster, PhD Candidate, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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The link below is to an article that looks at reasons to upgrade from a Kindle App to a Kindle Ebook Reader. This is something that I did a short while ago (I did have a Kindle Ebook Reader from the start – which was no longer any good I should add), simply because I wanted something with a longer battery life. I would probably have been quite content with the app on my tablet otherwise.

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5 reasons I always get children picture books for Christmas

Children who love being read to are more likely to find learning to read easier.
from shutterstock.com

Kym Simoncini, University of Canberra

Christmas is just around the corner. If you’re wondering what to get your child, your friends’ children, your nieces, nephews or basically any very young person in your life –  I highly recommend picture books.

Many people can remember a favourite book when they were a kid. Some of my favourites were the Berenstain Bears with Papa Bear trying, unsuccessfully, to teach his children how to ride a bike or gather honey.

Sadly, a 2011 report from the UK showed the number of young people who say they own a book is decreasing. The report also showed a clear relationship between receiving books as presents and reading ability.

Children who said they had never been given a book as a present were more likely to be reading below the expected level for their age.

Most people can remember a favourite book when they were kids.
The Berenstain Bears/Screenshot

There are lots of benefits of reading aloud to young children, including developing children’s language and print awareness. These include knowing that the squiggles on the page represent words, and that the words tell a story.

Such knowledge gives children a head start when they go on to reading at school.

1. Reading to kids increases their vocabulary

Research shows books have a greater variety of words than conversations. But it also suggests the conversations had during reading matter most.

Adults should discuss ideas in books with children, as they occur, as opposed to just reading a book from start to finish. Talking about the pictures, or what has happened, can lead to rich conversations and enhance language development.

The more words you know, the simpler it is to recognise them and comprehend the meaning of the text. Children who read more become better readers and more successful students.

It’s important to have conversations with your kids about what you’re reading.
from shutterstock.com

2. Books can increase children’s maths and science skills

Picture books show children maths and science concepts through a story, which helps kids grasp them easier.

Some books (like How Many Legs and How Big is a Million) explicitly explore concepts such as numbers. Other stories, like the Three Little Pigs, have concepts embedded in them. Children can learn about the properties of materials when adults talk about the strength of hay, sticks and bricks.

A study in the Netherlands found kindergarten children who were read picture books, and were engaged in discussions of the maths concepts in the books, increased their maths performance, compared to a control group of children who weren’t read these books.

Three Little Pigs can teach children about the properties of hay, bricks and sticks.
from shutterstock.com

Early Learning STEM Australia has created a booklist which gives parents and teachers ideas for books that contain STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) ideas. These include:

  • They All Saw a Cat, which shows the perspectives of different animals

  • Lucy in the City, where a cat loses her way home and an owl helps her

  • Dreaming Up, which contrasts children’s constructions with notable works of architecture.

3. Books are mirrors and windows

Nearly 30 years ago, children’s literature professor, Rudine Sims Bishop, wrote how books can be windows, through which we see other worlds. These windows can become sliding doors when we use our imaginations and become part of them.

Books can also be mirrors, when we see our own lives and experiences in them. In this way, they reaffirm our place in the world.

Books can help kids see into other worlds.
from shutterstock.com

Children need both types of books to understand people come from different cultures and have different ways of thinking and doing things. Books can show that children of all cultures are valued in society.

Children who never see themselves represented in books may feel marginalised. Unfortunately, the majority of books feature white children or animals, so many children only experience books as windows.

Examples of books that show the lives of Indigenous children include Big Rain Coming and Kick with My Left Foot (which is also a great book about left and right).

4. Books can counter stereotypes

Children learn gender stereotypes from a very young age. Research shows by the age of six, girls are already less likely than boys to think girls are “really, really smart” and they begin to avoid activities thought to be for “really, really smart” children.

Picture books can challenge these and other stereotypes. Reading books that portray atypical behaviours such as girls playing with trucks or with girls in traditional male roles such as being doctors, scientists or engineers, can change children’s beliefs and activities.

Iggy Peck, Architect; Rosie Revere, Engineer; and Ada Twist, Scientist are very popular. And Sofia Valdez, Future Prez has just been released.

Children who have more books at home end up more educated.
from shutterstock.com

The City of Monash in Melbourne has created a list of children’s picture books that promote gender equality and challenge gender stereotypes. This includes one of my favourite books, The Paperbag Princess, who saves herself from a dragon and decides not to marry the prince after he complains she is a mess.

5. Just having more books makes you more educated

A study that looked at data from 27 countries, including Australia, found children growing up in homes with many books got three years more education than children from bookless homes. This was independent of their parents’ education, occupation and class.

Adults need to model good reading habits and their enjoyment of reading. Giving children a love of reading can be the best present we ever give.The Conversation

Kym Simoncini, Associate professor Early Childhood and Primary Education, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.