My name is Nam-Joon Cho and I am currently a post doc at Stanford Medical School. I would like to introduce to you a project that my wife and I have developed. It uses toy and animation characters inspired from chemistry and biology as new science education tools for kids. Our project, called TripleZ, will be introduced in the Stanford science magazine. I have attached this press material that I have prepared on the character line called B-Characters as well as some potential graphics, including some prototype images below.
The basic philosophy behind the project is to bring fun science to young kids instead of more traditional, textbook-based methods. In my opinion, the most important thing at a young age is to stimulate interest in a subject and the education will naturally follow. The most interesting thing about “B-characters” is that individual characters have their own unique personalities and background stories based on their scientific properties. By playing with the B-character toys and understanding their stories, children can be naturally drawn to science while most importantly having fun. For example, the main character ZunZun-Zzang whose nickname is Triple Z, is created from the lipid headgroup ethylphosphocholine. In scientific terms, ethylphosphocholine is a positively charged headgroup, which is rare among phospholipids. It is commonly used as a transfection agent to inject life (transfer DNA) into cells. Based on its lively and positively electric scientific properties, Triple Z’s personality is quite charming. He is bright-eyed and makes the world around him exciting. Strutting around with an infectious optimism, he is smart, funny, cool, and popular, a rare combination just like his scientific character. You will find other example characters in the attached file.
We are in the middle of developing new education materials including books and toys for basic science education in the same spirit of the B-Characters line. However, since we are not experts in youth education, we are very eager to hear your perspectives on it. Specifically, we would like to learn if our approach can be actually effective and beneficial to kids and how we can employ our approach to the real-world education field.
You have devised a clever way to use animation to help explain chemistry to kids. However your starting point seems to me to be way over the heads of kids (DNA, amino acids, positive/negative charges are complex concepts for kids and non-chemist adults.) I do not claim expertise in learning methods, but I strongly suggest you get advice from grade school teachers and/or people in the education department at Stanford.
Teachers have required objectives that they must cover each school year for each subject. I doubt any school district requires elementary or even middle school students to learn about phospholipids or transfection agents. It's most likely not on any standardized test for these students. And, as a former teacher I do strongly encourage chemistry professionals to teach science concepts outlined in the curriculum. Loads of good reasons...
...But let's say that you are asked to explain the work you do with elementary or middle school children...What would you say?
Explaining the work that you do with characters and stories, as Nam-Joon does, may help to make something that is so far over the kids' heads somewhat concrete and understandable. Of course there is the risk that students will literally think you make cartoon characters all day. This is a bit of a tangent, but I had a friend who worked in a lab at a hospital and her 5 year-old daughter thought that she worked in the hospital's kitchen because she explained that a lab is kind of like a kitchen. : )
If you are asked to talk with a group of elementary or middle school students, how would you explain what you do?