'Science Goddess' challenges kids to read and have fun with science

'Science Goddess' challenges kids to read and have fun with science

Joanne Manaster thinks about science a lot.

She reads about it. She writes about it. She tweets about it. She blogs about it. And it happens to be her occupation.

She’s also a voracious reader, and she wants to share her two passions with kids and teens through a summer science reading challenge.

Manaster, a University of Illinois scientist, has teamed up with Maryland physicist Jeff Shaumeyer, program director for Scienticity.net, to create the Kids Read Summer Science Reading Contest and the Teens Read Summer Science Reading Contest.

The contests challenge kids to: 1) read a nonfiction book on science, technology, engineering or math; 2) make a video about the book that’s less than 5 minutes long; and 3) upload the video and submit the entry form by 11 p.m. Sept. 22.

The contests are a joint project of Manaster’s website, www.joannelovesscience.com, which promotes science literacy and outreach, and Scienticity.net, a nonprofit program dedicated to increasing science literacy.

Manaster and Shaumeyer say they want to encourage young people, who are naturally curious about the world, to discover science for themselves.

“I’ve always loved reading and science. This is just a great way to introduce it to more people,” said Manaster, who runs an engineering camp for girls during the summer.

She’s dedicated to proving that science can be fun and accessible to everyone.

Her blogs are anything but boring, with titles like “Science books are a girl’s best friend!” In the video blog describing the new contests, Barbie and Ken dolls in formal wear (representing Manaster and Shaumeyer) look on from a shelf, with occasional dialogue bubble comments like, “Jeff ... it seems you shaved for the video today.”

Science “can be boring in school sometimes, if a teacher is not enthusiastic,” Manaster said. Often it’s because teachers are intimidated by science themselves, and that comes through. She remembers a “marvelous” teacher that her kids had who froze up when it came to teaching science.

“He lacked confidence because of something that happened in his past,” she said.

Manaster said she woke up one morning in May with the idea for the contests. She contacted Shaumeyer, who had started an adult science reading challenge, and he quickly signed on.

“Developing a reading habit as a youngster is essential to becoming a lifelong learner. We want to see young people start down that path,” Shaumeyer said in a release.

Suzanne Gibbons, director of elementary education and gifted services for Champaign schools, loves what Manaster and Shaumeyer are doing especially the marriage of reading and science.

“We know from a school perspective that the more you read, the better reader you are, the better your science achievement will be,” she said.

Gibbons also likes how the contests force kids to be creative. Videos will be judged on creativity, content, speaking ability and presentation skills. Kids will have to think about what they’ve learned by reading the book, she said.

The Champaign school district is revising its science curriculum to make it more accessible through hands-on projects, she said. Gibbons said she’d like to collaborate with Manaster on a similar contest during the school year.

The challenge is advertised worldwide on the Internet, though entries must be in English and prizes will be limited to the United States and its territories. Several noted science book authors and corporate sponsors have donated prizes to be awarded in a number of categories for each age group, including an iPod Touch and gift cards.

Manaster -- @sciencegoddess on Twitter (she was once a model) -- is well known to the online community for her science outreach. Schaumeyer is also on Twitter at @scienticity.

“Today’s social-networking tools really engage young people and are a great way to spread excitement about science,” said Manaster, who studies stem cells and tissue engineering at a UI laboratory, and has also taught there for 20 years.

The rules are outlined at www.joannelovesscience.com/kidsreadscience (for ages 8 to 12) and www.joannelovesscience.com/teensreadscience (for ages 13 to 18).

Her website has lots of book reviews, but there’s no specific list for the challenge so kids can choose something they want to read. But Manaster and Shaumeyer are happy to give advice if you e-mail them at InfoKidsReadScience.org.

Several authors have contributed signed copies of their books as prizes, which are listed on the website.

Manaster hopes to make the challenge an annual event, though she’s not sure what to expect this year. “I’m hoping to have to watch 5,000 miniature videos,” she said.


Photo: Joanne Manaster with her favorite science book, in her office at the Digital Computer Lab. News-Gazette photo by Robin Scholz.

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