Science education and comics

posted by @ulaulaman about #science #physics #comics #UncleScrooge
In 2002 F. Javier Perales-Palacios and José M. Vílchez-González studied the impact of comics and cartoons in the study of physics. They arrived at the following conclusions:
  1. Teaching physics by showing cartoons constituted a clear incentive in the students' attitude towards the subject.(1)
  2. Students' misconceptions to a certain degree parallel the incorrect physics in the cartoons. It is quite possible that the cartoons have reinforced these misconceptions from an early age.(1)
  3. Use of TV in the classroom to present real images (for instance, the behaviour of bodies orbiting the Earth, the movement of passengers in a bus, and so on) and contrast the real and the fictitious planes facilitates conceptual change.(1)
  4. This type of strategy can bring physics teaching closer to the communications media that most interest the students, and therefore reduce the barrier between School Science and everyday knowledge.(1)
  5. The image of science and scientists presented in the cartoons was typical and students who participated in the experiment also held this stereotyped image.(1)
  6. There was a great diversity in the results between individuals and between groups. (...) The student group clearly surpassed the teachers in the number of phenomena identified.(1)
In particular the points 2. (the incorrect physics in cartoon) and 5. (the stereotypes about science and scientists) are deepen in a recent paper by the same two authors:
We have been able to ascertain that cartoons do distort the image of science and its environment. Very often it is presented as something distant and far-removed from everyday life, thus hiding its basic objectives (explaining the world that surrounds us) under meaningless headings that make use of 'strange' (often mistaken) terms or huge and meaningless mathematical expressions. This occurs even for those familiar with the subject matter (thereby strengthening the elitist image of science), and sometimes even directly presenting some of the preconceived ideas that the bibliography acknowledges as being characteristic of adolescents. Comics also offer a distorted image of these questions, similar to the one that is presented in cartoons 'if they were silent'.(2)
The two researchers are warry about the influence of these two media, but I think that they forgot (read, for example, the point 1. of the 2002's paper) the theacher's key role in the education. Comics, indeed, are a great opportunity to introduce in a very simple way physics in classroom:
(...) educators should not underestimate the importance of learners’ interests. These interests can work for us in two ways. They can provide hooks, and they offer context. To most physics teachers, physics is clearly a subject that explores the most fundamental aspects of nature, which encompasses the smallest and largest scales we can envisage, and which deals with the most fascinating questions and phenomena. Some of our students feel the same, and come to classes with an enthusiasm to learn more. Unfortunately, however, many students do not initially share our enthusiasms.
It is so much easier to learn when we are interested in the subject matter. Learning is most effective when we are motivated to learn, and engaged by the learning process.(3)
Introducing comics in classroom is a good choice: they could be a good source for introduce exercises, in order to verify the scientific affirmations of the cartoonists. A real example of this use could be found in Fisica e fumetti: Paperone ed il deposito sotterraneo (Physics and comics: Uncle Scrooge and the underground money bin), a preprint written in italian language:
Comics and cartoon movies sometimes exploit fictitious scientific ideas. It is often the case that these ideas, althought wrong, actually reflect the popular vision of some natural phenomenon. We do not refer here to the implicit violation of physical laws in fictions, a practice allowed by the underlining "poetic licence" of comics. However, sometimes wrong scientific "explanations" are proposed, and those may be accepted by the public without further inspection. On the other hand, these errors may be a good starting point for a didactic illustration of physical principles. We analyse here the comics Paperone ed il deposito sotterraneo (Uncle Scrooge and the underground money bin) by Perrin e Cavazzano.
The story hasn't a US edition, so I try to summarize the plot:
Scrooge McDuck think that his money bin is too exposed to continuous assaults by Beagle Boys, so he decided to construct and underground money bin which is accessed by an elevator. Unfortunately the Beagle Boys jumble themselfs with the workers of the construction and they could plan a great explosion.
It thanks to this explosion that physics play an interesting role in the story. In particular the two researchers find four mistakes:
  1. During the flight in free fall after the explosion, the ducks are standing on the floor as if they were at rest.
  2. The elevator is separated from the money because its mass.
  3. The ducks think that money goes in orbit.
  4. The drop point moves to the west about of 80 km due to the Earth's rotation.
Using these mistakes, a teacher could introduce in classroom some concepts like the motions of bodies, equivalence principle, Earth's rotation, inertial frame systems, and an application of friction in a real situation.
In conclusion, I think that comics could be a really good tools in order to teach physics and transmit our interest and passion in science, but nothing is like a really good question!
Recently one 13 year-old has been asking questions that remind me that physics has plenty of hooks of its own. This boy has been asking for information about dark matter, a topic more fantastic than the Fantastic Four, and - I would have to concede - of even more significance to the future of the galaxy than Star Trek's United Federation of Planets.(3)

(1) Perales-Palacios, F., & Vílchez-González, J. (2002). Teaching physics by means of cartoons: a qualitative study in secondary education Physics Education, 37 (5), 400-406 DOI: 10.1088/0031-9120/37/5/306
(2) Vílchez-González, J., & Palacios, F. (2006). Image of science in cartoons and its relationship with the image in comics Physics Education, 41 (3), 240-249 DOI: 10.1088/0031-9120/41/3/006
(3) Taber, K. (2006). The physics education of superheroes Physics Education, 41 (3), 202-203 DOI: 10.1088/0031-9120/41/3/F01

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