If you’re worried about the future of science journalism, take solace in two fourteen-year-old students named Sam and Naseem who are passionate about science and writing, and hope to combine the two. They are the first high-school bloggers to join Scitable, a teaching and learning website from the Nature Publishing Group.
Sam and Naseem’s blogs—“Green Science: Musings of a Young Conservationist” and “Our Science: Exploring the Mysteries of Everyday Life”—debuted on Thursday, along with another blog, “MedSci Discoveries,” written by two of their classmates. They are the new kids on the block at Scitable, which was created in 2009 and is geared toward college undergraduates, though it attracts a broader audience, from middle-schoolers to professional research scientists.
“How can I help kid’s change their carbon footprint and global warming? I love to write,” said Sam (Samantha) Jakuboski in a recent interview. On her Green Science blog, Sam intends to use examples like the overuse of Styrofoam cups to help explain her concerns about products that might harm the environment and perhaps even the human body.
“I really want to address topics that relate to the actual lives of students, regular questions that kids have. I’m really excited about blogging,” said Naseem Syed, who plans to tackle everything from, “What is mono?” to “Why do ears pop on airplanes?” in her Our Science blog.
“We certainly hope that the launch of these [new blogs] encourages other high school students to consider blogging about science,” said Ilona Miko, the senior editor for life sciences at Nature Education. Billed as a “collaborative learning site,” Scitable provides resources on biology, genetics, ecology, science communication, and science careers, as well as a community network with blogs by college undergraduates, grad students, and professors. The high-school blogs are a “new direction for us,” Miko wrote in an e-mail.
How did these young women go from the classroom to blogging for an international audience at one the world’s most esteemed scientific publishers? They were encouraged by their remarkable ninth-grade biology teacher at New York’s Staten Island Academy, Stacy Baker, who is nurturing a new generation of potential science writers and informed citizens by requiring her students to blog for their class website, “Extreme Biology.”
“I want my students to understand the process of science, not just the facts. I want them to have better analytical thinking and communication skills,” said Baker, thirty-one, who started a blog called “Miss Baker’s Biology Class” when she began teaching six years ago, which was later renamed Extreme Biology. She doesn’t expect most of her students to become scientists, but to her surprise, many have become such accomplished writers that they are now considering careers in science journalism or writing.
Little wonder. Their Extreme Biology blog has taken on a virtual life of its own that resonates far beyond the walls of their small, independent day school. Baker said the site now gets as many as 10,000 unique visitors each month, with comments from educators, students, and even scientists who did the original research the students are blogging about. Recently, for example, there was an online conversation with marine biologist David Shiffman, who blogs on “Why Sharks Matter” at Southern Fried Science.
The students are assigned to write about current news in biology—“Anything they find interesting,” said Baker. “The students are doing what journalists do. A number of kids have said at the end of the year that they were strongly considering science journalism as a career.”
The new venture with Nature Education came about after Baker met Miko at a biology teachers conference and was later invited to ask her high school student bloggers to try out for the Scitable website. “It’s people like her that can show students of a young age how to be involved in science in creative ways, like using social media to create communities around science subjects,” said Miko.
The students’ work was also showcased at the recent ScienceOnline 2011 conference in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, where they spoke with aplomb to an adult audience of science writers, scientists, educators, and others attending the popular event.
I met Baker and eight of her Staten Island Academy students during a three-hour conference field trip, tramping through the snow-covered grounds of the Duke Forest Teaching & Research Laboratory. We met field researchers studying things that could pose risks to the environment, from global climate change to nanomaterials. Aboard the bus, I talked with Naseem and Sam about their new gig blogging for Nature Education.