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.
“It’s a really amazing opportunity,” said Naseem, a petite, curly-haired freshman with a little-girl voice who was dressed warmly for the occasion in Burberry-style earmuffs and black Ugg boots. Asked about her plans for the future, she replied: “I’m open to the idea of becoming a science journalist, but I don’t really know any science journalists.” (That quickly changed, when she and Sam later found themselves being interviewed not only by me, but dozens of others at the ScienceOnline conference.)
“I want to do something in the field of science - maybe like a neurologist or environmental consultant or any journalism, maybe related to science,” said Sam, also warmly attired in her own beige Uggs and matching stylish scarf and hat over her long brown ponytails.
Sam later described her trip to the North Carolina conference as an “awesome experience that I will never forget for as long as I live.”
“After meeting and talking to many journalists and writers, I started to think about a career in journalism, especially science journalism,” she wrote in a post that Baker shared with me. “I love to write, and my favorite subject is science, so why not combine the two into a career that I will enjoy when I get older? It seems like a lot of fun, and my blog Green Science will help me prepare for a later career in journalism if I decide that it is the right choice for me.”
Their ScienceOnline session, “Still Waiting for a Superhero,” involved the students, Baker, and other educators addressing science illiteracy in schools. The Staten Island students, whose trip was underwritten by a grant from a local bank on Staten Island, talked about how their own interest in communicating about science had been triggered by their Extreme Biology blogging for Miss Baker’s class.
“Global warming is a very important topic now. Hopefully my blog encourages readers to understand it,” said Sam during her presentation. “I want to write at a level that children can read too, people my age . Some newspaper articles, it’s really hard to understand what they are getting at. I’m not going to write at a baby level. But it won’t be as complex.” An audience member responded: “Adults will read your blogs, too, to learn about science.”
Naseem drew praise for her informative Extreme Biology interview of conference organizer Bora Zivkovic, a prolific science blogger and the new editor of Scientific American’s blog network. In it, she asked Zivkovic about declining scientific literacy among American students; why he tweets; and what scientist, dead or alive, he would most like to meet (he chose Charles Darwin).
Some of Sam and Naseem’s classmates talked about the potential for communicating about science to fellow teenagers through podcasts, YouTube, videoblogs, videogames, and wikis—all things that, as one noted, “allow students to express themselves in a way that fits them” or, said another, “in a way that doesn’t feel condescending to us or lectured to.”
Baker, a soft-spoken Southerner, has attracted a following herself, both for her innovative class blog and online social networking, as well as for her efforts to bring several groups of her ninth-grade and advanced placement (AP) biology students to the annual ScienceOnline conference. She earlier taught at the Calverton School in Maryland and at the Mt. Pisgah Christian School in Georgia, and has appeared on NPR’s Science Friday and other media outlets talking about student blogging.
Part of the success of Extreme Biology and the new Scitable blogs, said Baker, is the voice her students bring. “These are still kids—hugely talented, yes, but still kids,” she said. “Adults sometimes lose sight of how creative we are when we are younger. When the students write, we hear their voices.”