It seems like every other week there's another awesome project celebrating women in science! And you know what? I love them all! I really do. They're all so great and I just have to back as many as I can afford. This week's amazing project I can't help but put my money behind is Science Wide Open, a series of beautifully illustrated children's books designed to teach basic scientific concepts -- chemistry, biology, and physics -- and featuring important women in each field.
I absolutely love everything I've seen about this project. The illustrations are colorful and clear. The text is simple and leaves room for questions, allowing the kids to explore on their own, following their interests. And, what really appeals to me, each woman featured is shown in full-on science-mode. Active shots are so important for the littler kids to imagine themselves doing the same things. And the focus is on resilience and curiosity -- two qualities every little self-rescuing princess needs to be successful in whatever she pursues.
When I first heard about this project, I just had to know more about it. Fortunately I was able to chat a bit with Mary Wissinger, the author of Science Wide Open, and John Coveyou, editor and founder of Genius Games, about the importance of getting kids interested in science early, and some of the important women in science history who have inspired them.
SRPS: First off, can you tell me a little about yourself? What's your background? What inspires you?
MW: I came to children's book writing by way of education. I was a classroom music teacher for five years, and I saw the power of narratives in shaping the way kids think and move about in the world. Plus, kids are natural storytellers, so the stories kids read become the stories they tell! I'm inspired to write the kind of stories that my former students would have enjoyed and asked to read again and again.
JC: I have a 2 year old daughter and expecting another kiddo sometime in early April. My degrees are in Environmental Biology and Energy, Environmental, and Chemical Engineering. There are few things I enjoy more than teaching science, so I was pretty dismayed that my students came into class already intimidated and turned off by the material. I wanted to find a way to engage them, so I started to create little games and bring them to class. I thought, why not publish these so that other teachers could use some of them in their classes. We've since published five science-based tabletop games and Science Wide Open is our 2nd set of children's books. What inspires me? Thinking about my kids growing up and living in a world that is continually being made more just, free and beautiful.
SRPS: What is Genius Games? What kinds of games do you make?
JC: Genius Games is a publishing company that creates tabletop games and books that introduce science topics through curiosity, play, and exploration. Each of our games is focused on a specific science concept - for example our game Ion: A Compound Building Game is devoted to the terminology and concepts surrounding ionic bonding. Not only do we invest a lot of time and research into making games scientifically accurate, we invest as much time making sure the games are actually fun to play.
SRPS: What is it about presenting science learning as a game that makes it so effective?
JC: There are a couple things that make games an incredibly effective way to teach science. One reason is that they provide a way to interact with unfamiliar science terms in a way that is low pressure. You aren't memorizing how to create a neutrally charged compound for a test, you are learning that to play the game. Another reason is that research has clearly shown that emotional involvement with the material dramatically increases retention of that material. A good game intrinsically provides a structure for fun, social interaction and light competition -- a fantastic recipe for emotional involvement.
SRPS: And now you're working on Science Wide Open. What inspired you to come up with a series of books?
JC: I always love it when my two-year old daughter asks me questions! She asks about animals and puddles and Fall leaves and everything she's around. I wanted to find a memorable way to help her ask questions about things like gravity and atoms and DNA. Story time is already an important part of the bonding experience between many kids and their parents. Why not provide a way for parents and kids to connect over something as vital as science?
JC: There have been countless women scientists who made earth shattering scientific contributions and discoveries and yet are largely forgotten! I didn't want my daughter to grow up with the perception that science is only for boys! My work on Science Wide Open is my contribution to introducing my daughter, and any budding scientist out there, to the brilliant women scientists and their discoveries. But I don't think this is important for just young girls, I think this is important all kiddos!
SRPS: You obviously have a passion for teaching science and sharing the stories of these women in history. Why is it so important to pass this along to younger readers?
MW: When I was growing up, I somehow missed the memo that science is absolutely amazing. Unfortunately, my young eyes assumed incorrectly that science was "just for boys." Books like these -- featuring intelligent, strong women -- can have a huge positive impact on girls' beliefs about what they can accomplish. It's crucial that young girls see women of all colors, ages, and sizes achieving incredible things. There isn't just one way to be a girl, and there isn't just one way to change the world.
JC: Kids begin forming their point of view and connotations at a very young age. We want to utilize the natural curiosity and open-mindedness of young kids to introduce them to science before they develop negative connotations and frustrations often associated with science. Not only that, we want to show kids the invaluable contributions that women have made to our understanding of science today.
SRPS: Who are some of the scientists you've covered that have inspired you? Have you learned anything new about these women while doing your research?
MW: The accomplishments of these women are absolutely astonishing -- and doubly so considering the women were often working with sub-par equipment for little to no pay. Every woman in the series would be deserving of her own book, or ten!
Barbara McClintock wasn't afraid to strike out on her own when people placed limitations on her because of her gender. She was a geneticist who figured out that parts DNA -- the blueprint for our bodies -- could move around and re-arrange themselves. When her research proving this came out in the 1950s, people laughed at her and called her crazy.
It wasn't until 1983 that she received a Nobel Prize for her discovery. And when people asked her whether she was bitter that recognition took so long, she said, "When you know you're right, you don't care what others think. You know sooner or later it will come out in the wash." How's that for self-assuredness and determination?
JC: One of the scientists that especially inspires me is Émilie du Châtelet. Émilie took on the massive task of translating and adding corrections to Newton's foundational work on Physics, Principia. Not once in my years of undergrad or masters studies was she ever mentioned! And yet, if it weren't for Émilie's work, Einstein would not have been able to do his. I am actually a little bit angry that this was never mentioned.
SRPS: You're doing quite well in your fundraising! Any ideas for stretch goals you care to share with us?
JC: We actually haven't made any specific announcements for stretch goals. We have a great track record in publishing so far, and we don't want to gamble the quality of the books on how much money we raise. We intend to make the highest quality books we can from the get-go, despite whether we reach the funding to do so or not. But we didn't expect to raise this much money at this point, so we trying to think of things that we can add to the campaign to keep people happy. But it's VERY important to us to not compromise the schedule to get that done, so we are being very cautious at this point.
If you haven't already backed this project, you really need to get on it! These books looks absolutely beautiful and what a great way to share these stories of kickass women in science with all the future scientists in your life?
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