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Pow! Comics Take on STEM

Albert Einstein is no Caped Crusader. But as a comic book, his theory of relativity can pack as much punch as any superhero–at least in Japan, where students have learned math and science from manga (comic books) for decades.

Can comics convey complex STEM subjects more effectively than texts? No Starch Press seems to think so. The San Francisco publisher puts out a whole line of Japanese STEM comics translated into English, writes Alan Boyle on the MSNBC (11/30) “Cosmic Log” blog. “Japanese researchers have reported that manga books can deliver information in a shorter time and make a stronger impression than conventional textbooks,” he notes, adding that Japanese educational comics, unlike the 1950s American “Classics Illustrated” comics, come from the same cultural tradition that spawned Hello Kitty, Pokemon, anime and other wildly popular cartoon creations.

Science and math teachers probably won’t ditch their textbooks anytime soon. If they want to, though, there’s a “Manga Guide to Relativity” as well as comic-book versions of calculus, linear algebra, biochemistry and other brainy subjects.

Meanwhile, momentum is mounting for STEAM — STEM plus A for the “arts” — in American schools, Education Week reports (12/1). Federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation, are helping to fuel the interest, funding programs to explore whether integrating arts with STEM fields can enhance student engagement, learning, and creativity. NSF sponsored a conference at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, for example, entitled “Bridging STEM to STEAM: Developing New Frameworks for Art-Science-Design Pedagogy.”

On-the-ground examples of STEAM schools abound, from Philadelphia and San Diego. The Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership, for example, is using a $1.1 million Education Department grant to work with city schools to help elementary students better understand abstract concepts in science and mathematics, such as fractions and geometric shapes, through art-making projects. High school students nationwide can compete for an annual ArtScience Prize that fuses concepts in the arts and design with the sciences. This year’s theme is Virtual Worlds.

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