Long-form science writing for pleasure and practice

Using Tumblr's free blogging software encourages teen students to write about science and become accomplished storytellers

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I work with middle and high school students who want to learn how to write skillfully--to handle more than traditional school assignments. Among the activities we explore is blogging on Tumblr. Access is free, the kids can choose anonymity if they and their parents prefer, and they learn to talk to a real audience about what they know and care about. One 16-year-old designed her blog--Hello from the Science Side--for 14- to 17-year-old girls, to encourage them to stick with STEM subjects despite social pressure to take less difficult learning paths. To get ready, we read Natalie Angier's The Canon together to learn techniques for telling stories about subjects ranging from statistics (For Whom the Bell Curves) to Physics (I've Got Plenty of Nothing). The results have been beautiful, not just because of the writing, but because the kids have to learn HTML, figure out the metadata of hashtags, discover Creative Commons graphics, and much more.

IDEO.org's Frame Your Own Design Challenge materials are a great resource for thinking through how to pick the right focus for the blog.

In brief, blogs are easy to set up, free, deeply creative, and fantastic for college applications. Happy to discuss further!

Just realized that you want to know about the thorns, too: Blog posts take time to write and edit. The student, parents, and you (!) need to be committed. One post per month may be all that's possible.

[Optional] Synthesize a little! In one sentence, describe something you learned from your empathy exercises or analogous research.

As soon as kids feel unconstrained by the rules of academic writing, there are no limits to how creatively they can and will write about subjects as simple as learning to code and as complex as mitosis.

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Photo of Erin Quinn

This is brilliant. I love the idea of connecting science with a platform kids are already into. 

You know what might be another source of science storytelling inspiration is the podcast Radiolab (http://www.radiolab.org/). Radiolab does an amazing job of teaching about science and technology (amongst other topics) through the power of storytelling.

I'm also wondering about the potential of using the Tumblr as a way of documenting hands-on STEM making. The students could track their steps and progress as they create hands-on solutions to real science problems.

Photo of MK

Thank you, Erin. I've just learned about Radiolab--the sound design alone is amazing.

Harvard's Lawrence Lessig says that we're living in an age of sound and motion, and I think that you are right about the inspiration and maybe even the direction STEM products might take?

Alas, video and podcast production require even more time than long-form writing, but they are likely the path of the future.



Yes, I think that Tumblr might work as a platform to do more than talk aloud. What I'd love to see is kids finding one another. Are you familiar with John and Hank Green's Crash Course (https://www.youtube.com/user/crashcourse/featured)? Can you imagine a groundswell of smart, enterprising young people doing STEM at scale--in words, sound, motion or a combination?

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