recess radio program

02/18/05
The Explanatoids
    by John Cech

You can see one part of the legacy of Fred Rodgers -- Mr. Rogers to millions of us -- literally on the streets and in the parks and playgrounds of his home town of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And it’s a legacy that has to do with science. The non-profit corporation that produced Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood for years, Family Communications, is the one of the sponsoring groups that are a part of the Girls, Math & Science Partnership, working with Carneigie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, the National Science Foundation, and other organizations. The partnership is, to use the words of their mission statement, “dedicated to helping people think differently about what science is and who can do it. Our goal is simple: to support girls’ interests and successful participation in math and science in school and future careers.”

And it’s an urgent, indispensible idea -- because girls in this country, especially when they reach middle and high school, often go silent and hide their intelligence, their intellecutal curiosity, and their talents -- as Mary Pipher has explained in her important book about the psyches of American girls, Reviving Ophelia. The Girls, Math & Science Partnership has led to some remarkable initiatives, one of which is an on-going project called “Explanatoids” -- which describes its innovative work with the words: “Everywhere There’s Science.” This is an initiative that uses signs in public places in the Pittsburgh area, like Kennywood Amusement Park, to explain, for example, the principles of the roller coaster to people who are waiting in the queue to get on the ride. This particular explantoid is called “No Engine? No Way!” and it leads the viewer, with easily readable, graphically engaging, cartoon diagrams, through the physics of the roller coaster. Another series of Explanatoids take the form of animations that are projected on the jumbotron at PNC Park, where the Pittsburgh Pirates play. These short movies cover such subjects as the acoustics of fireworks, the fluid mechanics of waves (both the oceanic and the fan-based kinds), the basic structures of bridges, the psychology of cheering, the nature of motor memory (like the neurological connectors that are involved in batting!); and the aerodynamics of the curve ball. “Everywhere There’s Science” is more than just a motto for “Explanatoids” -- it’s a reminder, a first principle, an idea to ponder, an exciting place to begin and continue the process of finding out about our world.

Copyright 2005© John Cech

The Explanatoids Project
The Girls, Math & Science Partnership

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Monday, 31-Jan-2005 13:06:09 EST


"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."