Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Spectra Saves Girl's Interest in Science

11 Year Old, Althea, Goes as Laser Super Hero, Spectra, for Halloween

Photo courtesy of Kirsten O'Brien

As Halloween creeps back into the shadows of October one PhysicsCentral reader and comic enthusiast shared her Halloween costume of 2011. This 11 year old from California, didn’t dress up like any regular super hero, no; she went as Spectra, the teenage girl with super hero powers of a laser.

Althea, the Spectra enthusiast, first discovered the laser superhero through the comic books her mother and stepfather brought home from Comic Con. Althea was hooked and then began her search for the perfect Spectra costume. Althea raided thrift stores until she found all of the items to make an exact replica of Spectra’s wardrobe. She found a bright yellow vest and a red shirt and fashioned yellow cuffs to fit over her ruby red gloves. She donned brown cargo pants that were just a bit too short over her red sneakers, just like Spectra. Her only complaint was that the belt she found in the thrift store was too big. She describes the belt by saying, “The belt was so big I had to wrap it around myself like 3 times.” Her rose colored safety glasses were also hand crafted through taking a red sharpie and coloring a pair of safety glasses from her step-dad. Althea had transformed herself into Spectra. The comic book hero would have thought she was looking in a mirror when seeing Althea.

Althea is no stranger to comics. She also likes Batman and Superwoman, but when asked who would win in a battle, Althea quickly replied, “Spectra would win. She has so many things she can do!”

As reading becomes more and more of an activity that is done online and science class enrollees become less and less as funding in schools gets cut, comics are helping cross the barrier and make science fun and accessible. Teachers often find themselves struggling to find ways to get kids engaged in science and physics. As a former teacher, I remember finding it difficult to engage children and struggling readers. Comics or graphic novels, like the Spectra series, gave my students a hero to identify with.

Not only is Spectra a cool kid, she’s a cool girl who’s into physics. Physics is often a subject that attracts boys. Girls, unfortunately, are often deterred from studying math or science. Generating excitement and role models that girls can identify with helps keep girls interested in science. I used the Spectra comics in my own classroom when I taught students who suffered from dyslexia. They were so excited because the pictures allowed them to figure out what was going on in the story and deduce what words were on the page, even if it wasn’t immediately clear. The girls loved the superhero because she was a smart, cool, and moderately nerdy girl – like most middle school girls and they could see themselves in her character. The boys liked them because they were comics and who doesn’t like a comic, the action, the adventure…

Not only are these comics great, but they each launch alongside a kit that is FREE to teachers and groups. It comes with everything you need to do four experiments, a teacher’s guide (you don’t need a degree in physics to understand what’s going on), and a student guide. The idea is that the students are no longer people reading the comic, but they are active participants in the outcome. By completing the experiments and arriving at an answer the class helps Spectra solve her case and defeat her arch nemesis or help another superhero along the way.

It’s a crafty way to get kids excited about physics and feel like they’re part of a story. I mean who doesn’t want to have a super power. I know Althea does. She told me she wanted x-ray vision so she could help people find things when they were lost and help people who have been hurt. Sounds like Althea is taking a lesson from Spectra, real superheroes help people.

If you’re interested in becoming part of PhysicsQuest 2011 and joining Spectra and her gang as they use physics to make the world… or middle school… a better place, you can register here at Previous Spectra comic books are available to the public and can be downloaded and printed.

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