Modern comic cons get a lot of heat for being giant, glittering celebrations of consumerism. For the past several years, New York Comic Con has bucked that trend with ever-increasing educational content, this year holding an entire Thursday schedule meant for teachers and librarians at the New York Public Library.
The very first panel on the first day of NYCC19 set the bar for instructional challenges, as children’s librarian Alessandra Affinito moderated “Classroom Crossovers: Integrating Graphic Novels and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) Education.” Science teacher and comic artist Vernon Meidlinger-Chin was ready to pick up the gauntlet.
“I also think it’s important to get students on board with creating comics,” rather than just reading existing science stories, he said. Meidlinger-Chin loves things like Abby Howard’s Earth Before Us series, and Logicomix by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou, but he thinks educators should also look toward Larry Marder’s Beanworld as something simple that students could imitate on their own.
So he’s been teaching kids how to make ‘zines! They’re easy to put together and retro is cool, so it only makes sense to help students create their own narratives that increase knowledge retention. With degrees in “narrative science” being offered by some universities, Meidlinger-Chin says it’s the perfect time to develop those communication skills.
“The iron is hot right now; it’s amazing,” he said.
“We want these projects to be as open-ended as possible,” said Samantha Tumolo, coordinator of the New York Hall of Science’s Maker Space, where she introduces kids to tools and how to safely use them, and then just sits back and sees what they come up with. It’s usually a popular character, like someone from Star Wars, Fortnight, or Harry Potter.
“This concept of narrative is really important to kids” of all ages, Tumolo said. Most of her projects are for the 4th-8th grade range, but something like the engineering task of assembling a cardboard automaton can still be suitable for younger children if you pre-score the materials.
Or you can use beads to teach binary, along with Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes’ Secret Coders!
“A 3D printer is your best friend,” said young adult librarian Pamela Cora, if you want a high-tech maker experience. “We cannot afford them” at the Public Library, she said to laughter. “A great alternative is 3D printing pens,” Cora said, which only run 100-150 dollars. With the 3Doodler, she’s gotten kids to “draw” three-dimensional historical landmarks on field trips.
All slides credit to Alessandra Affinito and the New York Public Library.