Scientific Superheroes

USF’s own Scientific Superheroes have unleashed a video series that pushes learning to a whole new level.

 

Video: Dani Barta | USF News

By Vickie Chachere

USF News

 

TAMPA, Fla. (June 14, 2012) - They bear the names of some of the most important scientific and technical processes: Sublimation, Super Conductor and Megabyte. They battle the evil Dr. Entropy who has taken over the International Space Station, and most importantly they teach the difference between science fiction and science fact.

 

You too could be a member of the Scientific League of Superheroes, who use the motto “Science is our Strength” and make science lessons more interesting and memorable than any dry textbook could.

 

Don’t believe it?

 

Just watch Super Conductor explain how electrical circuits work by running at superhero speed around a baseball field or explaining Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of motion through an epic water balloon fight.

 

The Scientific League of Superheroes – the creation of University of South Florida doctoral students Samuel DuPont and Audrey Buttice and starring fellow student Robert Bair – are a trio of characters turning science education on its head. Their new video series has been shown to 5th graders at four Hillsborough County Schools as part of a National Science Foundation-funded science education project at USF and is on the cusp of a wider public release this summer.

 

“The whole idea is to help them see that science is all around them and it is interesting and fun,” said DuPont, who by day is a doctoral candidate in Chemical Engineering where his research focuses on new technologies in soft polymer materials for tissue reconstruction.

 

Bair is a doctoral student in Civil & Environmental Engineering who is working on the high-profile Gates Foundation NEWgenerator project, a clean energy technology that converts waste water into energy, nutrients and clean energy.

 

The series follows the adventures of three mild-mannered science students who gain superpowers in an unfortunate lab accident.

 

Last month, Scientific League Inc. was named the winning team for the 5th annual USF/Fintech Business Plan Competition for their business plan to launch the curriculum-based Superhero Training Network series as an independent company.  The group won a $7,500 prize and the attention of potential investors in the novel project.

 

The project is an outgrowth of  USF’s STARS (Students, Teachers and Resources in Science) program, a National Science Foundation-funded endeavor to develop a new, unique and collaborative model among elementary schools, school district administration and the university. The 10 year old program has focused on infusing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) principles into elementary-grade curriculum as well as preparing graduate students to be effective STEM educators.

 

The idea for the series of superhero-themed educational videos and classroom materials came to DuPont and Buttice, who are fellows in the STARS program, as they stood in line for a Star Wars ride at a Disney amusement park. Already artistically inclined, they, along with Bair, have invested as much as 80 hours a week writing scripts, filming and editing the video series.

 

The curriculum follows Florida’s science curriculum standards, which tracks it closely to the FCAT. In addition to the videos, students – also known as Scientific League of Superheroes “trainees,” choose their own superhero names and live by a code of using science for the betterment of humankind. Trainees in the program were treated to visits from the Scientific League of Superheroes in their classroom where the superheroes engaged them in hands-on experiments and quizzed them on science facts for their upcoming tests.

 

“It energizes the conversation between students and teachers.” Buttice said. “It encourages them to ask questions and the level of emersion makes them feel like they really are scientists.”

 

For Maniscalco Elementary School teacher Michelle Clinton, the Superhero Training Network was a much welcomed addition to her science lessons and produced some surprising results. Clinton said her students had a marked increase in correct answers on topics covered by the video series on mid-year science assessment tests, which credits to the programs helping students remember difficult scientific concepts.

 

“As a teacher and an educator, I can do everything I can besides standing on my head and trying to juggle, but these guys took it to the next step and really helped me, helped our school and also helped our future as a country,” Clinton said.

 

“They (her students) can read out of a book, they can do research projects, they can do hands-on activities but to have these guys here it’s just one extra bonus that’s really going to help the students remember this knowledge.”

 

Fifth-graders Madeline Macaluso and Parker Hertenstein agreed – nothing quite matches a scientific superhero in action.

 

“It was fun to the hands-on learning experience and get to do it yourself,” Madeline said. “It makes you feel like a real scientist.”

 

For more information on the Scientific League of Superheroes and to watch one of their videos, visit their homepage here and watch the Superhero Training Network on YouTube here. Hillsborough County teachers talk about their experiences with the program here.

 

Vickie Chachere can be reached at 813-974-6251.