Science education has it pretty tough. It’s just not cool to like microscopes and calculators. Educational media is constantly trying to revamp science’s rather dull image by targeting young age groups, but education and fun are hard to balance. A lot of energy goes into packaging up chemistry, biology, physics, and math into entertaining yet instructive bundles for children to unwrap. Does it work? Well, if my memory serves me correctly, some of the bundles those of us nineties children got to enjoy were, well, awesome. I’m talking about The Magic School Bus and Bill Nye the Science Guy: two TV shows that helped us learn and like it.
Both shows tried to make learning the “hows” and “whys” of the universe accessible and exciting, but besides that, they were pretty different from each other. Bill’s lab was dynamic, loud, and hectic: lamps were thrown off the roof to demonstrate gravity, chemicals were being mixed left, right, and centre, and scientific concepts were distilled down to really basic ideas. And every episode ended with a pun-riddled music video parody, like “Baby I Love Your Wave” by Big Amplitude. Then there was Miss Frizzle, driving a school bus-submarine-spaceship-time machine full of academically-inclined, adventurous children experiencing the wildest science field trips of their lives. Being an animated TV show allowed for some suspension of disbelief, and these kids got to grow from seeds to plants, fall from the sky as raindrops, and get baked into pies.
I always was and always will be on the Frizz side of TV science. Yeah, it’s all well and good to watch Bill Nye demonstrate digestion by gesturing emphatically with a rubber tube that’s supposed to represent my digestive tract, but isn’t it clearer when we’re with a bus full of kids and actually squeezing through an esophagus instead? Bill made a “stomach balloon of science,” but in The Magic School Bus we were churning in a real, albeit cartoon, stomach of science.
The Magic School Bus was also about kids discovering things for themselves. Bill told us straight up that food “goes into our small intestine and that’s where enzymes – special chemicals that we have – absorb all the chemicals that we need from our food.” But on a Frizzle field trip, we saw it. Carlos floated in Arnold’s small intestine, looked at the villi and said, “This dissolved food is disappearing into these rubber cactus-type things!”
I will concede, however, that Bill Nye taught us more about the technicalities of science, and that his shows covered a wider range of topics. But saying things really loudly while wearing a bowtie didn’t mean I’d learn the concept. The Magic School Bus might have been more concerned with entertainment, but the storylines are why I still remember how volcanoes explode, what makes an engine run, and why Arnold turned orange after eating only Seaweedies for weeks.
But can learning about science still be fun once we’re too old for shows like these? Just because there isn’t an outrageously eccentric televised science teacher for adult audiences doesn’t mean that learning has to stop. We just have to be our own magic school bus or our own science guy, and re-inspire past enthusiasms for ourselves. It’s important not to let our old interests fall by the wayside when there are so many ways to learn about the latest scientific advancements and fascinating discoveries. We’re all grown-ups now; we don’t have to feed into the idea that science is boring. It’s time for green chemistry, nano engineering, digital broadcasting – science – to be cool again. Come on, we all know it is.
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