Countries of the World: a cultural context for science education

My job title these days is changing and I wear many hats. Most people who have any association with science writing have worked with writers in mostly a technical capacity. My work is a little different than traditional science writing. I’m  exploring creative science writing through what I consider the “cultural integration of science.” Here’s a geography game that I’m playing with my kid and his friends becoming an example of the cultural integration of science.

The game is Countries of the World. Each week, a child in the group chooses a country that they’re interested in learning more about. We read maps, so they know the possible choices, and we’ve been playing this game for about nine months now so the kids have a pretty good idea of what’s on each continent by now. We spend a week learning more about the country that they chose. This gives us enough time to explore most of the kids questions and interests for the topic.

So, here’s how a game about Peru because an organic chemistry lesson:
Cassandria chose Peru. We ate a lot of potatoes, went for an imaginary hike in the Andes, read stories about llamas, and built a variety of home-made pan flutes. And then, we got to textiles. Zev was curious about weaving, so we turned a windowsill into a loom and mimicked traditional weaving patterns. We watched some videos about Peruvian weaving and in one of them they mentioned using cochineal insects to dye wool red and orange colors. These scale insects, that eat cacti, are dried in the sun and ground into a dye powder. Carminic acid is around 20% of the dried insects’ weight and can be extracted to make carmine dye. After a rousing game of imaginary fabric dying, we built a molecule of carminic acid together. The molecule building game started two years ago and is cumulative, so yes, this group of four-year old’s understand basic organic chemistry.


Here’s how a lesson about Mongolia became an energy lesson: Zev chose Mongolia. We built a ger, we cooked boortsog, and we read stories about daily life and ecosystems in Mongolia. We pretended to hunt with eagles and milk horses on the steppe. While playing house in the ger, the kids decided that the rocks anchoring it were the stove and the support post going up the center was the stove pipe. This lead to us cooking suutei tsai in our ger and a discussion of contextual fuel use. What fuels are used in Mongolia? Why? For what? Where do they come from? How do the combination of our choices and the available materials create cultural patterns of energy use? We then discussed a variety of fuel/energy options, added those words to our vocabulary practice and matched the kids toys to them.

Mongolia game 2.jpg

It all weaves together (pun intended). It’s easy in small groups, a lot of like stream-of consciousness. The kids define things they’re interested in, and I tie them all together. It’s in the storytelling. What are our cultural stories? How do we share them?

I try to cover each of the arts: dance, visual, music, etc. and the rest seems to fall into place. The kids are left with an understanding of another culture, some geography, reading and writing are incorporated so they get their literacy needs met, math and science get integrated into it all. It becomes a comprehensive narrative.

I’m interested in redefining our cultural stories to explore the ways our culture is changing as a result of rapid technological advancement. I love finding ways of integrating science into entertainment that we already consume and showing how science fits in with existing entertainment and our existing activities. That is what I mean by the “cultural integration of science.”

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