Since leaving the halls of the Bren School in 2013, the former eco-entrepreneurship project, Smarty Pants, has turned over a new leaf with their approach to science education. With a newly filed status as a non-profit, Smarty Pants has restructured their fundraising efforts, established a new partnership campaign, rebranded, and expanded their creative vision. The three founders, Bryan Latchford (MESM ’13), Jessica Mkitarian (MESM ’13), and Sarah Stark (MESM ’13), are all just trying to keep up.
Smarty Pants creates open-source educational media designed to teach kids science, and empower youth to be both environmental stewards and leaders. The videos they create run between 8-10 minutes, and follow the stories of Izzy and Jax, a pair of best friends who ask scientific questions to get scientific answers about their environment.
The rise of Smarty Pants could not be coming at a better time. Research indicates that by the end of middle school, one third of students have already lost interest in science. But the need to keep students engaged in science is imperative, given that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) careers are expected to increase by up to 62% by 2020.
The discrepancy between the need for scientists and science proficiency is more dramatic for women and minority groups. Co-founder Sarah Stark says that the problem expands
beyond the classroom. “If you look at the media, you find the same patterns—women and minorities are underrepresented.” Stark believes that by featuring females and minorities in their media, Smarty Pants promotes not only science education, but is “speaking to audiences that don’t see themselves represented [in the sciences]. When our characters succeed in STEM subjects, our audience will have the confidence to do the same.”
Creating media material, however, has high upfront production costs. Not wanting to deprive schools, teachers, or students of their product simply because of price was a driving force in their non-profit status. “What we are working on now is building a network of non-profit partners that have educational programs already established in their community,” says Latchford. These partners will help build both content and credibility. “It’s a whole new model of distribution really,” he says. “We create the videos, and they show them to kids in programs they are already working in.” Potential topics could include anything from energy efficiency and renewable energy, water conservation, water pollution, aquatic or marine conservation.
Latchford also says that these materials are critical for teachers that are looking for ways to incorporate science to applied problems. Field trips tend to be limited by funding, support, and time. So if kids cannot visit Lake Cachuma to understand the concepts of drought, at least they can be transported there for an 8 minute webisode.
Stay current on the Smarty Pants website for updates and new webisodes.
In the meantime, check out the pilot webisode below!