EdTech Stories: Teaching Science Through Transmedia

July 14, 2021

We interviewed Peter Solomon, CEO of TheBeamer LLC, to learn about their Stardust Mystery Project which can be used in the teaching of science through transmedia storytelling.

EdTech Stories Teaching Science Through Transmedia

GREETINGS PETER, please can you tell us why and how you created the Stardust Mystery Project…

I have had a long career doing science, writing about science, and being a technology entrepreneur. When my twelfth grandchild was born, I decided to bring my passion for science to young children by sharing some of the most amazing science stories in ways they could understand and enjoy. The project started with an illustrated science adventure book called The Stardust Mystery and expanded to include a second transmedia book and related video games, science videos, short stories, and finally online LEARNING PAGES.

The main characters are the four Cosmic Kids (three girls and a boy modeled after my grandchildren) and their three friends. The science concepts are presented in the simplest possible way so that kids and nonscientist adults can understand them. The transmedia storytelling formats (books, science videos, video games, and short stories) allow the concepts to be viewed from whatever perspective the kids like best.

These EdTech resources have been created by a talented team at TheBeamer LLC consisting of students and professors at Sacred Heart University, Becker College and The University of Connecticut. Financial support was provided by the National Science Foundation, Connecticut Innovations Inc., PPP Loans, and private investment.

The Stardust Mystery Project

So please tell us about your stories and what approach do you take when telling them?

Our first transmedia book, The Stardust Mystery, is an illustrated science story in which young people are discovering amazing science facts about our world. The theme of the book is “We are made of stardust that was once in the body of Albert Einstein and the Last T-Rex.”  The middle school age characters are on a quest to discover the non-fiction story of stardust through their science-fictional time-, space-, and size-change travel adventures. What in their bodies is stardust? Where, when, and how was stardust created? How did stardust get from Einstein and the Last T-Rex to them?  What are the properties of stardust? Stardust of course is atoms. A sixth grade girl said this in her review of the book: “I love reading about science but what makes it even better is reading about kids my age doing science.”

Mindful of our young reviewer’s comment, our science is always woven into exciting adventures to be discovered and presented by our young, multiethnic boy and girl characters. The boys and girls in the story explore time, space, and size-scale to find the atoms produced in the Big Bang and in end-of-life star explosions during the evolution of the universe. The book and MissionKT video game explore the number of atoms that each of us has inherited from the Last T-Rex and other dinosaurs.  A video explores how big we would be if our atoms were the size of sand grains. The Building the Universe video game explores the structure of atoms.

Our second book is The Race to the Big Bang which was published in May of this year. The story takes place during the Covid-19 pandemic. The kids’ lives have been drastically altered by school closings and social isolation. They find relief by inventing new pandemic pastimes. Then they discover the best pastime of all. It’s a new contest called The Race to the Big Bang. The seven kids form the Cosmic Explorers team. They use a Virtual World to  time travel to the Big Bang. Along the way, they discover unusual things on earth, in the solar system and in the universe. They turn a planet that they have found 7 billion years ago into their space station by adding the events that made Planet Earth habitable. Their brilliant idea has some unintended consequences that are wonderful, awful, and then wonderful again. They have accidently provided a dramatic example of the Survival of the Fittest principal of the Theory of Evolution. The kids end their adventure by using the Virtual World to create videos to help other kids understand how we can become infected by the Covid-19 virus, and how a vaccine can keep us safe. They learn some interesting biology about how our body’s cells are factories that can fabricate needed substances based on pieces of genetic codes. The virus and the vaccine both use that cell function.

Among the transmedia stories we tell in the two books, videos, video games and short stories are:

  • How the universe started in a Big Bang.
  • How the atoms that make up our bodies were created in the explosive death of stars.
  • How our body’s atoms were once in the bodies of Albert Einstein and the Last T-Rex.
  • How we can thank our existence to some bacteria that created our planet’s oxygen atmosphere and an asteroid that killed our dinosaur predators.
  • How our bodies have factories that were hijacked by the COVID-19 Coronavirus to make copies of itself and make us sick.
  • How the mRNA vaccines hijack those same factories to protect us from COVID-19.
  • How a billion year old bacterium, whose chemistry we have adopted for genetic engineering, can identify a virus by its RNA and chop up the virus RNA for safety.

How Did Einstein Get Dinosaur Atoms

How Big Are My Atoms

Explaining COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines

How can your EdTech resources be used for classroom or online learning?

To make our EdTech resources more available to teachers or homeschoolers, we have created four online LEARNING PAGES covering the topics of: Stardust (Atoms); History of Planet Earth; Our Place in the Universe; and the COVID-19 Coronavirus.  The LEARNING PAGES are on the Educators tab of TheStardustMystery.com  web site. The pages have links to short stories told by the 7 Stardust Mystery characters and Grandpa, science videos, student questions, and the lesson plan.

The 7 characters are ideal for a Jigsaw Teaching Strategy. Students choose a character and learn what that character has discovered.  After discussing that knowledge with other students studying the same character, all the characters meet to join their knowledge from all characters to complete the topic.  A screenshot of the COVID-19 Coronavirus LEARNING PAGE appears below.


Why are you telling a story about COVID-19?

The COVID-19 pandemic has created enormous disruption in our children’s’ lives. But there is a spectacular positive outcome of the pandemic that has created a wonderful teachable moment for them. It is the introduction of the first ever genetically engineered vaccines, the mRNA vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer. As stated by the co-founder of Moderna when he was told that the vaccine was 95% effective in defeating the virus in the clinical trials: “It was a bad day for viruses. There was a sudden shift in the evolutionary balance between what human technology can do and what viruses can do. We may never have a pandemic again.”

In the Race to the Big Bang book, the characters describe shooting videos about the infection and the mRNA vaccines. TheBeamer team produced those videos which are on our STARDUST MYSTERY YouTube Channel. Our video Explaining COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines: An Animated Story for Kids, shows how the vaccine gets our bodies’ factories to produce the non-infectious protein spikes that appear on the virus’s surface as a means of inducing immunity to the whole virus.  This revolutionary advance which promises cures for cancer  and other diseases presents a wonderful teachable moment for our children to learn about viruses, bacteria, vaccines, RNA, messenger RNA, DNA, genetic codes, genetic engineering, and cell biology.

Our Covid-19 Coronavirus LEARNING PAGE includes videos, eight illustrated short stories told by our characters, student questions and a lesson plan. There are three transmedia stories that explain how our bodies’ cell factories work using instructions encoded in messenger RNA (mRNA): 1. How they normally produce needed substances; 2. how they are hijacked by the COVID-19 coronavirus to produce disease; and 3. How they are utilized by the mRNA vaccines to produce the coronavirus spike proteins that induce immunity. The Billion Year Old Scissors story explains the fascinating history of the CRISPR gene-editing tools.

What stories do you tell about the History of Planet Earth?

The MissionKT video game and companion videos and short stories take place in the era of the Last T-Rex, just before an asteroid hit the earth and wiped out the land dinosaurs. Mission KT follows the four-member CREW of the Cosmic Egg (time, space, and size-change travel ship) as they visit the dinosaur extinction era to find out how much STARDUST (atoms) they inherited from the Last T-Rex and other dinosaurs. They are in the Cosmic Egg when the killer asteroid hits the earth. They return to Earth to learn why the land dinosaurs died and why some species survived.

Players learn about the size and number of atoms in their body, and how their atoms have been recycled and inherited from plants and animals that lived before them. Through these transmedia stories they also learn how objects are made of different combinations of atoms that result in different object properties.

Transmedia storytelling Episode 1 Mission KT

In The Race to the Big Bang book, the Cosmic Explorer team of Lizzy, Milo, Jackson, Johari, VC, Neddy, and Richie need to build a space station to use at 7 billion years ago as they travel back in time to the Big Bang.  They come up with the clever idea of finding a planet that has the right temperature and duplicating the events that made planet Earth habitable. They redirect comets to crash into their planet for water. They distribute cyanobacteria that they collected from earth to create an oxygen atmosphere for their planet, and they plant seeds for vegetation that will provide them food.

An unintended consequence of their actions is that giant bugs have taken over the planet when they return on their race to the Big Bang.  They have created an experiment in Darwin’s concept of Survival of the Fittest.  The small bugs accidently brought to the planet with the seeds have grown large in the higher oxygen atmosphere of their new planet home and with the absence of the bird predators that keep them limited in size back on Earth.

Screenshot Stardust

Why do you think these transmedia stories are a good way for children to learn science?

My aim is to spark a child’s interest in science during their late elementary and middle school years while they are still curious. There are many fascinating science stories, like the creation of the universe in the Big Bang, the formation of our atoms in the explosive death of stars, or the asteroid that hit the earth to change the course of evolution. I believe relating the basic narratives in a simple way are interesting enough to draw children to science. Once their interest is kindled, they may be motivated to learn the mathematics and the rigorous descriptions that make these stories into real science.