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Earth Science Week 2012
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REEL Science Communication Contest
Ginger Butcher challenges students to share their video production talents
October 23, 2012
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Ginger Butcher, Education and Public Outreach lead for NASA’s Aura Mission.
Ginger Butcher is Education and Public Outreach lead for NASA’s Aura Mission. Credit: Robin Wright.

When I was in high school, I loved film. I spent hours in the darkroom experimenting with effects and days creating stop motion clay animation. Today, I am astonished at how much exposure we all have to media. In an age of 24-hour news cycles, video streaming to cell phones, video blogs, and the increased use of video clips in the classroom, students are consuming media almost continuously. One recent study found that 8- to 18-year-old students consume media 10 hours and 45 minutes a day! Perhaps some of those hours could be converted into creating content as opposed to consuming content.

Ginger’s drawings for the Echo the Bat book being compared to the press proofs during the print production process. Credit: Ginger Butcher.
Ginger’s drawings for the Echo the Bat book being compared to the press proofs during the print production process. Credit: Ginger Butcher.
One of the most challenging and exciting parts of my job is to dream-up creative ways to explain complex science concepts to kids. In my early days at NASA, I wrote “The Adventure of Echo the Bat” – a children’s book which introduces satellite imagery interpretation to early elementary students. This was a unique opportunity to blend my storytelling, science, and drawing talents. The story is also part of a website for middle school students and focuses on more complex concepts, like false-color satellite imagery and the electromagnetic spectrum.

Excited students pet Echo the Bat at a puppet show in the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Visitor’s Center. Credit: NASA.
Excited students pet Echo the Bat at a puppet show in the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Visitor’s Center. Credit: NASA.
This story was so popular and effective, I even got to write and produce a puppet show about Echo. Children loved the character and were eager to follow the shapes, patterns, and textures in satellite images to help Echo find his way home. Engaging young children in science was such an intensely rewarding experience that I went on to design a flash-animated website about a Pigeon to teach the abstract concepts involved in satellite interpretation. As a result, kindergarten students were actually able to identify features in satellite imagery.

NASA’s Tour of the Electromagnetic Spectrum – Book and DVD – with awards. Credit: Ginger Butcher.
NASA’s Tour of the Electromagnetic Spectrum – Book and DVD – with awards. Credit: Ginger Butcher.
My career then took me to NASA headquarters where I approached communicating NASA science from a broader perspective. I used the electromagnetic spectrum as a framework to understand science from across all the science missions at NASA. I wrote several scripts for videos about the Electromagnetic Spectrum. The opportunity to work with amazing graphic designers and talented 3D animators opened a whole new palette for communicating science at NASA. This work also turned into a print book that has become popular with middle school students to college students. I loved every aspect of this project from the research and storyboarding to the teamwork and creativity.

Now I want to go further. I want to share the exciting aspects of my job by challenging students to develop videos to communicate NASA science. I am still fascinated by video - it is an incredible medium to work with and communicate. A recent Neilson Group study reveals that user-generated content is the 3rd most popular genre of video consumption for teens. The REEL Science Communication Contest invites high school students to create content for middle school kids. I hope that this opportunity will challenge students to get creative combining NASA imagery and visualizations with their own content (sock puppets, animation, and video effects) to excite young student in NASA science. It has been a rewarding experience for me, and I hope I can share this excitement with students.

Entries are due by Feb. 15, 2013. See http://aura.gsfc.nasa.gov/reelscience for more information. Winning videos will be posted on NASA’s website. Winners will get to work with NASA scientists and communications staff to produce an earth science feature video in July 2013.

Post by Ginger Butcher, Education and Public Outreach lead for NASA’s Aura Mission.

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