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Romance, Weight Loss, Intrigue—In Science, Technology & Mathematics Textbooks?
by Dr. Merle Marsh, 12/07/11

When I was sent a review copy of The Manga Guide to Biochemistry, I took one look at it and wondered what it was. Actually, it was a science text like none I'd ever seen, and it looked more inviting than any I'd ever seen. That was because it was a comic book-a 250+ page comic book. I'm not into comic books, even classic comics, and biochemistry isn't exactly a subject that attracts me. Nevertheless, I was drawn to this book, which focused upon a high school girl's desire to lose five pounds. I'd like to lose five pounds, too, so I started reading. I learned about the biogeochemical cycle, HDL and LDL, triacylglycerol, amino acids, blood types ... all through cartoons and diagrams.

When I showed the book to other educators and parents, there were mixed reactions to it. Just a look at the cover, which brings on memories of the Pokémon craze, turned the traditionalists off, but others said it looked like fun, not a textbook. Everyone, however, wanted to browse through it. I wondered if these adults would pick up a traditional biology or chemistry book to browse? Just the fact that adults wanted to look at it (perhaps because they couldn't believe it), made me think that high school students would appreciate the approach.

Information about the book says that it can be used as a textbook or supplementary source. Students involved in a traditional study of biology or biochemistry might like to have this book at home to help them better understand concepts. Teachers could certainly use it for enrichment, review of topics covered, projects based upon the book, and ideas to enhance their lessons, even if they didn't use it as the official course text.

The book teaches by creating a story in which science is needed to solve problems. The weight loss problem is investigated through explanations of what happens inside the body like photosynthesis, respiration, and chemical reactions. Students learn about "the metabolic processes that turn our food into energy, and the enzymes that catalyze our bodies chemical reactions."

In addition to biochemistry, Manga offers guides to calculus, electricity, relativity, the universe, molecular biology, databases, linear algebra, physics, and statistics. Prices range from $19.95-$24.95. Digital downloads are available if printed copies are purchased.

I think it's worth taking a look at these books, for they are unique and interesting. Scientific Computing, calls the Manga Guides, "Stimulus for the next generation of scientists" and an article in the American Journal of Physics recommends the physics guide for all teachers of introductory physics.

Does it really matter what a textbook looks like if it can turn students on to the STEM subjects? If it can make them to want to read about biochemistry, learn calculus or get excited about statistics, I'm all for it.

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