A friend recently turned me on to a really cool website: UntamedScience.com. Untamed Science is a group of scientist/filmmakers (“Ecogeeks” in their own words) who create short, educational science videos for young audiences. When I started watching some of the videos on their website, I loved the dynamic, in-your-face approach they took. After watching a few more videos, I realized that one of their on-camera hosts looked really familiar. And when I thought about it some more, I made the connection: Suzanne Rutishauser was a long-lost friend from the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab, where we both worked in the summer of 2004. I chatted with Suzanne last week about Untamed Science.
Untamed Science is currently focusing on producing educational videos for Pearson Education, the largest science textbook publisher in the United States. A few years ago, Suzanne and her colleagues had put several of their “small-scale, kind of low-budget” videos online. Pearson found them and liked what they saw: “We were approached by [Pearson Education] to put together a series of high school biology videos,” Suzanne says. They did just that (the videos launched officially in 2009), and the partnership apparently worked quite well: Suzanne adds, “Untamed Science [has] actually replaced the Discovery Channel as the primary film producers for Pearson Education.”
Why was Pearson Education so impressed? Because the Untamed Science videos were successful at communicating to kids. “It’s all meant to be very adventure-science based, so if we want to talk about the alpine biome, you can be sure that one of the Ecogeeks will be out there snowboarding… and then we stop to think, well what’s going on around us? What are the organisms that live here? What makes this biome the way it is? …The idea is to show kids that when they’re out doing the things that they love to do, there’s the natural world around them.” And it’s not just the content that’s engaging, it’s also the production. “[Kids] are used to fast cuts, MTV-style editing, and that’s really what we strive to achieve. Something that’s not going to be boring… The length of it is important too; the videos are meant to be a springboard for further discussion in the classroom… We’re mostly meant to be the hook.”
Science teachers have been very positive about the Untamed Science videos that accompany Pearson’s science textbooks. Suzanne is finishing up her Masters degree in tropical plant ecology at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, so she knows firsthand how visual media, and video in particular, can help teach science: “Maybe people’s minds are wandering, or maybe they’re looking at their phones… people are distracted, but as soon as you turn on a video, it’s just instant: people’s eyes are glued to whatever screen it’s coming from, and they’re interested! So it’s really a way to captivate people, and once you have that audience, you have such a great platform for teaching.”
One aspect of the Untamed Science website that’s particularly neat is that you can register on the site and become an Ecogeek yourself, whether you’re a student, teacher, scientist, or just a nature lover. Members can post their own nature and science images and videos, and the Untamed Science crew even provides some valuable guidance on producing your own videos. Rather than just provide content, Untamed Science is empowering others to be creative and explore their worlds. Suzanne says, “It’s one thing to be an armchair enthusiast about the things that we’re doing and the places that we go, but it’s another thing for people to take ownership of their own backyard and say, ‘What’s out here?’ and ‘What’s cool about where I live and what’s around me?’” I couldn’t agree more.
I encourage you to check out the site for yourself. It’s well organized and there’s a lot of content to explore. Who knows – maybe you’ll even start calling yourself an Ecogeek!