Yep, the study of zits, poops, farts and that really smelly stuff that grows under your toenails. Ewwww!

But all in the name of good science education.

Imagine for a moment a teacher standing in front of a class of 12-year olds, trying to keep them interested in the digestive system and the processes involved in the intestinal tract. Yawn.

Now imagine the same teacher in front of the same students talking about poops, farts, puking and burping.

Right! the second teacher has a class full of fascinated kids, all keen to learn more, while the first one is going to struggle against a group of naughty kids at the back who think they're being clever to ask about poops and farts.

Grossology was invented in California (where else?) by Sylvia Branzei, a teacher of biological sciences at Whale Gulch school in Mendocino County, Calif. She realised in 1993 that children in the middle years like the gross stuff, and also that she could teach the science behind all that grossness. There are symbiotic bacteria in the gut which produce gas, which ends up as a fart. Zits are the skin trying to cleanse itself of excess oil and grease. Blood is wonderful stuff and behaves in really weird ways when you cut your skin, and the blood brings healing stuff to form a scab.

It turned into a book, and that turned into more books

  • Grossology
  • Animal Grossology
  • Grossology Begins at home
  • Virtual Grossology
  • Grossology and you

The books are illustrated by Jack Keely and the first book has been transformed into a SegaSoft computer game for Mac or PC. There are also plans for a TV series, available (apparently) on the Nickleodeon channel in the USA.

According to Branzei, standard text books are too dry and detached for many young people, but those same people are very interested in their own bodies and how they interact with the world around them. This, she said, was the inspiration behind the Grossology series.

Grossology students try to make some fake blood and then talk about whether it could be real, and why not, and the differences between real blood and fake. The same with saliva, and how it can start to digest food even while still in the mouth. Branzei says one of her most interesting experiments is to ask the children to count how many times they fart in a day. That leads on to discussions about what is a fart and what is not. Can you imagine doing that in your science class?

Sources New Scientist 22/29 December 2001

This piece written, formatted and edited in Dann's E2 offline scratchpad

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