Note: Through the end of this month, Glendon Mellow and I will be teaming up with researcher Paige Brown Jarreau to collect data about who reads science blogs and why. If you've ever had an interest in citizen science, now's your chance to participate! More details at the end of the post. -KM

One of the best challenges in science communication is dumbing things down juuuuust right. Wait, what?! Ok, ok, I don't really believe that what I do is dumbing things down. Far from it, my challenge is to find the simplest representation of a concept that remains true to the facts but avoids complexity that might turn off or confuse my intended audience. This is always an immense challenge, and one that I thoroughly enjoy.

This summer I had the pleasure of teaching a week-long summer camp for 3rd through 5th graders on science illustration. I was fairly confident that the actual nuts and bolts of an accurate and intricate science illustration would be too much for them. Plus, the age range of my campers was sufficiently large to virtually guarantee a wide range of abilities. So how could I introduce science illustration without losing the core of what we do? How could I pave a wide enough path in each lesson so that everyone would leave the camp having learned something interesting and relevant? I decided to teach how communicating science can be a lot like telling a good story, and with a nifty little book you can fold out of a piece of computer paper, you can create a science “zine” (short for “magazine”),** much like a short comic book.

Knowing my students would never have encountered science zines before, I printed some up from the Small Science Collective for them to read and color. Then I went through the process of making my own zines to illuminate the process, from start to finish, of coming up with an idea, mapping out the 8 pages in text form, incorporating images into the text, and then finalizing the booklets. The kids loved the results, and came away with the idea that communicating science can be creative, fun, wacky and wonderful. Although I can't share the fruits of their labor with you, I had such a good time making the example zines that I'd like to share them here. 

So today's zine is called A Tree Is Born. Inspired by the bumper crop of maple seedlings that sprouted in our yard this year, I created this zine to show my students how we could communicate visually, without much text at all, and still tell an effective story. It turned out to be a good choice because the other zine I'll post later in the week was about zombie ants who get consumed from the inside out by an insidious fungus. It totally freaked my 3rd-grade camper out, so I had to shelf it, at least for the class. Whoops.

I've modified A Tree Is Born for our blog format, but feel free to download it in pdf form and print & fold it into your own nifty little zine following these directions (courtesy of Small Science Collective).

** Hat tip to David Clarke for introducing me to the science zines in an excellent talk he gave in 2014 at the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators' annual conference on sequential illustration in science. David, you've created a monster!

SciAm & Symbiartic blog readers, let's get our Citizen Science on! For the next two weeks, we’ve teamed up with researcher Paige Brown Jarreau -- author of the blog From the Lab Bench -- to gather information about who reads our blog and why. By participating, you’ll be helping us improve Symbiartic and contribute to SCIENCE on blog readership. As a thank you for your time, you'll get FREE science art from Paige's Photography for participating, as well as a chance to win a $50.00 Amazon gift card (100 available, or guaranteed 2 per specific blog included in this survey) or a T-shirt. It should only take 10-15 minutes to complete. You can find the survey here: Thanks in advance for participating!