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Duquesne professor creates 'Scientastic!' show for PBS

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Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2010
 

When Leah's best friend, Habiba, falls and breaks her arm at soccer practice, Leah, just 12, is determined to learn everything she can to help Habiba, and the resourceful girl takes the initiative.

"How can I help her bone heal, and help her gain confidence while Habiba is recovering?"

"What are bones, anyway, and how do they heal?"

These are questions for which Leah seeks answers by interviewing doctors, and officials from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the National Aviary.

Leah -- in real life, actress Lili Reinhart of the Cleveland area -- plays the lead role of the pilot episode of "Scientastic!", a creation of John Pollock, a Duquesne University biology professor. The commercial-free, half-hour episode, "Sticks and Stones," will air for the first time Thursday on WQED-TV.

Pollock hopes many more episodes -- ideally, at least a season of 13 to 26 -- will follow.

"It's a television show aimed at children and families with the goal of showing how fun and accessible science is," he says. "We're using a live-action show, so there are real kids taking on the roles. They're actually interviewing real scientists and experts each week."

The show, via Leah, should inspire young people -- mostly in late elementary and middle school -- to show initiative while seeking knowledge, like going to the library, and going to experts to ask them questions directly.

"Nowadays, if a kid or even an adult has questions, probably the first response is going to be to Google it," Pollock says. "I want to show people that there's another way."

In "Sticks and Stones," viewers will learn about the anatomy and physiology of bones. They also will get a lesson about how to deal with bullying in a constructive way. Mean girls on the soccer team pick on Habiba, and express joy that she is injured and off the team, because they are jealous of her, Pollock says.

"We take each of these concepts ... and weave it into a really fun storyline that's got some excitement, and a little bit of drama," Pollock says. "I hope that (viewers) will have fun with it, and that they'll want to see more."

"Scientastic!" uses mostly child actors and actresses from Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts school, including Joseph Serafini, 12, a Bethel Park native. He plays the role of Axel, Leah's pesky and inquisitive younger brother.

Future "Scientastic!" episodes subjects could include vaccines, and diet, nutrition, exercise and obesity, Pollock says. Although the pilot episode only is airing in Pittsburgh, American Public Television is looking at picking the show up and distributing it nationally, depending on the response. Leah's character would return as the lead in every episode, says Pollock, who says that "Scientastic!" reinforces girls' capabilities in science.

"Sticks and Stones" -- directed by Emmy-Award-winning Leo Eaton, who co-created and directs the PBS hit show "Zoboomafoo" -- is part of WQED's back-to-school programming. Pollock partnered with David Caldwell of Planet Earth Television to create "Scientastic!", which was funded by about $205,000 in grants from organizations including UPMC Health Plan, the U.S. Department of Education, Duquesne University and The Pittsburgh Foundation's William K. Fitch Fund.

Additional Information:

'Scientastic!'

The program will air several times Thursday through Tuesday on WQED-TV. The pilot episode, 'Sticks and Stones,' will air at 8 and 8:30 p.m. Thursday; 4:30 p.m. Friday; noon, 12:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday; and 5 p.m. Tuesday. Details: Website .

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