A comic-based conservation lesson plan diversifies middle school student conceptions of scientists


  • Claire Meaders University of California, San Diego
  • Jaye C. Gardiner Fox Chase Cancer Center
  • Samantha Wynns Cabrillo National Monument
  • Sankalp Nigam University of California
  • Jillian Harris Xavier University of Louisiana




Draw-a-scientist, middle school, biology, place-based learning, scientist stereotypes


Role model interventions that are tied to place based-learning and classroom curricula may be effective tools for promoting diversity in STEM. To evaluate this premise, we developed a sixth-grade lesson plan that focused on teaching environmental conservation and highlighting diverse women in science. Our curricula used a three-touch educational model consisting of comic-based lesson plans, a local “field trip” to Cabrillo National Monument, trading cards featuring 19 diverse women scientists, and a conservation capstone poster presentation - all aligned to Next Generation Science Standards - to create a meaningful experiential and project-based module. To evaluate the program, we used a mixed-methods, change over time model, including the Draw-a-Scientist test (DAST) to assess if student perceptions of scientists were altered from the curricula. Overall, thirty-three students completed the DAST before and after participation, and we found that science stereotypes held by students decreased after participation in the lesson plan. By using innovative tools such as art and comics for science education/outreach that feature characters representing a diverse array of scientists with intersectional identities, educators can help shift student perceptions on who can be a scientist, potentially increasing diversity in scientific fields. 

Author Biographies

Claire Meaders, University of California, San Diego

Assistant Teaching Professor

Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, School of Biological Sciences, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA

Jaye C. Gardiner, Fox Chase Cancer Center

Postdoctoral Fellow

Cancer Signaling and Epigenetics, Fox Chase Cancer Center, 333 Cottman Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19111, USA

Samantha Wynns, Cabrillo National Monument

Science Educator

Cabrillo National Monument, 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Drive, San Diego, CA 92106, USA

Sankalp Nigam, University of California

Undergraduate student

School of Biological Sciences, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA

Jillian Harris, Xavier University of Louisiana

Undergraduate student

Department of Biology, Xavier University of Louisiana, 1 Drexel Drive, New Orleans, LA 70125, USA


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How to Cite

Meaders, C., Gardiner, J., Wynns, S., Nigam, S., & Harris, J. (2023). A comic-based conservation lesson plan diversifies middle school student conceptions of scientists. Journal of Research in STEM Education, 9(1), 20–45. https://doi.org/10.51355/jstem.2023.127