After a hacking scandal and a two-year hiatus, Lindsey Murphy’s children’s science web series is back
By RAISA HABERSHAM
There are few shows on television that specifically cater to children’s science interests, outside of the Public Broadcasting Station and its local affiliates.
So, it’s no wonder STEM supporters pulled together to raise more than $12,000 through a crowdfunding campaign on indiegogo for the third season of “The Fab Lab with Crazy Aunt Lindsey,” the first science or STEM educational series to feature an African-American woman.
Lindsey Murphy, who plays the title role, created the series to better engage children she babysat and to help them with their science homework. Support received from the crowdfund campaign came as a surprise for the Portland-based writer, she said, as it had been two years since the show produced an episode.
In 2012, Murphy attempted to raise $12,000 for season 2, but received less than $2,000. This time was different, she said, because of timing and all the conditions were in place for it to happen.
“I am so thankful and appreciative and I’m really ready to get back to it. Two years has been a tough process,” Murphy said. “It’s a weird feeling you get when you’re walking home from the grocery story and you have 50 bags and some stranger comes and helps you carry them to your door. A lot of people that gave don’t even have children, or are teachers.”
The online series, which has more than 40,000 YouTube views and nearly 600 subscribers, is a unique mix of quirky fun rolled into a do-it-yourself show featuring Murphy and her babysitting clients. The projects are condensed into no more than 10 minute webisodes that not only teach children science facts and terms, but shows them how to apply what they’ve learned.
Following its launch in 2009, the series garnered widespread support from several organizations, including Scientific American’s Bring Science Home initiative and the New York Academy of Sciences. Last year, Boing Boing featured an episode of “Crazy Aunt Lindsey” on its homepage, which breathed new life into the series.
Ironically, Murphy doesn’t have a background in the sciences herself, but was interested in them as a child and can identify with students who struggle to grasp the subject matter. Science, she said, is often taught in dry, angular ways.
“I believe this is why students think science is hard and why there may not be as many scientists as there could be,” she added. “My job in the short period of time I was a babysitter was to get kids to see homework, and science specifically, in a different way.”
Despite her passion, and the support the web series received, Murphy nearly gave up two years ago when her website was hacked. Three years worth of her life’s work was lost. Living in New York with babysitting as her only steady means of income, Murphy, who self-funded the show, ran out of money to support it.
“It was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Murphy said about the hacking incident. “We were working to make the show happen and get content up. I woke up before getting ready for a meeting with a potential investor and couldn’t access the website.”
Murphy moved back to New Jersey to live with her parents and found a job at a bakery.
Danielle Lee, a biologist, outreach scientist and writer for Scientific American,
discovered The Fab Lab in 2011 when Murphy was a contributor for the magazine’s online blog. Lee eventually convinced Murphy to relaunch “The Fab Lab with Crazy Aunt Lindsey.”
“This show is immensely important, not only because it offers science and math related lessons, but also because it is so much fun and entertaining,” said Lee, who donated $250 to the crowdfund campaign. “The last program I recall with live participation about science and math was Mr. Wizard’s World. Today’s generation of intermediate school students, grades 3 to 6, have “The Fab Lab with Crazy Aunt Lindsey” and it’s funny, hands-on and a joy to watch.”
Lee said the web series is also important in helping to increase the number of girls and women in science.
“If you ask the average girl who are her science heroes, few can name a woman or a black woman,” Lee said. “I want to change that and I think Lindsey is one of several for black women. I refuse to not make room for the other black women like me.”
According to a report in toast.net, the number of girls choosing to study STEM subjects before enrolling in college is slowly increasing but further problems appear higher up the career ladder. In Great Britain, for example, only about 6% of physics professors are female, with this figure rising to about 14% in the U.S.
Many young people respond to seeing people who look like them, especially within STEM communities, Lee said.
“Audiences are way overdue for seeing diverse experts and hosts of educational and science-related programming,” she continued. “I appreciate that “Aunt Lindsey” features different ‘assistant professors’ in The Fab Lab for each episode. The kids are the stars and she features a diverse line up of beautiful bright faces.”
Half the money from Murphy’s crowdfund campaign will allow her to hire a video editor and the remaining amount will cover marketing and equipment costs. She received donated studio space in New York to complete season three; previous seasons were shot on location in the homes of some of Murphy’s babysitting clients.
She also hopes to create limited edition kits, have story times via skype and travel to a classroom and have a fab lab experience. Her long term goal is to bring “Crazy Aunt Lindsey” to PBS or Saturday morning television.
“I want to build audience support,” she said. “Do parents find this useful? Do kids want to watch this kind of content? Is this something that the world watches? I want it to find an audience organically,” Murphy said. “I would love for it to be on TV, but if it’s not something that people think is awesome, then I’ll move on to something that is also needed in the world.”
Over the next three months, Murphy intends on rebuilding the website from scratch and will focus on editing new episodes of “Crazy Aunt Lindsey” in time for January 2015.