Teaching With Science Comics

This is a fantastic resource from School Library Journal’s June 2017 issue.  “Teaching with Science Comics” examines the ways that comics and graphic novels can be used to share science and includes a list for recommended reading.  I’ve already added a few books to my next book order!

“Human beings are a storytelling species,” says Yang. “Our brains crave stories. They are the easiest way for us to receive and remember information.”

Source: Teaching With Science Comics

The Curious Creative- An E-Newsletter by Jess Keating

Science communication is one of my passions and as an English teacher at a STEM school it’s an important skill my students need to learn.  I’m always looking for ways to have my students practice communicating about complex science topics in a fun way (you can see a sample here). These projects can’t be done until I share mentor texts with my students, though.  We don’t always have the time or budget to add whole-class nonfiction books to our curriculum so articles and magazines are my go-to source for science communication mentor texts. I’m always adding links and PDFs to my bookmarks!

A few weeks ago, author Jess Keating posted an exciting new mentor text on Facebook.

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How awesome is this?  I immediately subscribed and started thinking about how my students could create their own e-zines to communicate science.  My biology colleague and I do an interdisciplinary magazine project at the beginning of each year and I can’t wait to share The Curious Creative with students as a mentor text.  What I love about this text is that it’s concise, engaging, and eye-catching.  So much of communication these days is done online so it’s vital that our students learn to communicate well in this medium. I also struggle to help my students write concisely so this newsletter looks like  a great way to model the power of concise writing.

Be sure to subscribe by emailing jesskeatingbooks@gmail.com and writing SUBSCRIBE in the subject line.  You won’t be disappointed!

Literature and the Land: Reading and Writing for Environmental Literacy by Emma Rous

512B48BZV4L._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgHeinemann is one of my favorite educational presses and I buy a lot of their books; I thought I had a good handle on their backlist.  Then, about a year ago, someone mentioned to me that they had published a guide to nature writing in the English class a few years ago.  A bit of digging let me to Literature and the Land: Reading and Writing for Environmental Literacy by Emma Rous.  

I’m not sure if the book is still in print but there are definitely used copies available (that’s how I got a copy).  If it’s not still in print I certainly wish they would bring it back!  Emma Rous, an English teacher in New England, shares her amazing ideas for integrating nature into English class in this book and it’s perfect for our new CCSS/NGSS-centered teaching world.

When I read the book the first time I was constantly stopping to flag pages.  Today, it’s on a special (easy to reach) shelf in my classroom and it’s one of my most-used resources.  Often teachers tell me they want to get their students outside and they want to collaborate with their science colleagues but they just don’t know how to do it.  This book solves that problem.  Full of practical ideas that teachers can implement immediately in their classroom, Literature and the Land: Reading and Writing for Environmental Literacy by Emma Rous. is a must-have resource for any teacher who wants students to value nature.  There are book lists, writing assignment ideas, project-based learning ideas, and much more within the pages of this book.  I highly recommend tracking down a copy from a used book source.  It’s my favorite professional resource right now!

Coyote Moon: Using the Thesis Machine to Practice Drafting Thesis Statements from Informational Text

Lesson can be found on the Lesson Plans page and here


The lesson linked above is designed for middle/high school English classes (grades 6-12).  Specifically, it is designed for use with my 9th grade honors English class.  This interdisciplinary lesson will help students learn more about a hybridized species in their own backyard, providing the opportunity to learn more about this species that is still evolving.   The lesson plan uses Maria Gianferrari’s picture book Coyote Moon, a short video, and an article from The New York Times to help teaches guide students through the thesis drafting process using the thesis machine.  If you are not familiar with the thesis machine (developed by Sheridan Baker in his college composition book, The Practical Stylist) it is a fantastic step-by-step process to help students compose more complex thesis statements before writing an essay or paper.  

Why coyotes?  Because they are fascinating and controversial: perfect for engaging students! The eastern coyote (canis latrans) is defined by USDA Wildlife Services as the coyote species that resides east of the Mississippi River and east of Canada’s Hudson Bay, areas that coyotes did not inhabit prior to European settlement (Mastro, Gese, Young, & Shivik, 2012).  Once extirpated from many parts of the United States by European settlers who viewed them as a dangerous threat, coyotes have expanded their geographical range exponentially over the past century (Kays, Curtis, & Kirchman,  2010). Unlike many other species, the eastern coyote has responded to human pressure by expanding both its range and population size (Prugh, Ripple, Laliberte, Brashares, Stoner, Epps, & Bean, 2009). The eastern coyote is now found in many states east of the Mississippi. In fact, they are one of the region’s top predators; they took the place of extirpated apex predators like wolves and mountain lions (Kays, Gompper, & Ray, 2008). New Jersey is home to a thriving coyote population today. Coyotes were first spotted in New Jersey in 1939 and over the past seventy five years the species has moved into all twenty-one counties and over 400 municipalities, per the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (McBride, 2006).  Due to this, residents of the northeast are faced with dealing with a species previous generations had no experience with (Gompper, 2002).

The eastern coyote is a fascinating species because scientists believe it is a hybrid species, the result of breeding between different species resulting in a new species. Speciation, or the creation of a new species from two original taxa, is a benefit of hybridization (Todesco et al., 2016).  Hybrid speciation is a relatively rare occurrence because barriers, including fitness and genetics, tend to block the creation of successful new species (Todesco et al., 2016). Recent genetic tests by vonHoldt, et al. show that eastern coyotes are a mix of three species: coyote, wolf and dog (2011). While some may view this hybridization as a negative, in the case of the eastern coyote hybridization most likely enhances the adaptive potential of both species, allowing eastern coyotes to more effectively exploit available resources (Kyle et al., 2006). This evolution, which has been occurring for at least a century, is being closely watched by biologists. The eastern coyote’s expanded habitat distribution includes adaptations that allow the species to thrive in the fragmented urban and exurban ecosystems of the northeast. Western coyotes are associated with deserts and grasslands but the hybridized eastern coyote can be found in eastern forests, suburban neighborhoods, and urban parks (Weckel, Bogan, Burke, Nagy, Siemer, Green, & Mitchell, 2015). 

Coyote Moon: Using the Thesis Machine to Practice Drafting Thesis Statements from Informational Text (Grades 6-12)





Gompper, M. (2002). Top carnivores in the suburbs? Ecological and conservation issues raised by colonization of north-eastern North America by coyotes. Bioscience, 52(2), Retrieved from http://ufwildlife.ifas.ufl.edu/pdfs/Gompper%202002%20Top%20carnivores%20in%20the%20suburbs.pdf

Kays, R., Curtis, A., & Kirchman, J. (2010). Rapid adaptive evolution of northeastern coyotes via hybridization with wolves. Biology Letters, 6(1), 89–93. http://doi.org.proxy.lib.miamioh.edu/10.1098/rsbl.2009.0575

Kays, R., Gompper, M., & Ray, J. (2008). Landscape ecology of eastern coyotes based on large-scale estimates of abundance. Ecological Applications, 18(4), 1014-1027. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.proxy.lib.miamioh.edu/stable/40062206

Kyle, C., Johnson A., Patterson B., Wilson P., Shami K., Grewal S., & White, B. (2006). Genetic nature of eastern wolves: past, present, and future. Conservation Genetics. (7). Retrieved from http://canadianfieldnaturalist.ca.proxy.lib.miamioh.edu/index.php/cfn/article/view/1400/1394

Mastro, L., Gere, E., Young, J., Shivik, J.  (2011). Coyote (Canis latrans), 100+ Years in the East: A literature review. Addendum to the Proceedings of the 14th Wildlife Damage Management Conference. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2533&context=icwdm_usdanwrc

Prugh, L., Ripple, W., Laliberte, A., Brashares, J., Stoner, C., Epps, C., & Bean, W.. (2009). The Rise of the Mesopredator [electronic resource]. Bioscience, 59(9), 779-791.

Todesco, M., Pascual, M., Owens, G., Ostevik, K., Moyers, B., Hübner, S., & Rieseberg, L. (2016). Hybridization and extinction. Evolutionary Applications, 9(7), 892-908. doi:10.1111/eva.12367

vonHoldt, B. M., Pollinger, J. P., Earl, D. A., Knowles, J. C., Boyko, A. R., Parker, H., & … Wayne, R. K. (2011). A genome-wide perspective on the evolutionary history of enigmatic wolf-like canids. Genome Research, 21(8), 1294-1305. doi:10.1101/gr.116301.110

Weckel, M., Bogan, D., Burke, R. Nagy, C., Siemer, W., Green, T., & Mitchell, N. (2015) Coyotes go “bridge and tunnel”: A narrow opportunity to study the socio-ecological impacts of coyote range expansion on Long Island, NY pre- and post-Arrival. Cities and the Environment (CATE), 8(1)., Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/cate/vol8/iss1/5

A Great Resource for Lesson Plans

Are you familiar with The New York Times Learning Network blog? Since 1998 they posted lesson plans, writing prompts, student contests, news quizzes, and much more based on articles and multimedia from The New York Times. All articles referenced on the blog are free, not behind a paywall, and new content is added daily during the school year.  I am a freelance contributor to the blog but I am also an avid user of the blog.

The blog contributors and editors do a great job developing lesson plans and they are often interdisciplinary.  I love that they are simple and easy to present.  I love to use the lesson plans as my emergency sub plans because they are high quality and can be led by someone who does not have a lot of background knowledge.

I’ve used many of the lessons on the blog so I can recommend the following for use in secondary classrooms looking to bring science topics into the English classroom:

These are just a few of the many, many lesson plans available from The Learning Network.  The resources available through the blog are practically endless and each lesson plan has many extensions and cross-curricular ideas.  Spend some time this summer browsing the site!

The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science

51VP9aDb4SL._SX348_BO1,204,203,200_The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science: Poems for the School Year Integrating Science, Reading, and Language Arts by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong is aimed at grades K-5 but can definitely be adapted for secondary students, too.  Available in a student and teacher edition, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science includes poems by 78 poets about topics in science. Topics range from science fairs to biology to physics to chemistry and everything in between.

While the book is aimed at K-5 students and teachers I have used the poems as mentor texts for my high school students.  Poetry is often intimidating for my students as they believe it must be deep and life-changing.  Sometimes, poetry is just a great way to stretch your brain and think about topics in a new way.  The poems in this collection do just that!  I’ve shared poems with students and then challenged them to write poems about what they are currently studying in science.  One student now writes rhymes to help himself study for science tests!

The teacher’s edition includes lesson plan ideas in the form of Take 5!

The “Take 5” Mini-lesson for every poem includes 5 steps:
#1: Here you will find an easy suggestion for how to make the poem come alive as
you read it aloud by pairing the poem with a prop, adding gestures or movement, trying
out specific dramatic reading techniques, adding multi-media, and so on.
#2: This tip suggests how to engage students in participating with you in reading the
poem aloud again. For example, look for any repeated words, phrases, lines, or stanzas
in the poem and invite students to chime in on those words as you read the rest of the
poem aloud.
#3: You’ll find a fun discussion prompt here, tailored to Nit the poem. It’s usually an
open- ended question with no single, correct answer. Encourage diversity in responses!
#4: Here we connect the poem to a specific science skill or concept offering a
targeted focus for quick explanation,simple demonstration, or a multi-media connection.
#5: We share related poem titles and book titles that connect well with the featured
poem based on the poem content or science topic.
This PDF from the publisher includes more information.

I highly recommend this book for students and teachers of all grade levels. The poems can be used in science or English class and because they support the Common Core Standards and Next Generation Science Standards they are easy to adapt to the curriculum in any class.

Bringing Science into English Class

I’m often asked, “But how do you have time to talk about science in your English class?”  This usually baffles me, likely because I love science and see it everywhere. I can’t imagine not incorporating science into my curriculum!  As an English teacher, I have the ability to share books, articles, films, podcasts, and more with my students.  My high schoolers love to debate so science topics are an easy go-to for me. We’ve read about (and debated) reintroducing mountain lions to our state, the importance of national parks, and development vs. preservation. We’ve read polemics, poems, and prose. We’ve written polemics, poems, and prose.

One way that I incorporate science into my English class is through nonfiction articles.  Many English teachers have adopted Kelly Gallagher’s Article of the Week and I’m no different.  However, I am lucky enough to have a newspaper subscription for my classes each day.  My students and I read The New York Times every day (you can read a bit about there here or watch a webinar I participated in) so that gives me a lot of opportunities to bring science into the classroom.  We read about environmental issues, scientific discoveries, and any other science news.  A personal favorite is anything about teenage brain development because my students and I read Romeo & Juliet through the lens of adolescent brain development.

I also collaborate with my biology colleague whenever possible.  We designed the 9th grade summer reading list together, focusing on creating a long list of fiction and nonfiction books that incorporate science in some way. The 9th graders also participate in One Class, One Read: The Forest Unseen by David Haskell. The book is a collection of essays so it’s approachable for students at different levels.  It also allows us to take a closer look at certain entries throughout the year without needing to dive into the book in depth.  It’s one of my favorite books and I love sharing it with students.

Do you incorporate science topics into your English class?  I’d love to hear some of your ideas, too!