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

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!

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!

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating

61a5rfrrftL._SY498_BO1,204,203,200_I love using picture books in my high school classes.  People often tilt their head and look at me with a concerned face when I mention this but picture books are a fantastic way to introduce mentor texts and complex topics in a single class period.  I often use picture books to inspire my students to think about nature and Jess Keating’s Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist  is the newest book I’m adding to my classroom pile.

A visit to the Battery Park Aquarium in New York City at age nine inspired Eugenie Clark’s obsession with sharks. She spent the rest of her life studying these fear-inspiring creatures even when she hit roadblocks.  Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist  is the inspiring story of a female scientist who broke through gender barriers to follow her passion and in the process helped dispel many myths about sharks.

I teach at a STEM-focused high school located near the Jersey Shore and I think Eugenie Clark’s story will inspire some of my students to pursue their passions.  Sharks are always a hot topic during beach season and many of my students still believe the myths about sharks that dominate pop culture.  Keating’s book can help my students learn more about the sharks that live off our coast (even though we like to pretend they are not there!) while also inspiring some of my female students to continue studying STEM. It’s so important for female students to see themselves in books about science and there is a sad lack of these stories told by major publishers.  Keating’s book fills a glaring hole in the picture book canon and I am hopeful that there will be more female scientist-focused picture books published in the future!

(Not sure about using picture books with secondary students?  Check out this post for some ideas).


Nature Writing and a Sense of Place- A Lesson Plan

Lesson plan can be found here.

According to researchers, over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas. This has resulted in a loss of feeling connected to the natural world (Miller, 2005). Teenagers are no exception.  Take a look at the teenagers you know;  it’s likely that technology dominates their lives.  Cell phones are great but they also mean an endless loop of alerts from Snapchat, Twitter, Tumblr, texts, and alarms. My own students spend very little time outside but admit to spending most of their time using technology. Can we harness this obsession with technology in a way that helps students connect with nature?

Research from the National Kids’ Survey suggests that by combining nature activities with technology teachers can help teens become interested in nature and more knowledgeable about local biodiversity (Larson, Green, & Cordell, 2011). In my experience, and that of many researchers, few teenagers can name species found in their own ecosystem (Adams, et al., 1987). They know a lot about elephants, lions, apes, and dolphins thanks to research projects in the primary grades but they can rarely recognize a catbird, fisher, bobcat, or piping plover.

As teachers, we can help students develop a connection with nature and local biodiversity by designing lessons that provide opportunities for students to interact with the natural world (Miller, 2005). Lesson plans that get students outside and engaged with their local environment can help to develop a more environmentally-aware public (McKinney, 2002). Positive experiences with nature are the primary factor in developing environmental concern in students (Wilson, 1997).

In the lesson linked above students investigate a species of flora/fauna found in their schoolyard and coupled with the classroom activities in biology they become more knowledgeable about local biodiversity.

In English class, this lesson occurs as part of a year-long unit of study. Students are encouraged to use nature to become better readers and writers while studying local biodiversity. Jose Caamaño points out that teachers are in a unique position to be allies of biodiversity and environmental change but that the burden can not fall to just science teachers (Caamaño, 2011).  Yucel and Ozkan (2015) found that students obtain the most environmental information from activities in the curriculum that allow them to be engaged in nature, specifically those that allow them to find a special place in their local area.

The first step in conservation is education and teachers have a responsibility to help students recognize and value the biodiversity that surrounds them. Menzel & Bogeholz (2010) find that helping students develop an appreciation for biodiversity is difficult but in their work they learned that teaching students to identify native plants in the school yard contributed to an appreciation for biodiversity (2010).  As Ramadoss & Poyya Moli (2011) and Wilson (2002) point out, the world is in the midst of a biodiversity crisis (or sixth extinction). Teachers of all subjects are being asked to adapt a conservation-minded approach to education with a focus on helping students connect to their local environment in order to appreciate the biodiversity in their immediate area (Ramadoss & Poyya Moli, 2011).  If students learn to recognize the abundance of species in their own environment perhaps they will value it more.  When biodiversity activities are practical and meaningful they have the potential to shape students’ attitudes towards biodiversity (Ramadoss & Poyya Moli, 2011). Collado, Corraliza, Staats, & Ruiz (2015) find in their cross-sectional study that “frequency of contact with nature” enhances adolescents’ pro-environmental behavior.

English teachers can use field studies, such as this one, as a means to get students outside and feeling connected to nature.  By investigating species found nearby students will become more knowledgeable about local biodiversity and can serve as advocates for the environment.  Prior to going outside, students will immerse themselves in nature writing such as David Haskell’s The Forest Unseen.  In this unit, students read Dr. Haskell’s book during the summer and reread selected portions before each field study.  The text is used as a mentor in both English and biology class.  During the first field experience students adopted a square meter of space as their mandala, an adaptation of Dr. Haskell’s inspiration for his book (Haskell, 2012). Students then write about their experiences and share their knowledge with their peers.  In this lesson students will write poetry and/or prose about the eco-art they create.  That writing will be shared with the wider school community via a bulletin board. Through these assignments, students learn about the biodiversity in the school yard and share that knowledge with others through writing.




Works Cited:

Adams, C., Thomas, J., Lin, P., and Weiser, B. (1987). Urban high school students’ knowledge of wildlife. In Adams L. & Leedy D. (Eds.), Integrating man and nature in the metropolitan environment (Pages. 83-86). Columbia, Maryland: National Institute for Urban Wildlife.

Caamaño, J. (2011). A vision of conservation from school. Conservation Biology, 25 (6), 1091-1093.

Collado, S., Corraliza, J. A., Staats, H., & Ruiz, M. (2015). Effect of frequency and mode of contact with nature on children’s self-reported ecological behaviors. Journal Of Environmental Psychology, 4165-73. doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2014.11.001

Haskell, D. G. (2012). The forest unseen: a year’s watch in nature. New York: Viking.

Larson, L. R., Green, G. T., & Cordell, H. K. (2011). Children’s Time Outdoors: Results and Implications of the National Kids Survey. Journal Of Park & Recreation Administration, 29(2), 1-20.

McKinney, M. L. (2002). Urbanization, Biodiversity, and Conservation: The impacts of urbanization on native species are poorly studied, but educating a highly urbanized human population about these impacts can greatly improve species conservation in all ecosystems. BioScience, 52(10), 883-890.

Menzel, S., & Bogeholz, S. (2010). Values, Beliefs and Norms that Foster Chilean and German Pupils’ Commitment to Protect Biodiversity. International Journal Of Environmental And Science Education, 5(1), 31-49.

Miller, J. (2005). Biodiversity conservation and the extinction of experience. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 20(8), 430-434.

Ramadoss, A., & Poyya Moli, G. (2011). Biodiversity Conservation through Environmental Education for Sustainable Development–A Case Study from Puducherry, India.International Electronic Journal Of Environmental Education, 1(2), 97-111.

Wilson, R. (1997). A sense of place. Early Childhood Education Journal,24(3), 191-194.

Yucel, E. O., & Ozkan, M. (2015). Development and implementation of an instructional design for effective teaching of ecosystem, biodiversity, and environmental issues. Kuram Ve Uygulamada Eğitim Bilimleri, 15(4), 1051-1068.

#nErDcampNJ STEManities Panel

Today I was part of a great panel at #nErDcampNJ, a literacy-focused “unconference” for teachers, administrators, and authors.  Together with YA author Eliot Schrefer and nonfiction author Nancy Castaldo, I spoke about bringing science and English together through nature writing and reading, critical thinking, and interdisciplinary projects.

One of the magic aspects of #nErDcampNJ is that all session notes are available online.  You can see the notes for my STEManities session here.  There are lots of great ideas from both authors (for middle grade and high school students) and many ideas contributed by the teachers and administrators in the audience.


Authors Eliot Schrefer and Nancy Castaldo discussing the itnersection of science and English with me at #nerdcampNJ 5/20/17

Authors for Earth Day- Conservation and Books

How was I not already aware of Authors for Earth Day?  What an amazing concept!

Authors for Earth Day (A4ED) is a grassroots coalition of award-winning children’s authors and illustrators who directly mentor young readers by giving them “an authentic research project with real-world impact.”

Wow! The list of authors is available on their website and it’s a great list.  Visits are available year-round and visits costs the same as a regular author visit.  The difference is that in this case the author donates at least 30% of their fee to a non-profit conservation organization as chosen by the students. Their website has lots of information and all genres are represented.  I’d love to see some more YA authors on the list, but right now there are over 100 participating authors and they’ve done visits all over the world.

This would be a great way to encourage collaboration between different subject areas and to build enthusiasm for literacy and conservation.  It’s a win-win situation!