#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.

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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!

Candid Creatures: How Camera Traps Reveal the Mysteries of Nature by Roland Kays

51bikpgaswl-_sx404_bo1204203200_Candid Creatures: How Camera Traps Reveal the Mysteries of Nature by Roland Kays is one of my favorite book purchases of the past few months.  I’ve been obsessed with camera traps for a while and last year my biology colleague and I worked with a group of students who set up their own camera trap project on our school campus.  Kays was one of my inspirations for getting  involved so I was thrilled when he published a book focused on camera traps.

For those who don’t know, camera traps are remotely activated cameras (usually trail cameras) that take unobtrusive pictures when wildlife walks through an area.  They are used to measure biodiversity, population, and habitat use (among other things).  While some camera traps are expensive, it’s relatively easy to set up your own and can be a great way to help students learn more about the world around them.  I think it’s so important for students to be aware of local biodiversity and camera traps can help them with this.

Kays’ book is full of photos from camera traps all over the world.  Presented in accessible language, the book can introduce students (and teachers) to camera traps and the various ways they are used all over the world.  In English class I could imagine using some of the full-color photographs for picture prompts or journal entries.  The book could also inspire citizen science projects or research projects in English and science class.  The book is worth the price for the photos alone but the text is also a great example of easily-accessible science communication.  A win-win for teachers looking to do some collaborating between English and science class!

Coyote Moon by Maria Gianferrari – Interview and Giveaway!

A few months ago I saw someone on Twitter mention an upcoming picture book about coyotes.  Now, anyone who’s heard me talk about my grad school program knows that the intersection of humans and animals (especially apex predators) is a special passion of mine.  I am particularly interested in coyotes because they’ve adapted so well to humans, especially in urban areas.  Last year I was able to hear Dr. Mark Weckel of the Gotham Coyote Project speak and it only further stoked the fires of my interest.  I’ve been lucky enough to see coyotes in my town and last year a few of my students worked with me and my biology colleague to set camera traps on school property in order to see if coyotes were living there. We haven’t seen any coyotes (yet!) but we know there is a good chance they are in the area.  We did get to watch a litter of fox kits, though.  In fact, I was able to watch a litter of kits at home and at work this spring!

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The litter near my home was in a county park that’s home to coyotes, too.  I’ve seen their tracks in the snow and heard them in the distance, so I know they are there!

Obviously, any book about coyotes intrigues me but a picture book?  That I could share with my students?  I butted in to the Twitter conversation to say I was adding the book, Coyote Moon, to my to-be-read list; a few days later author Maria Gianferrari reached out to be via email and asked if I’d like to take a look at the book.  I immediately said yes.  When the book arrived I sat down to read it and upon reaching the last page I promptly added it to my “best books of 2016” list.  It’s lyrical, gorgeous, and scientifically accurate.  I can not wait to share it with my high school students as a mentor text for nature writing!

Want to win your own copy of Coyote Moon?  Leave a comment below!  Tell me about your favorite interaction with a wild animal in your hometown to be entered. 

(Winner will be chosen from the comments (using a random integer generator) on 7/30. Winners must live in the US.  Book will be sent directly from the publisher.)

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After I read Coyote Moon I reached out to Maria to see if she’d be interested in answering a few questions for me and my readers.  I’m always interested in learning how authors compose creative nonfiction, especially nature writing, and Coyote Moon is particularly inspiring.  Luckily, Maria agreed.  I’m happy to welcome her to the blog today!

Thanks for agreeing to chat today, Maria!  I absolutely love Coyote Moon so I’m thrilled to talk with you a bit about how you came to write the book. What drew you to coyotes?  Have you seen them in your neighborhood or experienced their habitat expansion?

Indeed, I have! I haven’t seen many since moving to Virginia, but I saw them multiple times (or evidence of their presence) while living in the suburbs of Boston. I had a close encounter with a coyote on a cold winter’s night in January 2007, and therein began my coyote obsession.

How did you do research for the book?  Most books about coyotes are full of dense informational text and aimed at older readers- how did you focus your research for younger readers?

I read all kinds of books on canines as well as coyotes—picture books, longer works of nonfiction, photobooks and did online research to supplement the books. Then I read eastern coyote researcher Dr. Jonathan Way’s Suburban Howls as well as many of his scientific papers. I even interviewed him. Through reading his work I learned that eastern coyotes are essentially coywolves (coyote-wolf hybrids). I also read nature picture books as mentor texts by writers like Nicola Davies to try and gauge the right voice and tone for younger readers.

Ooh, Suburban Howls is on my to-be-read pile and I think you just convinced me to move it up.  Lots of the books you described are pretty straightforward nonfiction books.  Coyote Moon is filled with gorgeous descriptions of coyote behavior.  Was it hard to translate scientific descriptions of animal behavior into poetic prose?

Thank you! I love poetry and words—their rhythm and sound. When I observe nature and write about it, a poetic voice is the one I hear in my head. It was more of a challenge to find the right story arc and focus rather than the voice itself.

I was also so impressed with the illustrations that Bagram Ibatoulline created for the book.  They are evocative and accurate.  Did you work with your illustrator at all?  Did you share notes about coyotes or did you two work separately?

No, we worked separately, which is usually the case for picture book author-illustrator collaborations. It was so magical to see Bagram’s first sketches.

Wow!  I was blown away by the illustrations to I imagine it was a wonderful moment when you first saw them.  

I love showing my students the connection between nature and language arts, and often that is through nature walks and books.  Do you have any favorite books about nature?

Your students are very lucky!! Nature books are among my very favorite reads: classics like Walden, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and The Snow Leopard, all of which I haven’t read in quite a long time. Last year I read Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk and fell in love with its stunning poetic and heartfelt prose. I also love Sy Montgomery’s work, both for adults and kids. As a self-proclaimed bird nerd her Birdology is among my very favorites. Her Scientist in the Field books are excellent too. I loved both Chasing Cheetahs and The Octopus Scientist, and am looking forward to reading The Great White Shark Scientist. Noah Strycker’s The Thing with Feathers was wonderful, and I’ve bought, but haven’t yet read The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman. I also gravitate toward nature-oriented picture books on all kinds of creatures and habitats, especially birds. Some of my favorite authors are Nicola Davies, April Pulley Sayre, Melissa Stewart and Stephen Swinburne.

What is your favorite way to spend time in nature?

I love just observing the birds and creatures in my neighborhood while walking my dog, Becca. I don’t get to do it often enough, but I also love visiting national parks—we are so lucky to have them! We drove cross-country from Massachusetts to California and back, and visited many national parks along the way. My favorites were the Badlands, Redwood, Crater Lake and Joshua Tree. I also love deserts—they’re such amazing ecosystems! We visited Bryce and Zion in 2008, and I was overcome by their stark beauty. Death Valley is pretty incredible too.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Maria!  I’m excited to share Coyote Moon with my high schoolers and I plan to use it as a mentor text for writing our own picture books about local wildlife.  I’m sure they will be inspired by your work!

 

gianferrari$maria_hresMaria writes both fiction and nonfiction picture books from her sunny, book-lined study in northern Virginia, with dog, Becca as her muse. Maria’s debut picture book, Penny & Jelly: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder, was released in July 2015 (HMH Books for Young Readers); a companion book, Penny & Jelly Slumber Under the Stars, was released in mid-June. Her debut nonfiction book,Coyote Moon, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, will be published by Roaring Brook Press in July and is a Junior Library Guild Selection. In October, Aladdin Books for Young Readers will publish another fiction title, Officer Katz & Houndini: A Tale of Two Tails, illustrated by Danny Chatzikonstantinou. Maria has five additional books forthcoming from Roaring Brook Press, Boyds Mills Press and GP Putnam’s Sons. To learn more about Maria, visit her at mariagianferrari.com on Facebook or Instagram.

 

 Follow the rest of the blog tour by visiting the links below!

  • FRI 7/15:                   Pragmatic Mom (+ 3 book giveaway)

 

 

 

 

 

  • FRI 7/22:                   Kidlit411

 

 

 

 

Mad Hatter’s Tree Party- An Cross-curricular Idea from Erik Mollenhauer

Erik Mollenhauer is one of my teacher heroes.  I was first introduced to him during my student teaching when my incredible mentor teacher was raising monarch butterflies.  She had attended a Teaching and Learning with Monarch Butterflies workshop earlier in the year and encouraged me to take the workshop the next summer. (Tangent- the summer workshops are going on now.  If you are in NJ, NH, IL, or MD you should go to the workshop!).  The workshop, which uses the monarch butterfly to encourage teachers and students to become stewards of the environment, is interdisciplinary and cross-curricular.  It was life-changing PD for me and resulted in a fellowship to the monarch overwintering grounds in Mexico.

Today Erik is retired but still works to combat nature deficit disorder in children and adults.  The embedded video shows “The Mad Hatters Tree Party”, a celebration of trees and Alice in Wonderland, that he helped bring to life.   What a fantastic mash-up of science and English class!  I could see teachers and students creating their own version of a Mad Hatter’s Tree Party, maybe even matching up older students with younger students.

The Children & Nature Network posted this video earlier today on Facebook and said, “Retired educator Erik Mollenhauer says we face an “extinction of experience” sitting indoors all day, online and playing with our mobile phones. He thinks we’re losing a critical connection to the natural world”.

The Mad Hatters Tree Party from Ed Waters on Vimeo.

Science and English- Perfect Together!  STEManities is real, people!