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


The Nerdy Book Club is a must-read blog for teachers. They are always sharing information about amazing books and ideas for literacy across the content areas.

Earlier this week author Patricia Newman posted an entry about her new book, Sea Otter Heroes, that would be great for students to read. She talks about why she writes about science and the process of writing a book about a conservation issue.

Nerdy Book Club

When I was a kid, I loved science. It was so relevant. It helped me make connections to the rest of the world, like the time my second-grade class designed an experiment to understand the concept of one million by making Xs on graph paper during our free time. (It took us forever!) Or when my biology class injected chicks with hormones. The testosterone chick grew larger and developed an aggressive personality. A light bulb went on about why boys do the things they do.

I’m also a nature-lover. I remember our warm-up run for field hockey practice on the cross-country course that took us through the woods. The crunch of fall leaves beneath my sneakers, the earthy smell, the bird song, the peacefulness. I loved that run. And today, my ideal vacation takes me back to nature.

I think that’s why I gravitate toward life science topics—and specifically…

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Slice of Life #2- Field Guide to NJ Species

Yesterday I shared an assignment that my students just completed that I think could be adapted to English classes at any grade level. Feel free to steal!

The Reading Zone

Last week I tried a new assignment with my 9th graders and I’m so proud of how it turned out! Our current unit is called Literature and the Land and we are focusing on nature writing.  Specifically, we began by studying writers like Edward Abbey and John Muir and moved to writers who focus on New Jersey.  Right now the students are reading excerpts from John McPhee’s The Pine Barrens. I’ve also been sharing picture books like Coyote Moon, Finding Wild, and Faraway Fox.

It’s too cold to go outside most days so I wanted to come up with a way for my students to learn about species found in NJ without forcing them to freeze.  I’ve always loved field guides so I decided to challenge them to create a field guide to NJ species. I borrowed a bunch of field guides from the biology teacher to use as mentor…

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Long list for the 2017 Green Earth Book Award

The Green Earth Book Award is one of my favorite lists each year.  Awarded to children’s and young adult books that promote a message of environmental stewardship, the Green Earth Book Award is much-needed today.  As an English teacher who knows that books can be a gateway to the environment for many students, I love to peruse the award’s long list each year.  While I can sometimes predict that certain books will make it on the list I love learning about new books when they are nominated.

This year’s qualifying list is no exception.  I just added a number of books from the list to my TBR pile and I hope a few of them will be appropriate for my 9th grade curriculum.



  • Ace, King of My Heart, by Lea Herrick and illustrated by Nora Howell, Krystal Colon, and David Herrick (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform)
  • Maybe a Fox, by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee (Atheneum Caitlyn Dlouhy Books)
  • Pax, by Sara Pennypacker and illustrated by Jon Klassen  (HarperCollins Children’s Books)
  • Saving Wonder, by Mary Knight (Scholastic Press)
  • The Wolf Keepers, by Elise Broach and illustrated by Alice Ratterree (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt Books for Young Readers/Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group)


  • Broken Wing, by David Budbill (Green Writers Press)
  • Dig Too Deep, by Amy Allgeyer (Albert Whitman & Co)
  • KABOOM!, by Brian Adams (Green Writers Press)
  • Keep Her, by Leora Krygier (She Writes Press)
  • Rescued, by Eliot Schrefer (Scholastic Press)
  • Up from the Sea, by Leza Lowitz (Crown BFYR, Random House Children’s Books)



Kudos to the small presses (and sometimes self-published authors, too!) doing the work to get these stories out there to kids and teenagers.  Take note, major publishers:  we want and need books about environmental stewardship!

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!