Guest post By Jessica Fries-Gaither
GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, Boston, MA. 9 am – 3 pm, April 4, 2020.
The National Science Teacher’s Association has invited authors of Outstanding Science Trade Books and Best Stem Books to discuss literacy and children’s books at a special Literacy Event. 14 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 7 – April 2, 2020.
See the full author list and the date on which they’ll post at Linking Literacy 2020.
When I began my career as a science educator 20 years ago, I knew that my job was to provide interesting learning experiences for students to engage in scientific practices and learn science content. Through fabulous colleagues and professional development, I’ve deepened my understanding of research-based instructional strategies and have become more effective. What I didn’t expect, however, was that my view of my role would dramatically change.
You see, I’ve come to realize that above anything else I do, my primary role is to help students see themselves as scientists. It’s not enough for them to understand concepts and be able to perform skills (although both are undeniably important). Instead, I believe, it is crucial for each student to develop an identity as someone who approaches the world in a scientific way. These dispositions remain long after facts are forgotten, and help students persist in challenging situations.
I’ve also learned that one effective way of helping students develop their identities as scientists is to connect their work with historical and contemporary scientists. While the range of excellent picture book biographies has expanded greatly in past years, there was still a missing link between students’ classroom activities and the work of professional scientists. And so I began writing children’s books to fill that gap.
My first book, Notable Notebooks: Scientists and Their Questions (NSTA Kids, 2016) profiles a group of nine diverse scientists throughout history and how keeping a notebook or journal was or is an integral part of their practice. Readers learn about the work of scientists such as Galileo, Jane Goodall, and Ellen Ochoa and even get to see snapshots of some of these historic notebook entries! The book ends with simple instructions for making and keeping a scientific notebook — perfect for kids reading this outside of school or those new to the practice. Rhyming text is aimed at students in grades 3-5, and Linda Olliver’s beautiful illustrations bring each scientist’s work to life!
The book has been quite a success, being named an Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K-12 and even being sent to the International Space Station to be read by an astronaut as part of the Story Time From Space program. I’ve also heard from teachers across the country (in elementary, middle, and even high school) that their students love the book and their science notebooks, which is incredibly rewarding. It has been used as the kickoff for a year of science notebooking, a connection to existing practice, or even the launching point for a biography study of scientists.
My newest book, Exemplary Evidence: Scientists and Their Data (NSTA Kids, 2019) was released in December and I couldn’t be happier to share! A follow-up to Notable Notebooks, Exemplary Evidence profiles another set of nine scientists, including Alhazen, Nettie Stevens, and Marie Daly. In this book, the focus isn’t on record keeping in a notebook, but as the title suggests, the collection of data in both qualitative and quantitative forms. Just as in Notable Notebooks, each scientist’s story is told through rhyming text and accompanied by Linda’ Olliver’s gorgeous illustrations. The final two pages of the book walk readers through four steps of data collection and analysis.
While the target audience is children in grades 3-5, I suspect that other ages will enjoy and benefit from the book as well. I’m eager to hear how this book is used in classrooms and homes across the country.
If you attend the NSTA National Conference in St. Louis, MO in April, 2019, I will present on the topic of developing students’ identities and science and will also be part of a special series of events related to science and literacy on Friday April 12, and Saturday, April 13. I’d love to see you there!
Jessica Fries-Gaither is the Director of Studies and the elementary science specialist at the Columbus School for Girls in Columbus, OH. An experienced science educator, Jessica has written two books for science teacher as well as two picture books for NSTA Press. More are in the works! Her website is https://www.jessicafriesgaither.com.