15 Jan 2016

Six Reasons (Science) Writers Should Be in Schools

by L. E. Carmichael

I attended junior high in Yellowknife, which is not the most isolated place in Canada, but definitely felt like it sometimes. Fortunately, the school library was huge, and offered a portal to endless worlds I couldn't visit in the flesh.

And then there was the time Sheree Fitch came to visit.

To this day, I vividly remember watching in awe as she recited parts of her work-in-progress to us - a work that later became There Were Monkeys in My Kitchen. It was the first time I'd really understood that the books I loved were written by actual human beings. From there, it was a very short leap to the notion that I could write books, too.

I was thinking about that moment yesterday as I stood in the library of Ridgecliff Middle School, waiting for the first class of grade 7s to file in for their author visit. I was also thinking, I am the author they are coming to see. How weird and awesome is that? And what an incredible gift, to be given the opportunity to inspire a child the way I was inspired so long ago.

That's me in the crime scene scarf. Several kids asked me where to buy one!

After four back-to-back renditions of my Forensic Science: Digging Into DNA presentation, I finished the day both exhausted and exhilarated. The kids were alert and engaged, asking great questions. When I told them that Alec Jeffreys, who discovered DNA fingerprinting, simulated crime scene stains by cutting himself and smearing his own blood around the lab for later testing, they were so caught up in discussing his scientific bad-assery, I had a hard time reigning them back in for the rest of the talk.

The librarian said she'd never seen the students so excited about an author visit. While I'd love to take the credit for that, the real reason for their response wasn't me - it was the science. Because science, as all Sci/Why readers know, is COOL.

Teacher and librarian friends, if you haven't considered bringing a science writer in to talk to your classes, here are my favourite reasons why you should think about it next time you book guest speakers:

  • Science is cool (bears repeating!)
  • Kids who say they don't like to read might just be kids who don't like fiction. Once those kids discover fact-based books, however, they can become some of the most avid readers around
  • Science writers support both the Language Arts curriculum (because writing), and the science curriculum, making them a great bargain - two for the price of one!
  • We can talk about research skills, too.
  • With small classes, we can lead experiments
  • Like any author, we can inspire kids to think about becoming writers. But the topics we present might also inspire them to become scientists. And how great would that be?
Check your provincial Writers in the Schools program, the CCBC Author Directory, or the Writer's Union's National Public Reading Program for listings of science writers who do presentations. If you can't afford speaking fees, most authors will be able to direct you to funding sources that will cover the cost of bringing a guest speaker into the classroom or library.

Your turn, fellow science writers - what great experiences have you had giving school presentations? Teachers and librarians, have you ever booked a science writer for a presentation? What impact did you notice on the kids?


My forensics presentation is based on two of my books for junior high and high school readers - Forensic Science: In Pursuit of Justice, and Fuzzy Forensics: DNA Fingerprinting Gets Wild. I'm currently offering deep discounts on first-edition copies of Fuzzy Forensics for educational use. Check out my website and contact me for details.


Paula Johanson said...

I love doing school and library visits! They are never the same. The kids always bring so much to the reading and talk.

Joan Marie Galat said...

L.E. Carmichael, you've shown the value of science presentations and fact-based reading so very well. Science is fun and meaningful. Growing readers would truly benefit if nonfiction sections of the library were made more prominent.

Teachers and librarians have often told me that some of the students responding enthusiastically to my astronomy content had never reacted to books this way before. It's entirely rewarding for everyone. Thanks for a great article.

Joan Marie Galat
Author of the Dot to Dot in the Sky series and other books.

L. E. Carmichael said...

I notice that too, Paula - every one of my four presentations was slightly different, because the kids contributed their own ideas and questions and that led us to discussing different aspects of the topic - fun!

That's great that you've had the same response, Joan - a lot of kids really respond to this stuff!

Marie Powell said...

Great blog, L.E. I've also found kids love the science and fact-based books in my series. Young readers in Grades Pre-K to Two across Saskatchewan have really responded well to my nonfiction early readers. So many times they want to take the books back to class after the reading, and start reading themselves. As Joan says, science and nonfiction books will fly off shelves if they're displayed where the kids can see them.

Paula Johanson said...

I've had the best response to my books on processed food. With titles like -Fake Food: Fried, Fast, and Processed from the series The Incredibly Disgusting Story- it's easy to find young readers who want to hear the disgusting story.

It's a little skewed, that's for sure. said...

I love mixing it up and combining science info with humor. I sometimes help kids understand the scientific process by helping them figure out how to find out the answer to the question EVERYONE wants to know: Who farts more, boys or girls?

When they finally settle down (you know there's a lot of shouting of unsubstantiated opinion!)we take it step by step, covering framing the question, determining the hypothesis, setting up an experiment (limiting the variables), and the importance of measurement. When we've gassed long enough, I then clue them into the fact that the experiment they just devised has already been done - by those wacky, weird and wonderful Brits. Of course they want to know the answer, but I won't tell them. They'll have to read my book, Science on the Loose, to find the answer! There have sometimes been flat out brawls after the presentation as kids tried to be the first to grab the book to find the answer...

So yeah, bring a science writer into the classroom.We'll turn kids on to science - and reading - guaranteed!