Saturday, November 24, 2012

NCTE Annual Convention - Part II

Finally, the other side of the convention has arrived. Having returned slightly jet lagged, I took a week to recuperate and mentally chew on the experience. Without a doubt, Sir Ken Robinson's morning speech on Friday took the convention up a notch. In his usual funny manner, he raised an issue, not a particularly innovative one, nor particularly new, but extremely pertinent: the standardization of the education system--testing only being a part of that--goes against the very fabric of human individuality. It could have been the sausage I ate for breakfast, but I felt even my bowels trembling in agreement. If you're interested, he delivered a similar speech in a follow-up to the first TED talk I included in a previous post. Check it out at the end of this post.

Publishers, authors, and vendors or all kinds littered the exhibit floor at the convention. I weaved my way through the stands, seemingly hypnotized by the abundance of resources, but more so by the abundance of books! Everywhere I turned, books followed. Having spent a few days at the SCBWI conference some weeks ago, this almost felt like a continuation, or a part II--the consumer side. From conception to consumption, books fascinate me. On the last day of my stay, I grinned from ear to ear as I packed half-a-dozen free ones I picked up at the conference.

I left excited about the power of books to impact children and stimulate their creativity. I also left having met a very interesting individual, Dr. Shannon Mortimore-Smith from Shippensburg University. Serendipitously, she had given a talk on "gamifying" the classroom, the same topic I had been writing on for the past month and a half as a contribution to a larger work on STEM education. My chapter was due that very weekend! Kindly, she allowed me to interview her and write about her experiences. It turned out to be a great addition. Funny how God works sometimes.

From both a writer's and STEM educator's perspective, the NCTE 2012 Annual Convention turned out to be one of the best conferences I have ever attended.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

NCTE Annual Convention - Sir Ken Robinson (Video)

I'm incredibly excited about the National Council of Teachers of English annual convention. That's not just because I get to be out of the office for a few days--though it doesn't hurt. For three days I'll be hearing from experts in literacy, English studies, and fine arts. They'll be discussing the Common Core standards (math and English language arts), which is important for educators, nonfiction children's writers, and even science content specialists like yours truly. But the highlight of my trip will probably be getting to hear from Sir Ken Robinson. Sir/Dr./Mr. Robinson is known across the globe as a leader in education, particularly bringing creativity and innovation back into the classrooms. This should be a fun conference and I hope to share some of my experiences when I return.

If you haven't watched Sir Ken Robinson's TED talk on creativity, you should definitely check it out, and not just because he's funny--though it doesn't hurt:

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Children's Books and Science Standards

"When the Next Generation Science Standards are released, what will that mean for nonfiction children's books?" This is really the million dollar question being asked by editors across the industry. For publishers, the release is an opportunity to appeal to librarians, teachers, and curriculum developers. Really, it is an opportunity to make books more appealing to consumers. Sure, there are plenty of opinions on this topic, but the following comes from a proven STEM educator.

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are really the result of a document put out by the National Academies of Sciences called "A Framework for K-12 Science Education." In it, the authors describe a new way of teaching science courses using a combination of three dimensions: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. While the ideas in the framework are not completely new--they are a combination of years of reports and research--they are new in their elegant presentation. Using the framework, the NGSS are being put together through the leadership of the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve.

By "practices" the document generally refers to students actually "doing" science, where science is more about generating knowledge rather than absorbing it via lectures or textbooks. This goes beyond hands-on labs, and taps into the heart of science: inquiry, investigation, gathering evidence, analyzing evidence, developing conclusions, sharing knowledge. "Crosscutting concepts" refer to the scientific truths that are applicable across most fields, such as the relationships between matter and energy, structure and function, and stability and change. Last, but not least, are the "core ideas" that pertain to each specific field of science, be it physics, chemistry, biology, etc.

The key for publishers will be finding a way to incorporate the "practice" of science. Recently, I read several nonfiction science books written for girls ages 9 to 12. They were part of a series that presented girls with fun, interesting science experiments. One book contained ten "biology" experiment, another ten "chemistry" experiments, and so on. The experiments were cool and designed to appeal to young girls. In fact, even I wanted to try some of the ideas. There was just one problem (and it had nothing to do with me not being a girl): the era of these kinds of scripted science labs is ending. Ideally, the NGSS will bring it to a near close.

While some may think incorporating science practices in children's books will be difficult, it does not necessarily have to be. With a few leading questions, books can help children begin to think like scientists, particularly in pushing them to ask more questions, develop experiment variants of their own, analyze evidence, and share results. The scripted labs that I read could have included leading statements: "what would happen if..." or "how would you get this result:..." Also, better online content can be developed where children contribute their variants, evidence, and thoughts. This would create truer science engagement and possibly even collaboration. These are the kind of things that would appeal to me as a science educator and curriculum developer.

Yes, there is more to this conversation than can be covered by a single blog posting, but the idea has been presented. The "Framework for K-12 Science Education" did a very good thing for the field, and hopefully, the release of the NGSS will do the same. Many are seeing it as a game changer, and it will be. Most likely, it will be a game changer for the nonfiction children's book industry, as well. This does not need to be a reason to panic, but rather to put a little more thought into getting children to engage in science. The important thing is to remember that science is more than just following a set of pre-scripted directions; it is about contributing to a living network of ideas.