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In the Classroom: Scientists in the Field November 29, 2011

Posted by ccbooks in Classroom Books.
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My students this year are voracious fiction readers. This surprised me, because usually a good percentage of a class of third graders are much more interested in information–be it sports, weapons or horses–than stories. With the exception of a dedicated fan of aviation and a few history buffs however, this year’s group of students are not particularly interested in the real world. Fortunately, there is a series out there to show them that science and the natural world around us is as surprising and magical as any fantasy story. 

Scientists in the Field is a series of books published by Harcourt that began in 1999 with the  title Once a Wolf. Since then, many more titles have been added to the series (sometimes multiple titles in a year), each profiling a scientist or group that is working to save or understand a particular species of animal or scientific problem. Written by various authors and accompanied by fantastic photographs, these books are about “adventures with a purpose” and show students the ins and outs of what scientists actually do with their time.

Reading non-fiction aloud is something I’ve always struggled with as a teacher, so I was delighted when my class last year wanted to learn more about seahorses. I read them Project Seahorse by Pamela Turner and it held their attention very well. The photographs, insets and captions break up the long chunks of text and by focusing on the work of a real scientist, the books give you a broader view of the problem rather than just the basic information about the life and habitat of the animal. My students have a much better idea of the complexity involved in saving a species when you also have to consider the lives of the people who depend on catching and selling it for survival. Other books in the series consider similar big ideas. Kakapo Rescue, which I’m reading aloud right now, shows readers that it is possible, if incredibly difficult, to save a species from near-extinction. The Hive Detectives taught me the importance of honeybees to the entire American agriculture industry. The Manatee Scientists shows how scientists in different parts of the world are working in extremely different conditions and with very different levels of support from the government and community, but still persevere in gathering their information and educating the public.

When you’re a kid, particularly a kid living in the city or suburbs, it can be hard to imagine the variety of life that exists in our world and the ways that all species are interconnected. Scientists in the Field helps students understand their world, and so are are great books to both read aloud, and to recommend to students interested in particular animals. If we want our students to learn to be engaged with their world and to care about other species, this is a great tool to help us begin those lessons.

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