Co-authors Mark Lubkowitz and Valerie Bang-Jensen in the Teaching Gardens of Saint Michael's College, their first collaboration.
Co-authors Mark Lubkowitz and Valerie Bang-Jensen at the site of their first collaboration, the Teaching Gardens of Saint Michael's College. Photo courtesy of Valerie Bang-Jensen.

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Want a novel way to teach kids about science? Look to children's literature, according to scholars Valerie Bang-Jensen and Mark Lubkowitz. Professors of education and biology, respectively, at Saint Michael's College in Colchester, Vermont, they will discuss their new book, Sharing Books, Talking Science: Exploring Scientific Concepts with Children's Literature (Heinemann, 2017) in a workshop on campus this week. Hosted by Whitman College Science Outreach and the Whitman Student Engagement Center, the sessions are open to local public school teachers and Whitman students involved in community service programs such as the Story Time Project.

In advance of their visit to Walla Walla, they explained three of the many approaches in their book for educators to motivate young minds about science.  

  • Read children's literature: Science is a tangible, germane and integral part of life, and, as a result, children's literature is a natural avenue for learning science. In our book, we help teachers see how children's books can be a powerful ally for moving science beyond a 45-minute period and for developing the mindset that will help students think, talk, and read like scientists. Soon they will start to see structure and function in a basketball hoop on the playground and in an illustration of a moat in a book about castles.

  • See the science in illustrations: Illustrations invite us to notice what's happening and name the concepts that present themselves visually. When we apply our scientific mindset to an illustration showing a cat frantically scrambling up a tree, we know that there is a cause, there is energy involved and the structure of the cat's claws are what enables it to climb. We may even deduce that this is a pattern and the mechanism is the neighbor's dog. Once we develop the habit of mind of thinking like a scientist, we notice them in literally every illustration.

  • Hear the science in language: One big and delightful surprise in writing this book was discovering how our daily language reflects the concepts in direct and subtle ways. When we hear because, we are referring to a cause-and-effect relationship. Many of us use Goldilocks' scale when we want to convey that something is "just right." "I am spinning my wheels" is another way of saying "I am wasting energy." To think like a scientist is to hear how our languages wink at science concepts every time we listen, speak, read or write. As we all know, the trick to learning any new language, including science language, is to use it daily in meaningful contexts. As you read to your students, you will have plenty of opportunities to help these concepts become second nature.

Whitman College hosts an array of guest speakers and educators. Many offer on-campus workshops or engage with students in the classroom in addition to their public lectures or events. We ask them to give us a brief insight into their area of expertise. For more information on upcoming events at Whitman, visit the campus calendar.