Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Highlights from NerdCampNJ: Part 1

One of the highlights of NerdCampNJ for us on May 20 was of course our panel discussion, “Literacy Across the Content Areas,” with Kell Andrews, Laurie Wallmark, and Kristy Acevedo. It was a treat to hear everyone’s different perspectives on how informational text can enhance student engagement with fiction and vice versa.

We started off by sharing some collaborations around informational texts that we’ve done with science and English teachers in Susan’s school. (The materials we shared during the session can be found here.)

YA sci-fi author and high school English teacher Kristy Acevedo then jumped in to talk about how she has her students use research to create the details and substance of the characters and worlds in their own fiction writing, using her books and her own writing and research process as models. We loved this innovative merging of research with creative writing and the way in which this enterprise engages all sorts of skills in students!

Children’s author Kell Andrews picked up that thread to talk about how she embeds the practice of research into the plots of her books like Mira Forecasts the Future. Mira is the daughter of a famous fortune teller, but she lacks the gift of telling the future by gazing into the crystal ball, so she figures out how to make predictions in her own way by learning the basics of meteorology. Andrews’ point, which dovetailed well with Acevedo’s, is that science (like meteorology) can be embedded in any kind of text, including fiction.

Laurie Wallmark, college computer science instructor and author of two illustrated biographies for children, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine and Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code, built on all the earlier presentations in offering herself as a model. A teacher of STEM (computer science), she is also a researcher and a writer, who draws on all sorts of research and literacy skills in her work.

Clearly, the Common Core’s focus on informational text can be embraced in any number of ways. Writers know that their own work relies on their ability to research widely and incorporate information meaningfully.

One other point of emphasis that we thought was striking. Acevedo and others agreed that having students read primary informational texts (Acevedo used some of the scientific reports she consulted to write Consider) can get students to think critically about how the information they are reading is being shaped by an author. Just because Mira learns about meteorology in Mira Forecasts the Future doesn’t mean the information presented is accurate or authoritative. This latter point seems a particularly opportune one for us to think about as we grapple with fake news and try to instill in our students a healthy skepticism about the veracity of information. Just because it appears in print doesn’t mean it’s true!

Stay tuned for Part 2, which focuses on a workshop where we learned about some great tech tools that can foster active reading and cross-disciplinary collaboration

Thanks to Oona Abrams and the rest of the organizers for putting together this energizing event!