Trade Books and the Human Endeavor of Science

By Farland, Donna | Science and Children, November 2006 | Go to article overview
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Trade Books and the Human Endeavor of Science


Farland, Donna, Science and Children


Byline: Donna Farland

Recent studies have shown that classroom visits by scientists can change and improve students' perceptions of scientists and what they do (Flick 1990; Bodzin and Gehringer 2001). However, having scientists visit the classroom isn't always a practical option for every classroom. A more readily available and less time-consuming strategy is to introduce "Science as a Human Endeavor" through the use of a well-designed literature program using books that showcase a range of abilities and diversity among scientists. I tested this idea with a group of 156 third-grade students using a series of carefully selected trade books (see Figure 1 for the criteria used to select the books). I discovered that these books can indeed be effective tools in broadening students' perceptions of scientists. I share my study description below.

Figure 1.

Selected nonfiction trade books and their criteria for selection.

The trade books that were selected for this study were as follows: 1) Mae Jemison: A Space Biography (Yannuzzi 1998); 2) It Takes Two: The Story of the Watson and Crick Team (Farland 2002); 3) Archimedes' Dilemma (Farland 2002); 4) Starry Messenger (Sis 1996); 5) A Weed Is a Flower (Aliki 1998); 6) Jungle Jane (Farland 2002).

These trade books were selected because they had six basic characteristics. Each book: 1) Contained a simplified story about scientists and their work that went beyond facts, dates, or timelines of scientists' lives; 2) Demonstrated a nonstereotypical portrayal of scientists; 3) Contained accurate information; 4) Used age-appropriate language; 5) Displayed a common theme of the struggles these scientists faced and their perseverance; and 6) Contained colorful illustrations and easy text that might be enjoyed over and over again.

Purpose

To investigate the effects of using historical, nonfiction trade books as part of a kit/module-based science instruction

Methodology

In this study, 156 third-grade students completed a modified Draw-A-Scientist Test (mDAST). The mDAST is based on the Draw-A-Scientist Test (DAST) developed by Chambers (1983). The directions from the original DAST were limited to "draw a scientist." After several administrations of the original DAST, it became apparent the test would benefit from clear, concise directions that instruct the student to include specific aspects (appearance, location, activity) in their illustrations. The modified directions were as follows:

"Imagine that tomorrow you are going on a trip (anywhere) to visit a scientist in a place where the scientist is working right now. Draw the scientist busy with the work this scientist does. Add a caption that tells what this scientist might be saying to you about the work you are watching the scientist do."

A space is then provided for children to illustrate their perception.

This mDAST also includes a second page with four questions to aid the scorer in understanding the illustration:

I am a boy/girl (circle one).

Was the scientist you drew a man or woman?

Was the scientist you drew working outdoors or indoors?

What was the scientist doing in your picture?

On six occasions, evenly spaced over an eight-week period, the six teachers in the treatment group read a historical, nonfiction trade book to the 74 students in their classes (see Figure 1 for a list of the book selections). The other seven teachers maintained their regular science instruction with their 82 students.

At the end of the eight-week period, all the students completed another mDAST. A group of trained scorers compared the drawings and answers of students who read books about scientists with those who didn't. The drawings were coded and scored using the DAST rubric in three specific categories: appearance, location, and activity.

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