Academic journal article Science and Children

The eBook Hook: Using Nonfiction eBooks to Engage Students in Science Research

Academic journal article Science and Children

The eBook Hook: Using Nonfiction eBooks to Engage Students in Science Research

Article excerpt

Picture that student in your classroom, the one that is hard to nail down. He's smarter than any of his work reflects. You're sure there is something that excites him, but you are unable to put your finger on it. None of the teaching strategies you have tried have yielded results, and then you hear him say something that makes you stop in your tracks, "I always like an eBook actually." You pause, wondering if you just heard something positive come out of his mouth, and he follows with, "I love eBooks." At that moment you hear the Hallelujah chorus in your head. You may have just found your key to hooking him into science for the rest of the year!

This year in fourth grade, we--a doctoral student and a fourth-grade language arts and science teacher--designed and implemented a unit on landforms that included nonfiction reading, with both traditional print books and eBooks on iPads, along with research on student-selected topics. Here we outline our discoveries for the landform unit, as well as the assignments. We then describe the research process and draw conclusions, based on teacher observation, a variety of assessments, and student interviews.

The time students spend using mobile devices is making an "impact on the reading experience both inside and outside the classroom" (Lamb 2011, p. 13). Many students are using technology and are far more comfortable with technology than some of the adults teaching them, with the result that "Teachers need to be able to connect to their students' digital worlds to engage and motivate a new and very different type of learner" (Larson, Miller, and Ribble 2009, p. 13). While these learners present new challenges in the classroom, they also present new potential.

Nonfiction: Language Arts and Science Standards

The use of nonfiction texts is receiving more emphasis, especially as states adopt the Common Core State Standards. Since nonfiction science texts are often written using "scientific registers" (Pappas et al. 2009, p. 206), they require different teaching techniques than narrative texts. The science classroom is well-suited to teaching students how to pull information from nonfiction texts, which is often difficult for students, in both science textbooks and nonfiction trade books.

In fourth grade, the Next Generation Science Standard (NGSS Lead States 2013) for this unit comes from the performance expectation 4-ESS2-2 Earth's Systems: Analyze and interpret data to describe patterns of Earth's features, which aligns with the Ohio standards our district used this year (see Connecting to the Standards). Common Core English Language Arts standards for reading and writing were also addressed. For more specific information on the standards, see the "NGSS and Common Core Connections" sidebar on page 37.

Fourth graders used the Harcourt science textbook to begin developing their understanding of landforms. Students engaged in some hands-on activities from Harcourt, including making clay models and simulating the force in a volcano. Using a variety of National Geographic nonfiction texts like Ice (2005), Water (2005), Wind (2005) and Earthquakes and Volcanoes (2005) by Nash Kramer, students also read about forces that shape the Earth (see NSTA Connection for a list of trade books).

Research

This landform unit incorporated nonfiction reading, research (see Figure 1), an oral presentation, and a project of the student's choice, which was completed at home (see Figure 2 and Figure 3, p. 36).

Parents received information about the project and signed a form that indicated which project their child selected. A month of class time was devoted to conducting the research for the in-class project and the oral presentation. Students were also given a month to complete the project at home. Students completed their research at school, recording it in their notebooks, and took their notebooks home. Because of the diversity of the students, both economically and culturally, we provided support for the at-home part of the project. …

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