“As a child, I loved reading stories from mythology where reality mingles with magic. Although the Harry Potter series wasn’t around when I was in school, if it had been, I would’ve been a fan. Potter’s school, Hogwarts, provides a learning environment in which magic happens. While the potion-making class isn’t exactly a chemistry class, the unexpected and exciting occurs in real life science as well. I fell in love with the subject of chemistry because of the possibilities within it for transformations and change. And the results of the experiments seemed like magic.
I’ve been closely following the national education focus on STEM–Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mechanics. I’ve been particularly interested in figuring out how our library could expand its collection of science materials AND encourage our students to read them.
Earlier this year, I was reading one of our new books, Come See the Earth Turn: The Story of Foucault’s Pendulum, to a group of students. The book, written by Lori Mortensen, is about the French physicist, Leon Foucault, who in the 19th century designed an experiment to explain the rotation of the earth. The students really enjoyed the story and the explanation of Foucault’s experiment. And I had an idea.
If students liked reading about science in story-form, would they like writing stories about science concepts they read in nonfiction books?
Could they demonstrate some of what they learned about science by transforming that knowledge into another kind text–a story? Such a transformation would almost be like chemistry!
Students would need to be creative, and also perceptive about their audience, and tell their stories so that younger students could learn. For the students, it would be a transformational moment in which student becomes author and instructor.
I talked with Phil Howell (Director of Instruction) about the idea, and he suggested that Team 4 may be a good place to start. We agreed that the audience for the stories that Team 4 students produced could be Team 2 and Team 3 students.
A lot of people will be involved with this project! The students–of course, and the Team 4 teachers: Mrs. Alice Adams, Ms. Barbara Brezosky, and Mrs. Cheryl Russell. Our Humanities Instructor, Mrs. Jennifer Pusateri, will teach the students to create illustrations for their stories. Mrs. Staci Leamy (Librarian) and I have been reading stories about the process of writing to Team 4, because we want them to see themselves as writers as well as readers.
I tried writing a story myself after reading one of our nonfiction science books about a little mud volcano in Venezuela named Victor, who introduces all his relatives–volcanoes around the world. I had fun, and can’t wait to see what our students come up with!
We’ll digitize the children’s stories and post them on the school Intranet to make them more widely available. And, if we create the right chemistry, we hope to involve students in other de Paul teams as well.
For many years, the library has purchased a butterfly kit each spring for the students to watch the caterpillars turn into chrysalides, and then butterflies. Each year, students (particularly Teams 1 and 2) enthusiastically observe the changes taking place, marveling at the transformation. Now we hope, through an extended writing process, to watch and work with our students as they transform into budding authors, knowledgeable about science.
This kind of excitement and enthusiasm engages students in all the classrooms around de Paul. And if Harry Potter finds out about the many kinds of magic and transformations going on here, he might just want to transfer from Hogwarts to The de Paul School!”–Panagiotis Stathopoulos, de Paul Librarian
*Mr. Stathopoulos just received the American Association of School Librarians’ (AASL) Innovative Reading Grant for “Found in Translation: Reading, Writing, Critical Thinking, and Metaphrasis.” To read more about this exciting program, click here!