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Eyes Wide Open: A proof of concept for sustaining the conversation around books

What if a book continued to resonate for its readers in a tangible way long after the pages were closed?

What if books inspired, not just individual–but collective and collaborative response, creative expression, participation, action?

What if communities formed around books?

What if an author’s webspace inspired true dialogue and interaction?

And how can librarians, with our classrooom teacher partners, leverage social media to help authors and learners sustain conversations around the ideas they discover in books?

Over the past couple of years I’ve chatted with several authors who wondered about this.

Paul Fleischman, Shannon Miller, Andy Plemmons and I had several of those chats. Paul’s new book, Eyes WIDE Open: Going Beyond the Environmental Headlines, will be published this week.  And we’re hoping that Eyes WIDE Open will itself stay wide open and that librarians can help keep the conversation going in a new model of reading, thinking and doing.

We believe that this particular book, with its powerful call to action, presents a particularly appropriate proof of concept.

If you’d like to join lead the conversation about possibilities, please join our emerging Eyes Wide Open Google+ Community and help us brainstorm possibilities.  We invite librarians and content area teachers to generate essential questions and ideas for collaborative inquiry, as we challenge learners to become citizen scientists.

About Eyes WIDE Open:

We’re living in an Ah-Ha moment. Take 250 years of human ingenuity. Add abundant fossil fuels. The result: a population and lifestyle never before seen. The downsides weren’t visible for centuries, but now they are. Suddenly everything needs rethinking–suburbs, cars, fast food, cheap prices. It’s a changed world.

Eyes Wide Open explains it. Not with isolated facts, but the principles driving attitudes and events, from vested interests to denial to big-country syndrome. Because money and human behavior are as important as molecules in the environment, science is joined with politics, history, and psychology to give altitude on this unprecedented turning point. It’s a time of bold advances and shameful retreats, apathy and stunning innovation.

What better time to have our eyes wide open?

The book has received outstanding early reviews:

“A powerful account of where we are, which is in a tough place, and what we can do to fix it, which is a lot!” Bill McKibben

“For high schools that assign one book for all students to read and discuss: This is the one.” Kirkus (starred review)

“Few readers will look at the world the same way after finishing this book.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Written in a lively style, lavishly illustrated, and timely in its subject matter, this

well-researched book is a call to action: now is the time to save our environment.” School Library Journal (starred review)

“This remarkable book offers young people the tools they need to become informed, responsible global citizens….[Fleischman’s] exceptional ability to organize the information here and present it articulately makes him a notable citizen scientist.” Booklist (starred review)

“Having had the opportunity to discuss this title with my library’s teen book group, I can attest that it immediately started an intense discussion, and was given merit as a resource for finding essay topics and useful links to get going with them.” Baker and Taylor

So, how might students gather globally around a book? 

From Paul:

Every place is different. In California the top issue is drought but in Holland, where they’re expecting more rain than their system of dikes can handle, floating houses that slide up and down on poles are being built.

This is the value of reports from elsewhere: a wider view, new perspective on our home towns, new ideas to import. Other schools, cities, states, and countries have a lot to teach us.

Here’s a bit of our brainstorming so far:

Where are your students seeing the environmental crunch and our effort to change course? The book’s accompanying website, will offer a venue to curate and celebrate student reporting of many kinds: photos, videos, interview, investigative reports, surveys, annotated newspaper articles.

Paul describes the type of evidence young scientists might discover:

Sometimes the evidence is physical: a new organic produce section in your supermarket, electric car charging stations, curbside recycling of compost ingredients.  Sometimes it’s in attitudes: opinion polls, politicians’ statements, letters to the editor embracing or rejecting the new reality.  Sometimes you see it in a new vision of the future: a school district announcing its goal of being carbon-neutral, a city creating a climate action plan.

This evidence should feed student thinking and reporting.

Once reports have been posted (we might use Google Docs, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram) in spaces that all can access, students/teachers/classes might send their local descriptions to fieldreports@eyeswideopenupdates.com.  We’ll encourage these reports to include images and media of the creator(s) or of something connected to the report along with some project background. If the work passes muster with Paul, he’ll add it to the roster, add a pin on our community map, and maybe even give it a shout out in his blog.

What sort of reports might students contribute?

  • Take photos (and create a gallery) that document population rise or consumption levels or innovations being used to address these challenges.  Attempt to document how your eggs, milk, farmed fish, and meat are made.
  • Make a video describing a local citizen science project.  Document a plastic bag banning campaign, a local pollution issue, or your own attempt to go vegan for 30 days.
  • Interview someone in city government connected with water, transit, city planning, or emergency services.  Or a biologist, park ranger, or science teacher.  Or a religious leader whose church has taken a stand on the environment.  Or your state senator, state assembly representative, or an aide to your congressperson.  Or fellow students or neighbors to get a sense of how average citizens view the situation.  Google+ Hangouts might be a perfect venue for archiving these interviews!
  • Write a description of one of your area’s key issues and how it’s being dealt with.  Join with one or two others, each tackling one part of the project: research, interviewing, editing.  Would your local newspaper be interested in the result?
  • Do a survey of your city, finding out where your water comes from, how your electricity is made, where your trash goes.  Prepare to make many phone calls and to ask follow-up questions.  More fun with a friend.
  • Annotate local newspaper stories, adding commentary that lets us see how the global trends and mental habits described in the book are playing out locally.  Feel free to refine my thinking.
  • Remix media and create digital stories around an area of local interest.
  • Inspire a meme to invite continual, global reinterpretation around an environmental prompt
  • Submit a field report. Work prepared for school assignment is fine.  Take time to review and revise.  Once you’ve posted it on Google Docs, YouTube, or another platform that all can access, send a description to fieldreports@eyeswideopenupdates.com.  Include a bit about yourself, how you came to the topic, and a photo of yourself or something connected to the report.  If Paul finds it well done, he will add it to the roster, put a pin in the map, and maybe even give it a shout out in his blog.

We’ll be planning much more in the Eyes Wide Open Google+ Community and we are hoping to host Paul in a live Hangout kickoff in the very near future!

Why students? Why now? 

It’s a no-brainer that the technology is now ready and largely accessible to engage learners and encourage them to be active participants.

But Paul presents a far more compelling case for engagement and for fostering agency:

I was on my high school newspaper in 1970.  Graduates were being shipped to Vietnam, yet our editorials concerned the dangers of running in the halls.

The same disconnect is present today.  Our environmental bind is the story of the century, destined to alter students’ lives, but because it’s not on state tests it’s usually not in the classroom.  Eyes Wide Open gives readers 14 and up the briefing they need to comprehend their moment.

Global civilization is trying to change course.  It’s a time of bold advances and craven retreats, apathy and innovation.  Today’s students are present at one of history’s great turning points.  What better time to have one’s eyes wide open?

Please consider helping us launch a new type of conversation around books and student agency by leading in our Eyes Wide Open Google+ Community.  Our hashtag will be: #ewopf

 

Please also consider this post a call to action: Which other books would you like to adopt? With which other authors might you partner in sustaining conversations around books? What might these new author/librarian partnerships look like?

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Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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