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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Think Like a Scientist

The Academy of Science

Tuesday brings the Science Times section in my trusty New York Times, and today there is an article perfectly suited to the themes of this blog. It seems the young people’s interest in science, in particular physics, is at an all time high. The article then focuses on the Academy of Science, a magnet school in Virginia. Reading about the school’s approach was thrilling — in fact it matches perfectly with my post about Martha Nussbaum’s review. As the head of the school says, "I want them [students] to learn to think like scientists." The whole focus of the school is on thinking, thinking, thinking. Instead of canned experiments that students follow like recipes in cook books, they have to plan out and create their own tests, and then learn from the process.

Martha Nussbaum says we create young people who will later be able to resist the pressure of their social circumstances (meaning the injunction to abuse or torture prisoners) when we encourage them to question, to think, to disregard what they are told, and work out solutions for themselves. Now we see that the best, the most exciting, high school science programs are taking the exact same approach. And that leads me directly to books, and to AASL.

I was speaking with Nancy Feresten of National Geographic books there, and we both noticed how nonfiction for younger readers has changed. Because so much information (from the latest academic papers to classic books) is now available — to authors as well as kids — the challenge is no longer just to give a cool, fun, readable, well-illustrated version of facts and ideas that adults already know. Instead, we are introducing young people to ideas as those ideas and theories themselves change and evolve. We are introducing them to thinking, not merely to conclusions. 

So I urge all of you librarians, and teachers, to look at books as models of thinking, of argument, of discussion, of narrative — not as set-in-stone-answers. As the provost of Rice University told the Times, he wants students to understand that the world can be understood through "rational inquiry." Books, then, model how reason can engage with the world — in science, in history, in math, in ethics and philosophy. We read together to think together — great.


  1. La Liseuse says:

    Last month the Pennsylvania Library Association awarded the Carolyn W. Field Award for children’s books by a PA author or illustrator to “Now & Ben: the modern inventions of Benjamin Franklin.” As chair of the committee, in my introduction of author Gene Barretta, I compared his book to a biographical fiction book I read in elementary school, Mrs. Mike. Not only is Barretta’s book much more appealing to look at, the original thinking that it inspires the reader to do is part of what inspired the committee to select it. It is much more than Ben’s vital statistics for kids!

    Shawn Sipe