To explore the contributions made to science and society by the naturalist, Jean Craighead George.
This lesson uses some books by Jean Craighead George, who was the 2009 SB&F Prize Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. You can read more about this award and the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books at Book Award.
Author and naturalist Jean Craighead George has written more than 100 books. Her book Julie of the Wolves won the prestigious Newbery Medal, the American Library Association's award for the most distinguished contribution to literature for children, in 1973. My Side of the Mountain, the story of a boy and a falcon surviving on a mountain together, was a 1960 Newbery Honor Book. She also has received 20 other awards.
As students begin to think about the kind of work they want to pursue as adults, they may be attracted to the topics of animal behavior, ecology, or biology. Students may have the misconception that scientific work is done only by scientists (usually male) in a lab. But as exemplified by author Jean Craighead George, communicating the concepts of science through fiction for children is an option for those interested in writing, language, and teaching, as well as science. In fact, many scientists were inspired to pursue a career in science by the fiction they read as children or young adults.
Students should come to see that scientific work involves many individuals doing many different kinds of work and goes on to some degree in all nations of the world. Men and women of all ethnic and national backgrounds participate in science and its applications. These people—scientists and engineers, mathematicians, physicians, technicians, computer programmers, librarians, and others—may focus on scientific knowledge either for its own sake or for a particular practical purpose, and they may be concerned with data gathering, theory building, instrument building, or communicating.
As students read one or more books by Jean Craighead George (e.g., Julie of the Wolves, The Wolves are Back, or My Side of the Mountain), listen to and read interviews with her, and visit her website, they will come to understand that works of fiction can communicate important scientific concepts to a wide audience in a compelling manner.
To start this lesson, students should use their Jean Craighead George student esheet to go and listen to the podcast interview of Jean Craighead George at SB&F Online. They also should use the esheet to go to and read the biographies and interviews online.
Once students have found out more about Jean Craighead George, have a class discussion in which students explore the influence of family, education, life experiences, and other factors on her writing. Students should look particularly at the influence of her science background on her writing.
Based on the podcast and online biographies, ask students to answer these questions about Jean Craighead George (they can record their answers on the Jean Craighead George student sheet):
- When and where was she born?
- How old is she now?
- How did her family fuel her interest in science and the natural world?
- What did she study in college?
- How does she keep up with current scientific topics?
- Where does she get ideas for her stories?
Have students read Julie of the Wolves (or another book by the author). Before reading the book, students should use their esheet to go to and read On Writing. Students should read the page and use it to guide their reading of a JCG book. Have them answer these questions about the book on the student sheet.
- Who is the protagonist of the story?
- What is the setting of the story (where does it take place)? Be as specific as you can.
- What problem does the protagonist have to solve?
- Is the problem solved by the end of the book? How?
- Do you agree with how the problem was solved? Why or why not?
- What science topic(s) is captured by the story?
- Name three facts that you learned about from the story.
After they finish these questions, students should find three nonfiction sources (library book, textbook, Internet) that cover the main science topic of the book. Students should use the student sheet to compare information from these sources with the JCG book that they read. They should provide this information for each source:
- Compare and contrast the information about the main science topic you found in the Jean Craighead George book to this new source. How is the information the same and how is it different?
- Write down two new pieces of information that you learned from this source.
Students should come to understand that there are myriad ways to communicate scientific topics, and writing fictional stories that use science facts is a highly effective way to engage the reader. To help students understand this, have them write a short sentence about each of the three scientific facts they learned from the book they read. Then, they should write a one-paragraph fictional story using the same facts. Have the students read both sets of sentences to their classmates, and test the class to see which of the two methods helped them remember the most facts.
The concepts in the Science NetLinks lesson, What Do Scientists Do?, could be used to extend the ideas in this lesson.
Have students write their own short story using a topic they learned in science class, following JCG's guidelines at On Writing.
Two of JCG's most famous books are Julie of the Wolves and My Side of the Mountain. In both books, a young protagonist lives by her/himself in the wild. Ask students questions that would get them thinking about how they would survive in the wild. Students may be familiar with the Discovery Channel's Man vs. Wild and Canada's Survivorman. Ask students: "What would you eat? Where would you find shelter?" Guide students into thinking about what animals need to live. They might also refer to JCG's latest book, Pocket Guide to the Outdoors for hands-on information for surviving outdoors.