Thursday, February 25, 2010

Don't Read your Textbook

Note: I decided to take a little break from my normal ed. tech posts. Here's an article that I wrote for a local school newsletter.

Reading is a critical skill for academic success. This includes the sciences. Sadly, when it comes to reading, most students only think about their textbook. How boring! Reading textbooks provides great instruction and information but doesn’t do much to excite students about science. When given the option of reading a science textbook or a favorite novel, it’s no surprise that the textbook gets put up on the shelf.

You don’t have to read a textbook to learn about science. There is a wealth of literature that illustrates scientific principles, heralds scientific discoveries, and encourages exploration. It is only when students are excited about the possibilities of science that they will be willing to engage in the difficult work of mastering scientific concepts.

Reading science literature for pleasure benefits students in two ways. First, engaging with complex information develops the brain and requires higher order thinking. This type of cognition is critical for success in the sciences. Secondly, when student see examples of scientific discoveries, breakthroughs, and triumphs, they will be eager to learn more. Compelling stories provide a context for scientific facts. Yes, this stuff actually can be useful! There is no greater example of this than the space race of the Kennedy era. The triumph of putting a man on the moon is still amazing even today. Reading an in-depth account of this adventure encourages scientific exploration.

My teaching partner at Southfield Christian School, Dr. Jan Guthrie, and I have compiled a list of books which we use to encourage high school student to read scientific literature for fun. It’s a mix of fiction and non-fiction. I have selected 10 of my favorites from the list to share with you. If you would like to full list (70+ books), please send me an e-mail: jsowash at southfieldchristian dot org.

Ten Great Science Books:
All links to Google Books
The great influenza: The epic story of the deadliest plague by John M. Barry. (Genetics, Epidemiology, Biology)

Into thin air: A personal account of the Mount Everest* by John Krakauer (Ecology, Biology, Anatomy & Physiology)

Jurassic Park* by Michael Crichton (Genetics, Biology, Paleontology)

Rascal by Sterling North (Bology, Veterinary Sciences)

The Case for the Creatorby Lee Strobel (Biology, Chemistry, Physics)

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made by Philip Yancy and Paul Brand (Anatomy & Physiology)

Between a Rock and a Hard Place* by Aron Ralston (Anatomy & Physiology)

E: the story of a numberby Eli Maor (Mathematics)

The five biggest ideas in science by Arthur W. Wiggins, Charles M. Wynn (Biology, Physics, Chemistry)

My stroke of Insight
by Jill Bolte Taylor (Anatomy & Physiology)

* = parental review recommended due to language and or graphic content


  1. I'm here...Nathan Alkire....

  2. Do you live in Georgia? We measure books by Lexile here. The Lexile measure takes vocabulary and content into account Students should be on a 1050 Lexile when they leave 7th grade. Jurassic Park is on a 710. I teach 7th grade and I hate it that this book is Lexiled so low. I think it should be much higher. The book incooperates everything studied in 7th grade Life Science.


Thanks for contributing to my blog. I enjoy being a part of the conversation and do my best to respond to comments and questions that are posted.