Ah, the world of scientific understanding. It’s exciting. It’s fascinating. It’s ever-changing. And with that comes some challenges for the science writer. How’s a writer supposed to commit to providing the “truth” about a topic when the scientific understanding is likely to change in the future?
And if you are writing about the ocean—a topic in which our knowledge gets updated on an almost daily basis—you could see that as a dark abyss, a sea of knowledge your little flashlight could never hope to illuminate fully. Or, you could see it as an opportunity . . . after all, ocean exploration is the perfect metaphor for open-ended inquiry.
Looking at this month’s Living Sea book list we can scavenge strategies used by science writers to navigate the uncharted waters of scientific understanding.
- Showcase the nature of science and engineering practices
- Focus on enduring concepts, skills, and/or messages
- Provide hope for the future and inspiration for the future professionals
The Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the Oceans, by Elizabeth Rusch
When we present discovery and design as a timeline, it illustrates a trajectory, helping readers visualize future possibilities for science, engineering, and themselves. For example, Rusch follows individuals Mike Morrow and Mike Delos-Reyes from childhood (component-collecting with a screw driver or building a guitar from a badminton racket), to high school (Most likely to become Mad Scientist) to professional engineers (lighting Christmas tree lights with their prototype). Young readers can “see” the future through their path.
Rusch interweaves their story with that of others, conveying the variety of different possible solutions to an engineering problem, an enduring message all young readers need. In the book’s conclusion, Rusch provides literary snapshots of where the projects stand in their process. A look at a few lines indicates the hope she leaves readers with:
“When OPT gets the green light …”
“The Mikes have set their sights…”
“Columbia Power Technologies hopes to roll out…”
This is how a writer maximizes on the opportunities presented by ocean exploration!
Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion, by Loree Griffin Burns
In this book, Burns focuses squarely on the efforts of one scientist. She helps us see Dr. Curtis Ebbeseyer as an individual, to witness how his curiosity enhanced his career, and how his seemingly simple methods (tracking floating rubber duckies across the ocean) brought new understandings to light.
This Scientist in the Field approach provided opportunities to teach broad skills. Complementing engaging text with large maps of ocean currents, Tracking Trash encourages visual literacy and specific map-reading skills. Burns included sidebars on how readers can get involved themselves. And, presenting data graphically allows readers to practice chart-reading skills.
Anchoring the reader in the experiences of one individual also enabled Burns to illustrate the collaborative nature of science—from working with other professional researchers to engaging community scientists, Curtis’s story provides models for young readers.
Astronaut, Aquanaut, by Jennifer Swanson
An author’s unique approach to a topic can open reader’s minds to new possibilities. In this book, Swanson’s comparison of two professions opens the door to teaching enduring concepts and skills over and over again. For example, she models compare and contrast with “Differences” and “Similarities” sidebars. She asks questions about ethics “Should we have colonies on Mars?” She uses these high interest topics to teach concepts such as gravity, skills such as creating a model, and messages such as teamwork.
When Swanson discusses deep sea vents on page 71, the focus isn’t on the fun facts, it is on nature of discovery and how that changed scientists’ perspective on Earth’s crust. She concludes with “Makes you wonder how many other amazing discoveries lie beneath the deep.” It shows readers the nature of science and it inspires future scientists!
A few other tips gleaned from books on this month’s list:
- In illustrations, avoid dated objects or use intentionally dated illustrations to convey progress through time.
- Highlighting multiple projects increases the chance that a project from the book will be ongoing or completed once the book is published.
- Use a different device (such as a diagram in a photo-driven book) to represent the imagined future of a project.
In what scientific subjects do you see the potential for new knowledge? Whip out your writer’s notebook and brainstorm strategies to capitalize on that brain-stretching potential!
Heather L. Montgomery inspires young readers to make their own discoveries! She concludes her recent title, Little Monsters of the Ocean: Metamorphosis Under the Waves, with a story of a six-year-old who discovered four new larval species! Learn more at www.HeatherLMontgomery.com