TRC Read to Kids

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Getting kids to think outside of the box

A recent conversation with TRC board member Jim Egenrieder got me thinking about how TRC includes books about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in our programs.  Jim is, among other things, a STEM education specialist for Arlington County Public Schools in Virginia. He helped me realize that I’d been too limited in the way I thought about the relationship between STEM education and books.

Exploring the states of matter
At TRC, we’re all about creating regular and passionate readers.  That means giving kids the books they want to read.  In many cases, that means nonfiction.  Kids love exploring the whys and hows of the world, and we’re happy to supply them with lots of nonfiction books at Read-Alouds, and in the mail through our Book Club.  We even provide explanations of how certain Book Club books build math and science skills in addition to reading skills in the tips we send out with packages.  We plan special Read-Alouds about math and science, sometimes with special guests, and feature exciting books all about these topics.

During my visit with Jim, he defined what STEM means and then we talked about ways books can foster that kind of learning. 

• Science is answering questions with observation and isolating variables.
• Technology is any purposeful modification of the natural world.
• Engineering is solving problems using a design process.  And,
• Math is the relationship between things real or imagined, based on logic and often quantified with numbers.

His explanation of the goals of STEM education made me realize that books not only can teach math and science vocabulary and concepts, they also do much more.

At the very core of STEM learning and proficiency are curiosity and imagination.  A sense of wonder and possibility lead to exploration.  Imagination and creativity are essential for problem solving.  And most relevant to our Read-Aloud, kids love stories about exploring mysterious things and solving problems.

When we share books with kids that spark their imaginations and encourage them to think creatively, we help create the future Marie Curies, Albert Einsteins, Charles Drews and Bill Gates of our world.  I’m talking about picture books like King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub or novels like Harry Potter, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Mysterious Benedict Society or The Calder Game.  All of these books feature kids solving problems in a creative way.

Or books like It Looked Like Spilt Milk and (the sadly out-of-print) Bored--Nothing to Do!, Press Here, Not a Box or books David Wiesner and Chris Van Allsburg.  These books challenge a child to look at the world with in a different way and to apply their own imagination to the stories. 

Here's a new TRC favorite: Not a Box!

Encouraging kids to use their imaginations and think creatively builds the skills our kids need.  The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer tells the story of just such a boy, who imagined a solution to his community’s drought and built a windmill out of parts he finds in a junkyard.  Yes, it fits Jim’s definition of engineering and maybe even technology, but at the heart of the story are William’s curiosity and creativity.

At TRC, we’ll continue to provide books about fact and fiction for the kids we serve, to build their passion for reading and their imaginations.  And here at the TRC Training Hub, we’ll also include posts every few months exploring the relationship between STEM education and reading.  In the meantime, read a book that gets you to think outside the box!

To receive credit for this online training, please fill out the form here.

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