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Beating a Science Stereotype: Books on Scientists Present Positive Images.

What would you rather read: a science textbook or a biography on the African American women working as computers during the 1940s through 1960s or the genius who led Apple? Ask any student--they will likely say that they would rather read the true science stories than a textbook.

The problem is, however, that how we see scientists greatly influences how youth feel about science. If you want to increase student interest in science, you have to show young people what a real scientist does to combat stereotypical images that students may have.


According to a study by Sedat Karacam entitled "Investigating How the Biographies of Todays Scientists Affect 8th Graders' Scientist Image," students often believe that scientists are white males in lab coats who wear glasses and work in a lab (Karacam, 2016). The Karacam study also concluded that students should read a well-rounded selection of biographies that can contradict stereotypical images, varied readings that ultimately develop a contextual framework about scientists and what they do.


The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) also endorses this approach. With the NGSS's focus on three dimensions (core ideas of science, scientific and engineering practices, and cross-cutting concepts which include inquiry practice), scientific literacy has become a key standards component (Standards, 2017). What does scientific literacy mean? Sheila Banks, instructional coach and school support specialist for Jefferson Parish in Louisiana, summarized three ways that NGSS could support scientific literacy in her article, "What Does Science Literacy Mean in the Age of NGSS?" (Banks, 2014):

* Since scientists rely on research studies to drive their research, they read a lot about previous research and often use it in writing their research.

* Scientific inquiry means that students need to write lab reports after an investigation and read textbooks to build their knowledge. With the NGSS, the difference is that students must now engage in inquiry which they lead themselves.

* Scientists and engineers base their investigations and proposals on previous work, therefore background knowledge research is critical.


Just like the Karacam study, a 2006 study, "The Effect of Historical, Nonfiction Trade Books on Elementary Students' Perceptions of Scientists," supported the finding that nonfiction trade books about science and scientists help students develop a broader perception of who does science, where it is done, and what scientists actually do. Among the texts that they used were a two-page biography of Thomas Edison for an electricity and magnetism unit, and a four-page story about Barbara McClintock, a geneticist who received the 1983 Nobel Prize for Physiology. Supporting science curriculum in this way does two things:

* helps students reconsider any biases that they may unwittingly have, and

* creates a case that such information may also inspire a novice scientist to continue their passion for science.


In recent years, science narrative nonfiction has become a burgeoning area in publishing. Science writers have written science in a way that is not only accessible, but interesting and inspiring. These works give a bird's eye view of science and the practice of science. Here are a few books to consider recommending to your science and engineering teachers:

A Collection on Scientists

These are great books for pulling out short biographies of specific scientists:

Ignotofsky, Rachel. Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World. Ten Speed Press, 2016. 128p. $16.99. 978-1-60774-976-9.

With quirky illustrations, Ignotofsky creates a book featuring fifty women in science from ancient Greek philosopher Hypatia to neuroscientist May-Britt Moser. Sharing each scientist's life story and their scientific stories, Ignotofsky writes about their discoveries and their personalities. Isaacson, Walter. The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. Simon & Schuster, 2014. 528p. $35. 978-1-4767-0869-0. Isaacson's accessible narrative chronicles the lives and technological achievements of such notables as Ada Lovelace, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Alan Turing, and many others. For a generation defined by technology, this is a great book to show them how it all began.

Maggs, Sam. Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History. Quirk, 2016. 240p. $16.99. 978-1-59474-925-4.

A fun little book that not only gives a selection of women scientists their due, this title also provides small vignettes of women in medicine, espionage, innovation, and adventure. Added bonus: the author has included a bibliography as well as a list of organizations' web addresses for women of all ages looking to "expand their horizons in science, technology, and beyond."

Swaby, Rachel. Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science and the World. Broadway, 2015. 272p. $16 Trade pb. 978-0-553-44679-1.

Swaby has put together a book with fifty-two mini-biographies of women recognized for their scientific achievements that includes only those women whose life work has already been completed. Students will read about astronaut Sally Ride; Stephanie Kwolek, the woman who invented Kevlar; and naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian.

Resource (or Science Essays and Articles

If science teachers need a good place to go for the best science journalism of the year, point them to the annual The Best American Science and Nature Writing compilations. These books contain the best writing on a variety of science subjects from notable science and nature writers.

The Best American Science and Nature Writing, 2015. Ed. Rebecca Skloot. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015. 318p. $14.95 Trade pb. 978-0-54428674-0.

This edition features articles from Rebecca Boyle ("The Health Effects of a World without Darkness"), Sheri Fink ("Life, Death, and Grim Routine Fill the Day at a Liberian Ebola Clinic"), and David Wolman ("The Aftershocks").

The Best American Science and Nature Writing, 2016. Ed. Amy Stewart. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. 320p. $14.95 Trade pb. 978-0-54474899-6.

This edition features articles from Oliver Sacks ("My Periodic Table"), Chelsea Biondolillo ("Back to the Land"), and Katie Worth ("Telescope Wars").

What Makes Science "Tick" Bocks

Out of the mouths of practicing scientists, here are books that tell students exactly what it is like to be a scientist or give the young scientist advice.

Firestein, Stuart. Ignorance: How It Drives Science. Oxford University Press, 2012. 176p. $21.95. 978-0-19-982807-4. In this book, Firestein disabuses the reader of the notion that science is born of only genius, claiming that it comes from ignorance, a curiosity about the world, and the drive to discover exactly what makes the world tick.

--. Failure: Why Science is So Successful. Oxford University Press, 2015. 282p. $21.95. 978-0-19-939010-6.

A sequel to Ignorance, Failure examines scientific research, demonstrating that there is generally no grand discovery, but a series of mishaps, discoveries, and mistakes. This small book makes failure just as acceptable as ignorance.

Wilson, Edward O. Letters to a Young Scientist. Liveright Publishing Corporation/W.W. Norton, 2013. 256p. $21.95. 978-0-87140-377-3.

Renowned naturalist Edward O. Wilson has written a volume of twenty letters to young scientists, which include autobiographical memories and thoughtful insights on what it is like to be a scientist. Inspiring for all ages, the book covers following one's passion, the scientific creative process, what life is like as scientist, and the idea of science as universal knowledge.


Blumenthal, Karen. Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different. Feiwel & Friends, 2012. 304p. $8.99 Trade pb. 978-1-250-01445-0. Even after his death, Steve Jobs remains an enigmatic figure in the technology world and beyond. Now, at the tenth anniversary of the iPhone, understanding Jobs's motivation becomes critically important, especially given this generation's overwhelming attachment to technology.

Essinger, James. Ada's Algorithm: How Lord Byron's Daughter Ada Lovelace Launched the Digital Age. Melville House, 2014. $16.95 Trade pb. 978-161219-457-8.

For youth who only know of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Steve Wozniak, Essinger's book provides a very readable biography of Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron's daughter. A mathematician, Lovelace collaborated with Charles Babbage, the man who is credited with inventing the computer. The biography chronicles the trials and tribulations faced by a very smart young woman in a man's scientific world.

Hiltzik, Michael. Big Science: Ernest Lawrence and the Invention that Launched the Military-Industrial Complex. Simon & Schuster, 2015. 528p. $30. 978-1-4516-7575-7.

This book will launch great classroom discussions on the purpose of science. Is science the path to discovery and enlightenment or to destruction and death? Ernest Lawrence invented the electromagnet and oscillating electric charge that accelerated protons to invent the cyclotron. He was also a key figure in the Manhattan Project's development of the atom bomb.

Moore, Kate. The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women. Sourcebooks, 2017. 480p. $26.99. 978-1-49264935-9.

During World War I, the demand for painted dials in wristwatches grew. Hundreds of immigrant women worked for the Radium Dial Company where they painted these dials with highly radioactive radium. The radiation exposure was so great that the women began to glow green. Like the story of Marie Curie, this book illustrates the tragedy of a scientific discovery and its impact on society.

Shetterly, Margot Lee. Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. HarperCollins, 2016. 346p. $27.99. 9780-06-236359-6.

In the last couple of years, women in space have been of increased interest to the reading and viewing crowd ("Great Women, Great Stories," VOYA October 2016). A top grossing movie, Hidden Figures tells the story of fifty college-educated, African American, female mathematicians who were hired at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory as "entry-level computers." The book chronicles the stories of four of these women and the daily racial prejudices they faced. Sobel, Dana. The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the

Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars. Viking, 2016. 304p. $30. 978-0670-01695-2.

In the middle of the 19th century, Harvard University's Observatory employed women as human computers to interpret mathematically the nightly telescopic observations made by their male counterparts. As photography began to transform astronomy, these same women took to studying the stars caught on the glass photographic plates and developed a classification system for the stars that gained international acceptance. They also deduced the chemical composition of the heavens, as well as established a scale for measuring distances across space and time.


Banks, Sheila. "What Does Science Literacy Mean in the Age of NGSS?" Teaching Channel. July 16, 2014. https://www.

"Executive Summary." Next Generation Science Standards. 2017.

Karacam, Sedat. "Investigating How the Biographies of Today's Scientists Affect 8th Graders' Scientist Image." Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, 1971-1995. 2016.

Rebecca A. Hill is a librarian and freelance writer. She writes on science education, education, parenting, library, literacy, artificial intelligence, and other issues and has been published in ParentMap, for which she writes a science education series: ParentGuide; School Library Journal; Teacher Librarian; Book Links; School Family Media; and other publications.
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Title Annotation:real science
Author:Hill, Rebecca A.
Publication:Voice of Youth Advocates
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2017
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