Nonfiction Institute with Sue, Sy and Nic


On Friday, Sue Kirch and I “swam” (i.e., we drove through almost non-stop, heavy rain there and back) from New York City to Maine for the 2nd Annual Nonfiction Institute (NI) at the College of Education & Human Development, The University of Maine on Saturday. I’m on the board of the NI and was the keynote speaker last year. Sue is a biologist who made original contributions to the field of immunology. (She also comments on my science-related blogs, e.g. , why cranberries float, 10/08/07, and caterpillar eggs & newborns, 3/21/08.) Luckily for everyone who cares about science education (& we all should!), seven years ago Sue decided to devote her impressive training and experience (and engaging personality) to science education. We met in 2003 when she joined the faculty in the Department of Elementary and Early Childhood Education at Queens College, the City University of New York. Currently she is on the faculty at New York University in the Department of Teaching and Learning.
Jan Kristo, professor, Reading and Language Arts, University of Maine, and head of the NI, set the perfect tone for the day with an inspiring call to action to promote/use nonfiction literature in classrooms. Then Sue gave her fascinating presentation “Question! Investigate!: Using Science Trade Books to Support Inquiry in the Classroom.” She illustrated her points with examples from nonfiction books and hands-on activities. In addition everyone got a sticker with the picture of a three-legged stool, a visual representation of a holistic view of science: the word “science” is on the seat, each leg represents the three aspect of a holistic view –knowledge, method, worldview.
In planning the NI, we asked Sue for a list of authors whose books reflect this holistic view of science. Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop were at the top of her list. Sy is a naturalist, author, documentary script-writer and radio commentator. Nic is a photographer and writer. He also has a Ph.D. in biology, and, like Sue, changed directions from lab-based research to doing the photography and writing for books about natural history.
As collaborators, Sy and Nic have shared adventures in remote places to produce award-winning books, including Quest for the Tree Kangaroo. They have also produced books under their own name, e.g., Sy wrote The Man-Eating Tigers of Sundarbans and Nic wrote Nic Bishop Frogs.
Sy and Nic presented in the afternoon and held all of us spellbound with dramatic stories and stunning photographs.
Standing in the top picture from left to right are: Mary Evans, award-winning science teacher in Bangor & NI board member; Jan Kristo, professor, Reading and Language Arts, University of Maine, and head of the NI; Sy Montgomery; Sandip Wilson, professor, Literacy and Elementary Education, Husson University, Bangor, Maine & NI board member; Marcia Boody, Maine Literacy Partnership Trainer; Nic Bishop; Sue Kirch; Penny Colman; Amy Cates, who admirably handled all the arrangements for the conference. In these pictures, I’m signing books for people and answering questions. Deb Schuller, Ph.D. (standing to my left), is Literacy Coordinator and Coach K-2 for two elementary school in central Maine. Her colleague, Carol Crothers, is sitting to my right. Behind me is William Jackson, another elementary school literacy coach. The people standing on the left side of the first two pictures are waiting to have Nic and Sy sign books.

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One Response to Nonfiction Institute with Sue, Sy and Nic

  1. Penny Colman says:

    Janice V. Kristo e-mailed this comment for me to post:
    “I’ve seen many of the participants from our Second Annual Nonfiction Institute that we held at the University of Maine on Saturday, September 27. They are still talking about how much they learned at the Institute about science literacy from Dr. Sue Kirch. They’re excited about working with children in new ways as they interact and learn about the world of science. Teachers were spell bound over the words and slides presented by Nic Bishop and Sy Montgomery. Nic and Sy’s remarks at the Institute and their books have opened new avenues to explore science. I’m sure that the delight in discovery that Sue, Nic, and Sy shared with all of us on that outstanding day found its way into Maine classrooms that Monday!:) Finally, Penny put the finishing touches on the day by giving us loads to consider about teaching nonfiction. Her thoughtful summary statements, questions, and reflections fuel our thinking as we go about the important work of teaching our students about nonfiction. A hearty University of Maine thanks to Sy Montgomery, Nic Bishop, Sue Kirch, and Penny Colman for an inspiring day!

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