With one exception, my school visits require that I perform. I do assembly programs designed to turn kids on to science and to motivate them to get involved in reading in general and reading my books in particular. It is this one exception that I want to talk about. This blog is part of our theme this month to share exciting classroom uses for our books, which you can find in our database on our new website, INK Think Tank.
I was invited to Cummings Elementary School in Alief, Texas back in 1986. Cummings was one of those Eisenhower Award schools. (I’m not certain if the award is still given.) The building was fairly new and the teachers were rightly proud of it since they had had a say in the design. Every classroom opened onto an atrium—the heart of the school— the library. The mission of the school, among other things was and is to encourage independent and creative thinking and to produce life-long learners. The thing that made this gig so different from all others was that I was invited to be an audience of one to view what the students had done from my books (most of them now out of print). They were not hiring me for my performance.
The first graders did the activities from Gobs of Goo. They made glue and mayonnaise and bubbles, among other icky things. The second graders did Lots of Rot. One boy wrote: “A grape grows gray mold. An onion grows black mold. Cake grows rhizopus mold. Cheese grows blue mold. Meat grows green mold. They all smell awful!” The third graders made paper and string from Fuzz Does It! and put on a science fair. The fourth graders did a magic show from Magic…..Naturally!, which they performed for all the other students during the day as I watched and applauded. And the fifth graders did tricks from Bet You Can’t and Bet You Can! with much verve and enthusiasm. (These tricks live on in my new book We Dare You!)
As I walked through that beautiful library and hallways festooned with displays of all the work the kids had done from my books, I was deeply touched and honored. What a validation of my work! This was my dream fulfilled! How do I remember it so well? The school produced a book for me entitled, “Getting Ready for Vicki Cobb.” It’s in my lap right now as I write this.
But the biggest bonus was the surprise lesson the teachers learned from this venture: They had never gotten so much writing out of the kids as they did when they had to write up their science projects! Think about it. Writers, even kids, have two problems. The first is having something to say. The second is finding a way to say it. Obviously you can’t do the second without the first. A science activity is a specific, finite act with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Students can use the way it is written in the book as a model. But they can also put their own spin on it because they have actually experienced the activity. The Cummings faculty decided that they would routinely incorporate hands-on science activities in writing lessons in the future. Can you understand my frustration with schools that say they don’t have time to teach science because they’re too busy teaching reading and writing?
Those kids are all grown up now. I’ll bet they read and write and think quite well.