A few days ago, Vicki wrote about the success of the first videoconference between an iNK Authors on Call author and students in Bogert School in New Jersey. I happened to be the author in that interaction, but I believe that all of us will have similar successes connecting with the students. Before each of us skypes with them, the students will be familiar with some of our work, and just the idea of having a “real author” interested in them is an exciting prospect. Real people write those books—wow! The enthusiasm of Bogert's devoted teachers also rubs off on the students, and the special projects they will undertake give them a change from routine classroom work. All the elements area there for a successful project.
A key element in what we’re doing that makes our interactions different from a traditional school visit is that we skype with the teachers first and find out what they would like to see in the students as a result of “meeting” their author. Different teachers can have very different goals. For example, Jason and Chris, “my” teachers, hoped that I could help their students to connect with their own real worlds, with their day to day environments, and to become curious about them and begin to ask “why” questions.
As a 20th century kind of person, I tend to attribute the students’ disconnect with what I would call the “real world” to their incessant contact with input from outside worlds—music from their ipods, text messages on their cell phones, comments on their Face Book pages, and so on. These sources of “information” have little or nothing to do with the environment through which the students are moving on a day to day basis. As a result, when a teacher asks the students what in their lives sparks their curiosity, what around them might they want to learn more about, they have no answer. They are so wrapped up in those outside worlds that they are disconnected from the actual world in which they eat, sleep, and go to school.
So, when I talked to the students, I suggested they take a look around as they go home from school and start to wonder—why do some trees loose their leaves in the fall and others don’t? Where do the ants go when they disappear into a crack in the sidewalk? That sort of thing. From what Jason and Chris have indicated, some of the students are awakening to their environments, and the classes as a whole got truly engaged in our interaction. From five time zones away (I was in Hawaii), I could feel their enthusiasm as they murmured to one another while watching my slide show. As for me, this experience is only strengthening my knowledge that the two things in life that most help me “come to life” are learning new things and communicating the excitement of learning to others. I think that’s a powerful motivating force for all of us who have chosen to write nonfiction books for children, and connecting directly with our readers, even from far away, gives us a special high we can’t get in any other way. It's a win-win process.