Science Literacy Might Lick a Mystery

The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.
~Albert Einstein

March is Youth Science Month in Canada. The importance of science literacy in our daily lives may not be obvious, yet we make science-based choices every day. Science is involved when we choose what to eat, or choose products with the least impact on the environment or make informed decisions about our health-care.

Carl Wieman (2009), says “we need a more scientifically literate populace to address the global challenges that humanity now faces and that only science can explain and possibly mitigate, such as global warming, as well as to make wise decisions, informed by scientific understanding, about issues such as genetic modification.

Moreover, the modern economy is largely based on science and technology, and for that economy to thrive and for individuals within it to be successful, we need technically literate citizens with complex problem-solving skills.”

Language and literacy skills are integral to knowing and doing science.  Reading, writing, and speaking are all essential to comprehending and communicating scientific issues and ideas.

Robert Krulwich says “the best way to sell a science story each and every time, is to give the audience the experience, if you can, of actually making a discovery on their own—the ‘oh, wow’ feeling.”

You know that moment—some call it the “Ah-Ha!” moment of creative insight, when a solution or a discovery hits you all at once.  That experience—the one of initial discovery, of fulfilled curiosity.

When we use our blogs to share new ideas, we are allowing the rediscovery of wonder. The story we are telling has never been told before—no one has ever put together those associations, or drawn that unique conclusion, or made that connection between two seemingly unrelated things in quite that way before.

Here’s my “Ah-Ha” look at the connection between Science and Literacy.  SFU researcher Dongya Yang thinks he can extract Amelia Earhart’s DNA from saliva she used to seal a handful of letters prior to her famous 1937 disappearance during her attempt to fly around the world.  Yang’s findings could resolve claims that a finger bone fragment found on the island of Nikumaroro in 2009 belongs to Earhart.  Being literate might lick the mystery of Amelia Earhart’s final resting place.


Feet in Your Shoes

Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You. – Dr. Seuss

Dr. SeussTheodor Seuss Geisel, the man behind the Cat in the Hat, was born 107 years ago today.

He is the beloved creator of countless whimsical literary characters. His books promote the fun aspect of literacy, education and morality as well!

He wrote The Cat in the Hat in response to an article which was published in Life magazine in 1954by John Hersey, titled “Why Do Students Bog Down on First R? A Local Committee Sheds Light on a National Problem: Reading.” The piece criticized school primers as intensely boring, unchallenging, and responsible for causing harm to children’s literacy. The article called for more primers to up the excitement by energizing the language and including drawings like those of “imaginative geniuses among children’s illustrators, Tenniel, Howard Pyle, Theodor S. Geisel.” Using the piece as a call to action, Geisel and his publisher came up with a list of 400 “exciting” words, which Seuss than narrowed down for the book. The Cat in the Hat uses a total vocabulary of 236 words.

Oceanhouse Media took Seuss titles and made them into rich, interactive apps-Books for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. Each book has the option to read to your child or allow them to explore the book themselves. Turning pages is as easy as swiping the screen. The apps from Oceanhouse Media not only hit that ideal middle ground between book and interactive game, but are specifically geared toward word recognition and reading. The user can tap just about any item on the page to hear and see the word for that item.

Seussville (Random House) is also a great way to explore his books, characters and have some online fun at the same time.

Were you celebrating today? What is your favourite Seuss book?

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…  — Dr. Seuss

The Power of Words

“Reading aloud to children can awaken their sleeping imaginations,improve their language skills and change their attitude toward books. That’s very important in a nation where so many children can’t read, won’t read or hate to read.”
–Jim Trelease, author, The New Read Aloud Handbook

In the fourth century, Augustine of Hippo walked in on Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, and found him . . . reading to himself:

When he read, his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still. Anyone could approach him freely and guests were not commonly announced, so that often, when we came to visit him, we found him reading like this in silence, for he never read aloud.
(The Confessions, c. 397-400)

Whether Augustine was impressed or appalled by the bishop’s reading habits remains a matter of scholarly dispute. What’s clear is that earlier in our history silent reading was rare.

But reading aloud in school and at home, often stops, or is greatly cut back, once a child learns to read on his own.  It is assumed to be suitable only for very young children.

Why?, wonders author Jim Trelease in his book The Read Aloud Handbook:

“Reading aloud is a commercial for reading. …Think of it this way: McDonald’s doesn’t stop advertising just because the vast majority of Americans know about its restaurants. Each year it spends more money on ads to remind people how good its products taste. Don’t cut your reading advertising budget as children grow older.”

Reading aloud to children helps them develop and improve literacy skills — reading, writing, speaking, and listening, Trelease adds. And since children listen on a higher level than they read, listening to other readers stimulates growth and understanding of vocabulary and language patterns.

Instructionally, reading aloud books, poems, articles, and short stories gives teachers and parents endless opportunities to highlight great writing and model reading strategies.

Reading aloud removes roadblocks to comprehension like unfamiliar vocabulary and contextualizes words the readers do not know. Listening to a fluent reader gives the listener a reading role model for their own oral reading skills.

Reading aloud builds community.  Shared experiences create memories that connect us to each other. Reading aloud offers unifying moments. While reading together, we laugh and cry together, comrades on the same journey.

We are never too young or too old to be read to.  What book are you reading out loud?

On the Same Page

“A book is not only a friend, it makes friends for you. When you have possessed a book with mind and spirit, you are enriched. But when you pass it on you are enriched threefold.” — Henry Miller, The Books In My Life (1969)

Online book clubs are a place where book lovers can connect online to meet, chat and share news and views about books.

Book Club: Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

This month in the Literacy Forum we are reading Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda.  It was 9 months on the Canadian bestseller list.  Head to your local library, bookstore, or Costco and borrow/buy this book and join the discussion!

Eve’s Lit Picks is a virtual gathering of avid readers that discusses new topics and books.

You might think that reading groups are simply an arena for book worms to indulge in their favourite passion or for you to have enjoyable argument about your favourite story or characters with like-minded individuals…but book clubs actually offer more lifelong benefits than you realize:

  • Everyone knows that reading expands your horizons and book clubs help to do this at an even greater level, with the in-depth discussions and assimilation of different viewpoints all contributing to increasing your knowledge and appreciation of the world around you.
  • Joining a reading group can also help to extend your reading, as you’ll be tempted to try different types of books that you might not otherwise have chosen by yourself. Many people can become accustomed to the comfort of reading in a favorite genre and may not realize how much they might actually enjoy an altogether different type of book, until they are persuaded to try by other members of the reading group.
  • Despite not having a formalized classroom structure, reading groups are actually a fantastic place to promote learning. Discussing books helps to reinforce things in your mind and enable you to retain information better.
  • Book clubs enable you to appreciate otherwise “dry” topics within the context of an involving story – for example, reading books set in certain periods allow you to learn more about history, without the dread of boring facts and dates.
  • Book clubs can also be great ways to travel and appreciate other cultures – not only through the books themselves but also through any members with different backgrounds. And discussing these differences helps everyone to understand them by placing them within a larger context.
  • Participating in reading group discussions does wonders for your communication skills, teaching you to listen to different points of view and different ways of expression, as well as “discuss and disagree” without resorting to emotional arguments.
  • Book clubs are a great way to start practicing expressing your opinions to an audience or summarizing information and presenting it in a coherent and engaging way.
  • Book clubs can help you appreciate books that you had rejected in your childhood or within the confines of your school curriculum, as the imminent discussion motivates you to read with more purpose and attention.
  • For those with writing aspirations, book clubs can be a wonderful breeding ground for ideas as well as provide the motivation for you to pen your own literary masterpiece. Listening to other people’s assessment of a book and their discussion of likes and dislikes about plot, character and style, can help enormously in your quest to become a better, more successful writer.
  • If you are prone to depression, a reading group can keep you engaged with others.
  • Stimulating your brain cells may help to protect against or delay memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease, studies suggest.

Come read with us!


Freedom to Read Week takes place in Canada during the last week of February. This yearly observance is meant to highlight the problem of censorship in Canada and to promote the belief that the freedom to read whatever you want is a fundamental right in Canadian society.

While many people believe that censorship is a thing of the past, books are still being banned yearly.  The latest example of book banning in Canada was To Kill a Mockingbird in October of 2009. Anyone who has read this classic novel knows that the language used in the book must be viewed within the context of the novel. 

Mark Twain’s classic of American literature, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the most frequently banned books in the school curricula because of its repeated use of the N word.

According to Publishers Weekly, NewSouth Books plans to redress it, and release a version that cuts the “n” word and replaces it with “slave.” The slur “injun,” referring to Native Americans, will also be replaced.

In the novel, Huck describes how “the Widow Douglas …took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me.”  Widow Douglas was never able to, but 126 years later, it seems that NewSouth Books will.

Does substituting ‘slave’ for the N word sivilize it and scrub it clean of the stains of slavery? Does it defile the novel’s context, denying readers the opportunity to discuss the implications of using denigrating language in reference to other groups and people? Isn’t the contested language an opportunity to explore the painful complexities of race relations? Don’t the new clothes cover the painful complexities of race relations and undermine them?

“To substitute a euphemism . . . for nigger robs students . . . of a valuable learning experience,” says Peaches Henry, an English professor from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. An African-American academic, Henry thinks that dropping the word is a mistake, as it “erases the historical accuracy of the novel” and “the use of nigger . . . opens up an avenue for teachers and students to deal with the complex issue of race and racism as it has impacted the United States historically and contemporaneously.”

Stephen Railton, an English professor at the University of Virginia suggests that “(the word) is crucial to the novel’s powerful exploration of the possibility of freedom.”  He  believes Twain wrote the book because he wanted to “explore racism as a dramatic example of cultural conditioning,” and because he thought it would be popular among his racist American readers.

In the novel Huck recounts how the Widow Douglas “put me in them new clothes again, and I couldn’t do nothing but sweat and sweat, and feel all cramped up.” Huck didn’t like his new clothes then.  Do you think he’ll like them now?

Check out this list of famous examples of banned books.