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Books as hooks

Published: 26 April 2021

Books and stories can provide a great context for science learning. Books can engage and inspire young learners who may not see themselves as scientists; they can take children into new worlds, expanding their understanding, their vocabulary and their view of science and scientists. Integrating literacy into science can support children’s comprehension of the subject; it can expand science learning across the curriculum, taking it beyond the dedicated primary science time which can be limited.

At secondary school, books can be used to captivate and inspire young scientists – often taking their learning beyond the curriculum, expanding their interest and generating discussion.

Book clubs and science libraries have always been popular with Ogden partnerships. With shared events and science days difficult to run in the current circumstances, books can be the perfect way to inspire and engage.

Matt Crook, Year 6 teacher at Lunt’s Heath and co-ordinator for the Ogden Halton Partnership, launched his partnership science library at the start of this year after an incredibly successful campaign that was supported by families and local business.

“We now have a brilliantly stocked science library that is used by the 16 local primary schools in our partnership. We are able to circulate a set of science-related books each half term (currently with COVID restrictions) together with a scrap book for pupils to share photos and book reviews.

“The science library has created such a buzz during our first few weeks at Lunt’s Heath. We have started the library in Year 6, with the children loving the wide range of both fiction and non-fiction texts. We have had numerous children signing the books out to take home for reading books, with some finishing their book in one night so they could get another the day after.

“It has been great to spend 15 minutes every day dedicated to just sitting down and sharing scientific texts. The children have written book reviews and we are about to pass on the basket to our Year 5 class so they can enjoy them as much as we have.The science books have been fantastic to link to previously taught topics and also up and coming topics; they have been great for reviewing and recapping previous learning and have opened a number of science-based conversations,” concludes Matt.

Primary book recommendations

Ogden Regional Representative Jenny Watson is a great believer in books as hooks for primary science: “Stories and books provide a captivating route into science. Teachers can elicit children’s questions from science-rich texts, which they can then explore by discussion and hands-on experiments. This enables children to hear and use scientific vocabulary correctly and within a meaningful context (sometimes ‘real-world’, sometimes magical). These texts often also contain aspirational role models featuring young or historic scientists.”

Jenny has compiled a recommended reading list by topic for Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 together with links to other useful resources. You can download the full list of books here.

Books for secondary schools

The London Hammersmith Partnership has recently launched a book club across its primary and secondary schools; the North Cambridge Academy (part of the Ogden North Cambridge Partnership) runs a science book club for Year 7 and Year 8 students; and the Ipswich Partnership book club has now been running successfully for several years.

North Cambridge Academy book club

“Our book club encourages our students to think about science,” explains Natasha Dhari, science teacher at the North Cambridge Academy. “Students are provided with a book to read in their own time. They have four weeks to read it and are encouraged to share their thoughts as they go using Microsoft Teams. Book club continued during lockdown with virtual meetings and provided a lovely opportunity to engage with science outside of the curriculum. We now meet every half term as a (socially distanced) group, over refreshments, to discuss what we have enjoyed and learned. The students have really engaged with the idea and have brought me articles that they would like to discuss too,” adds Natasha.

“Science is a really fun subject to learn. Book club lets us read lots of different books and learn about different parts of science!”

The Ipswich Partnership physics book club is well established, and although sharing across the partnership is currently on hold, the books are still an inspiration within the schools.

“A good book on physics can be a truly inspiring read,” says Simon Snowden, teacher at Northgate High School and co-ordinator for the Ipswich and East Suffolk Partnership. “Anecdotal evidence suggests that quite a few students have had a revelatory moment when reading a popular science book, inspiring them to take the subject further.

“I launched our physics book club in autumn 2017. We started with 12 copies of Simon Singh’s The Big Bang – I advertised the idea, handed the books out to a dozen students, waited half a term and then had a half-hour meeting after school in the library (with juice and cake). We discussed the book and students had a chance to ask further questions about some of the ideas raised,” explains Simon.

“I then expanded it, and bought five more sets of a dozen books, with a 10L plastic box and lid to contain them. Each box had a picture of the cover on the front, and a sheet for recording names inside – I numbered each book and at the next partnership meeting, each of the six schools took a box and ran a similar club.”

“We’ve swapped book boxes at partnership meetings ever since,” says Simon. “By my reckoning, each school has had six sets of books, so 36 ‘cycles’ of book club have run. Assuming all books are lent out, over 400 books were read in the first two years, at a cost of about £540, not including refreshments. COVID-19 has brought complications to book-swaps because our meetings have gone online, but out of our initial stock of books only three have been lost, and they’re still in fairly good condition, so this should continue to run for years to come. In fact, we have just added a new book to our collection – Fundamental by Tim James; a recently published book which is an excellent introduction to fundamental particles,” concludes Simon.

This is more than just a book about a single concept. You get relativity, astronomy, cosmology and interesting anecdotes about the scientists involved, some of them well known. It’s a long read, but worth it and a rewarding book. It’s easy to understand, but still complex enough to be interesting.
A short review of The Big Bang by a Year 12 student

Books included in partnership book boxes/secondary science libraries

  • Storm in a Teacup – Helen Czerski
  • Six Easy Pieces – Richard Feynman
  • Six Not So Easy Pieces – Richard Feynman
  • QED – Richard Feynman
  • A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking
  • Women in Science – Rachel Ignotofsky
  • Fundamental – Tim James
  • Endurance – Scott Kelly
  • The Periodic Table – Primo Levi
  • Stuff Matters books – Mark Miodownik
  • Seven Brief Lessons on Physics – Carlo Rovelli
  • Big Bang – Simon Singh
  • The Double Helix – James Watson

Still looking for inspiration? Each Ogden Phizzi focus features a recommended reading list. You can find suggestions for in the links below:

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