Jeanne Brunner talks trade books and the nature of science

By Rachel Walman

(Collegian File Photo)

On Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 21, in Hasbrouck 138, a small group of 10 listened as Jeanne Brunner, an assistant professor in the department of teacher education and curriculum studies, presented her research of examining the impact of using modified science trade books, coupled with teachers’ guides to aid them in relaying the nature of science to their students.

The nature of science, Brunner explained, is how and why scientists do what they do. Teaching science to young children is not especially easy, and teaching the nature of science has proved to be even more of a challenge. At a young age, it is vital children understand not only various aspects of science itself but also the fundamentals, the “hows and whys” of science, according to Brunner. In her study, Brunner focused on the ways in which the young students grasped the empirical, creative and inferential factors in the enterprise of science.

“In this study, I look at how teachers use trade books that were modified to address the nature of science, with a teacher’s guide that focuses on the nature of science, and how that book impacted teachers’ and students’ views on the nature of science, and what the teachers actually did when they read these books aloud,” Brunner said to the group. She went on to say that these trade books are not textbooks; they include pictures, shorter texts and less complicated dialogue. Unfortunately they do not necessarily contain adequate references to the nature of science. This is where she stepped in directly.

Using three trade books, including “I, Galileo,” by Bonnie Christensen, “Galaxies, Galaxies!” by Gail Gibbons, and “Come See the Earth Turn!” by Lori Mortensen, Brunner established three levels for the teaching materials she would hand out. Each book was categorized as “unmodified,” “modified” or “modified with teacher’s guide.” Designed by Brunner, the “unmodified” book came as how it was initially published. The “modified” came with different, clearer wording and occasional questions for the teachers to pose to their class, and the “modified with teacher’s guide” came with what Brunner deemed “an educative teacher’s guide.”

“This one had specific features that helped instruct the teachers the nature of science content,” she added.

With eight different teachers in her study, Brunner examined the ways in which they became more comfortable with teaching science to their students and to what extent the students absorbed the information being taught in this new way.

Brunner discovered that the most effective version of her redesigned trade books was the “modified with teacher’s guide,” which demonstrated that with the extra help, the teachers felt more comfortable and encouraged to ask more profound questions of their students. Conducting questionnaires and interviews with three children in each of the eight teacher’s classes, Brunner also found that at least one child was greatly and positively impacted by the enhanced readings and discussions.

“The materials are rather minimal and cheap to produce,” Brunner said brightly. “In the future, I’m going to see what happens when we take these modified teachers books and put them in a broader unit to see when we do more inquiry science.” She is hopeful that in the future, teachers can take all science books – not just the modified trade ones – and notice where they can insert references, questions and adjustments independently.

Rachel Walman can be reached at [email protected].