The “Wow!” Factor: Nonfiction, Research & School Visits
Nonfiction and school visits go together like peanut butter and jelly. Trains and aircraft carriers were the main topics of the day at my recent visit to Mather Heights Elementary School in Sacramento, California.
Jingle the Brass (trains) and Nugget on the Flight Deck (fighter pilots and aircraft carriers) required months of research. I labored over library books, Internet sites, and expert interviews searching for the most fascinating facts for my readers. When I began writing the manuscripts, I discovered I not only had enough material for my picture books, I had enough for the definitive works on trains and carriers!
That’s where school visits come in! Students are treated to many of the delights that I could not include in my books. For instance, when I read Jingle the Brass I demonstrate how two trains share one railroad track through a skit in which the children play the parts of train cars, tunnels and semaphores. And a couple of pages in Jingle the Brass provide a perfect introduction to the science behind steam engines.
With Nugget on the Flight Deck, we figure out the size of a carrier in comparison to objects with which students are more familiar. For example six third graders equal the weight of one link in the anchor chain. I demonstrate how a fighter pilot keeps track of the position of enemy planes flying around him. One student plays the part of the pilot and other students play the part of bogeys. We do head math problems involving the number of TVs on a carrier and the number of meals served every day. We also do a few spatial relationship problems, demonstrating a hi yo-yo dogfight move with paper airplanes.
Whether you are an author or a teacher, nonfiction is an excellent way to help students make connections to the real world. If I hear the students say, “Wow!” I know the hours of research were worth it.