Review: Science Through Stories by Chris Smith and Jules Pottle

science through stories

This review was forwarded to us by our friends at Footprint Books, who handle our distribution in Australia and New Zealand. Many thanks to them. This review was written by Peter Hope for Let’s Find Out.

I am sure that, like the majority of classroom teachers, the use of a story to introduce a topic is quite common. Books such as Who Sank The Boat? by Pamela Allen led into many exciting discoveries by my classes around the concept of forces and floating and sinking. The book’s text was complemented by the excellent graphics and allowed the students to see the boat’s position on the water surface as each animal entered the boat. The discussion about the poor mouse being blamed went on for a long time (by the way I have used this book from Preps through to Year 6 with similar levels of interest). The resulting “lesson” went on for weeks as my class kept bringing things into the room to see if they would float or sink – such is the power of linking literature with science.

The challenge has always been to find suitable texts and the book I am reviewing answers that challenge quite well. It is based on the English Storytelling School approach to teaching, which is outlined in the first twenty pages. The author’s favourite way of telling and improvising stories –Hear, Map, Step and Speak (HMSS) –is explained clearly. The book contains a collection of engaging stories chosen to introduce and explore the world of science. A mixture of traditional tales, historical stories and stories that have been specially written for this book are presented in the different science categories. The stories have been classroom tested and after each story their are suggestions as to how each one can be used to broaden the children’s learning experience. The interesting thing is that the authors have listed the stories in order of difficulty rather than attributing a grade level. This recognises that children’s learning levels can be over a range of levels within the same class and that teachers will be able to easily access and adapt a story to suit the interest level and skills of their group.

There are 29 stories in the book, arranged into biology, chemistry and physics chapters. Each story begins with a short introduction which includes a synopsis of the plot as well as some relevant science links. The story then follows and after that are suggestions on ways to work the story, ideas for extending the science concepts in the story as well as curriculum links to other areas. A good example of this is the chemistry chapter about the Uses of Materials with the story The Fairy Godmother’s Day Off (this is a comic alternative to the Cinderella Story). The apprentice Godmother handles the dress and clothes transformations well but has no experience to make the coach so an exploration of available materials is undertaken until a suitable solution is found. I can see that this would turn the children’s imagination on and that they would begin to suggest suitable materials to make a strong, waterproof coach. The suggestions from the authors have the students identifying materials  around them, sorting them, testing them to see if they are waterproof, cutting paper, testing for strength and folding and bending materials. Other curriculum areas identified with links to the story are reading (both fiction and non-fiction), music, design/technology, life skills and history.

What a fantastic resource for integrating storytelling into science teaching. I would highly recommend it to all primary teachers as it brings together in one volume such a diverse range of stories suited to teaching science.

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Review: Science through Stories

cover of Science Through Stories

This review of Science Through Stories appeared in issue 10, Winter 2015/2016 of Journal of Emergent Science, and was written by Amy Strange. Many thanks to this fantastic journal!

Talk for writing’ has widely accepted benefits for literacy teaching, so it is not so surprising, though gratefully received, that the idea has caught on throughout the curriculum, and Science Through Stories is the answer for science! It is the result of collaboration between Chris Smith, one of the pioneers of Storytelling Schools, and Jules Pottle, a primary science specialist teacher. The book aims to use stories as a foothold to engage children in science, by combining the scientific explanation with storytelling.

The book follows the Storytelling Schools model, which is outlined in some depth in the first twenty pages, so that even those who have never encountered the approach are tooled with the relevant strategies for making the stories work in the classroom. The main idea is that the stories are told rather than read by the teacher, and the children learn the stories verbally and take ownership of them. In this way, they become acquainted with the scientific concepts and vocabulary in a context-driven manner.

Those who are familiar with a storytelling approach will recognise the format of the book, which is consistent across the Storytelling Schools Series; however, this volume gives much more structure and ideas for using the stories than its predecessor. Each story is prefaced with a short introduction including a plot synopsis and the most obvious relevant science links. This makes it quick to choose a story, as you don’t have to read each in detail first. The introduction also outlines any relevant cross-curricular links; for example, the story ‘Little Rabbit Goes Home’ can be used to teach about sound, animal habitats, or as a fable for self-esteem! Following each story there are ‘Top Tips for telling’, which are ideal for less experienced storytellers, but also give a good emphasis on the drawing out of the science most effectively. The authors then provide ways to work with the story using the Storytelling Schools method and the directly and indirectly linked science. Pottle’s teaching expertise is clear in the numerous suggested practical science activities that can be used with the story, and a detailed page on how other curriculum areas can be associated.

There are over 25 stories in the book, arranged into biology, chemistry and physics chapters, and then into a topic within each of these disciplines. The stories cover the main areas taught in primary school science, but there is no formal mention of curriculum objectives; the book should stand the test of time. There is also no ordering by Key Stage or year group, as the stories are meant to be adapted and are versatile enough to be used across the school; however, for speed of use, within each chapter the stories are in ‘general order of difficulty’.

The stories are a range taken from history, biography and world cultures as well as a huge proportion that have been made up by the two authors. Teachers are also encouraged to adapt stories from the book, or even make up their own story, to either access a particular teaching point or engage a particular group of children. For example, when teaching electricity, it was not too difficult to modify ‘The Lighthouse Keeper’s Son’, which is the inspiration for the cover of the book, to give it a Christmas twist while using the same scientific concepts to make it relevant to the term of teaching and the mood of the class.

Some of the stories end in a problem, which the children are tasked to solve, others open up questions for discussion, but in all the stories the science is not fully explained, so there is plenty left for discussion, exploring and, ultimately, learning. It may be argued that the time taken to tell and learn a story takes away time from activities and, while it undeniably does take time to use this approach, that time is not wasted as scientific concepts and understanding are being developed through the verbalisation of the story. Indeed, a particular strength of the book is the repetition of scientific vocabulary, which the authors weave into the telling. These keywords become part of the children’s retelling and, in the same way as talk for writing, the words become familiar and understood. One example is ‘The Children of the Water God’, which primarily covers the water cycle and includes the terms ‘evaporate’ and ‘water vapour’.

It is certainly true that science taught skilfully does not ‘need’ stories but, if they help children to be engaged and have a context for understanding, they are more likely to access deeper learning, which jumping ahead to practical activities may not achieve for all students.

It is refreshing to see a book that puts science at the heart of learning, and links other subjects to the science, rather than the other way around. Schools that are already embracing the Storytelling Schools approach will find this book an integral part of science teaching, but even schools who have never ventured into the approach will find there is plenty to be gained by accessing this book, and teachers should feel hugely supported using the stories thanks to all the extra material.

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Review: Science Through Stories

science through stories

This wonderful review appeared in the fantastic Montessori International Spring 2016 edition. Many thanks to them.

Science Through Stories: Teaching Primary Science with Storytelling by Chris Smith and Jules Pottle – Reviewed by Sue Briggs

This is another magical title in ‘Storytelling Schools’ series, this time using stories as springboards for primary science projects. Chris Smith, the founding director of Storytelling Schools co-authors this title with Jules Pottle, who is an experienced primary science co-ordinator and specialist science teacher (and also a keen actor and director).

Together they have collected a range of fascinating stories – a mix of traditional tales, poetry and real life histories – to be used to launch biology, chemistry and physics topics for primary children. Each story is carefully adapted and retold to provide a fictional backdrop to give context to scientific themes.

The stories are grouped in topics and graded in difficulty, giving teachers easy access to the level of interest and skill of their group.

Biology themes include habitats, ‘Mummy, Can I Have a Penguin?’, caring for the environment; a traditional tale ‘The Drop of Honey’ and ‘The Birds and the Forest Fire’ and the life story of Edward Jenner for health and germs.

Chemistry stories include ‘The Children of the Water God’ for the water cycle, ‘The Trojan Horse’ for properties of materials, and Mary Anning’s story for fossils and geology.

Physics themes include ‘The Giant and the Turnip’ for Forces, the beguiling ‘The Bat who learned to Click’  for sound, echolocation and adaptation through evolution, and the story of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission for space travel, orbits, gravity and the moon.

Montessori teachers used to working with an interconnected curriculum will see immediately how these stories would enhance activities and offer a route into scientific exploration for those children more comfortable with a literacy approach.

Ways to work with each story to inspire imagination, additional scientific facts, additional reading and links to other curriculum areas are included after each story. Amplified source notes and a comprehensive index make this a tremendously useful and effective resource for busy teachers.

There is a detailed reminder of the authors’ favourite and recommended way of telling and improvising stories together, ‘Hear Map Step and Speak’ (HMSS), which neatly incorporates different learning styles and helps children remember the process. Most stories have repeated sequences and although devising actions for some of the more tricky scientific processes would be challenging this is undoubtedly an effective mechanism to capture children’s interest and ensure learning is understood, embedded and fun.

I’ll leave the last words to the fabulous Pie Corbett: ‘Without science we are lost. Without story we are trapped alone in the darkness of ourselves. For too long, these companions have travelled on different tracks. This book takes one positive step forwards to bringing them together as travelling companions.’

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