Institute 2014

The Science of Poetry @ #ALSC14

I love science, and I love poetry, so attending this session was a slam-dunk decision for me! This program was hosted by Sylvia Vardell and featured the poets Alma Flor Ada, Susan Blackaby, F. Isabel Campoy, & Janet Wong

Sylvia Vardell started us off by reading a poem call ed “Recycling” by Susan Blackaby, then walked us through the steps of “Take 5 with Poetry & Science:”
1. Read the poem aloud
2. Read again, inviting kids to participate in the reading
3. Discuss and research the poem and its topic
4. Connect the poem to a specific science topic with a demonstration or hands-on activity
5. Share more, related poems & other readings

Susan Blackaby shared some of her lovely poems and discussed the connections and similarities between poetry and science. Both science and poetry require precision, careful use of language, trying and trying again, and making revisions. Both use observation and description. Both are beautiful.
She also told us how, when her book Nest, Nook, & Cranny was reviewed by a biologist to make sure she had all the science right in her animal poems, there were no problems with the simple poems… but she had a wrong fact about beavers that forced her to make a change to her villanelle, a poetry form so complicated that “it can just reduce a poet to tears.”

Alma Flor Ada talked about the importance of children seeing “people like them” reflected in the people and subjects they read and study about. She said, “I think every child needs to know the richness and diversity of everyone who contributes to culture and science.” Ms. Ada read us a lovely essay from her and Isabel Campoy’s book Yes! We Are Latinos. Isabel Campoy followed with another moving essay from the book.

Janet Wong shared her insight on the value of reading poetry aloud with children, not just studying poems on the page. Reading aloud together, discussing poems, joining in and making connections with the poetry are much more engaging then dissecting them as a written assignment. She also talked about something that disturbs Janet Wong: at teacher conferences, her general poetry anthology sells out quickly, & some teachers say “Oh, you only have the science book left? I don’t do science.” That’s not responsible, Janet says, because teachers model their attitudes towards science to their students.

All of the poets talked about the ways that science poetry can be both a way into science for kids who think science isn’t for them… and a way into poetry for kids who think they aren’t poets.

The excellent handout from this session lists the books these poets have written, lots more books of science poetry, and a long list of websites to suppor science learning (and link to science poetry):


  1. Janet Wong

    Thank you for this amazing summary! And I LOVE the way you expressed in 9 words what took me about . . . oh, 10 lines to say: “teachers model their attitudes towards science to their students.” Yes–EXACTLY! (borrowing that for Saturday)

  2. Sylvia Vardell

    I agree with Janet– what a great post, Jill! Thanks so much for coming to our session and sharing this nugget with others. Great to see my librarian colleagues embrace the possibilities of blending science and poetry– to get kids excited about BOTH!

  3. Leslie Bulion

    So happy to read this great post about The Science of Poetry presentation at ALSC by some of my favorite science poetry peeps! A way into science AND a way into poetry–YES!!

  4. Alma Flor Ada

    Thanks for this excellent summary and for your support of poetry.
    May you continue to receive great joy facilitating the “magical encounter” between children and poetry!

  5. Pingback: Science Literacy Moments #alsc14 | ALSC Blog

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