Today, a plan 7 years in the making comes to fruition. In 2013, I read a statistic that said the majority of students graduate high school having never completed a nonfiction text. When I searched this morning it on google, I came up dry but did find these scary stats instead. Either way, from it I envisioned a Big Project for my 12th grade Physics students.
We would assemble a collection of biographies of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and then students would be able to select the subject of their choice. By choosing a book personalized to their own interests, rather than something prescribed to them, I reasoned, students would form an investment and excitement about the project, and be empowered with the drive to succeed.
So I created a list, 400 books strong, of titles and subjects famous and obscure, from the regular catalog of old white men to a large supply of underrepresented scientists, such as Tyrone Hayes, William Kamkwamba, Dian Fossey, and Madam CJ Walker. I applied for and received a grant to fund the collection.
But by the time the grant was set to be disbursed, I had accepted a job at another high school for the following school year, and was informed that this made me ineligible to collect the funding. Three years passed, I again moved schools, life events uprooted grand plans, and I changed trajectories to return to grad school with a vision to create STEM Library Lab. In the back of my mind was always a desire to build this collection, and create a literary resource for educators and teachers across the region.
In 2018 we applied for a grant from a new foundation, and again received it. But they never disbursed the funds, then email addresses started bouncing, and 18 months later we eventually closed the books on that one.
Then on July 6 2020, Phyllis Taylor and Sue Williamson walked through the doors of STEM Library Lab, and saw our resource center. Ms Taylor asked us how the Patrick F Taylor Foundation could best support our work, and we suggested a variety of potential projects, the STEM Biographies Collection (and also our new Science Teacher Resource Library) among them. And the rest is history.
Now the collection is growing. We’ve prioritized nonwhite and nonmale scientists, and we’ve prioritized purchasing from local booksellers over online retailers where possible. So as you check back, you can watch the titles multiply. Or, suggest one we missed!
What’s on the horizon for this band of books?
Well, we’ve got something in mind, which we’ll be excited to announce once it comes together.
And, you can now check out the collection for your remote or in-person classroom. The collection is geared at 8-12th grade, though it includes a range of Lexiles for strong or developing readers. We’re creating a project Lesson Plan sequence, the STEM Biography Tea. If you want to be the first teacher (or 2nd, or 60th) to check out the collection and implement a personalized learning nonfiction literacy project, we hope you’ll reach out!