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I'm a Science Teacher, Nature Photographer, Husband, Father, and Grandfather who loves to explore the natural world by traveling, photographing and thinking. 


Thursday, May 15, 2014


As a science teacher, I know that INSPIRATION is a critical ingredient when it comes to the success of most students. I also know that one of the greatest signs of who will be a successful student (in any field) is how much they read when they are young.

If I have a student who is an avid reader, I know he or she will most likely accomplish a great deal more than others who have minimal reading interest. The benefit of reading is obvious to me in two ways  - first, readers become more skilled at finding and synthesizing data than non readers over time. Second, readers wind up having a much broader horizon of interests because they have simply encountered a wider range of topics through reading than their non reading peers. 

Common Sense Media recently released "4 Alarming Findings About Kids' and Teens' Reading" which details where today's youth are in regards to reading - and it's not an encouraging story, but worth seeing and acting upon! 

Another great take on the significance of reading among the  young is Frank Bruni's op/ed in the New York Times, "Read Kids,Read"

Based on the above simple take on things, I am inviting YOU to help me begin to craft a collection of meaningful science related books that had an influence on you as a youth. My long term goal is to create a curated list of "science themed" books that my middle school students can benefit from when they are assigned outside reading books in my class. As part of the curating process I like the idea that they could see comments from "real people" about why a book was interesting / inspiring. 

SO - please take a few minutes and think about what "sciencey" books made an impression for you and which you think could help inspire science students of this next generation!
I really appreciate your willingness to share you thoughts in the comments below as well as hopefully passing this posting on to other friends/scientists/teachers who might themselves add their ideas. 

Thanks for taking a few minutes to help make a difference! 



Heather Olins said...

The first non-fiction book I ever loved was "The Diversity of Life" by E. O. Wilson. He has many others, but I would recommend "In Search of Nature" for young readers because it is a collection of essays that are very accessible.

Also Rachel Carson's "Under the Sea Wind" because it really makes characters out of the creatures she describes. To this day I remember Scomber the Mackerel.

I just started "The Extreme Life of the Sea" by Stephen and Anthony Palumbi, which intentionally tries to describe the amazing biology of the marine realm the way a novelist would rather than a scientist.

Those are the first that come to mind. They're all marine... but that's how I roll!

Jodie Deinhammer said...

I did a project similar to this year with my senior anatomy class this year. Our librarian created a list for us with some really cool books on there. Some would be applicable to middle school aged students. There is a list of current books in the blog post I wrote on it-- if you are interested :)

Ethan Cowgill said...

Terrific post. I definitely think that this is an important cause. Without the influence of a few special books i wouldn't have had nearly the enthusiasm for science as I do now nkr would I have the reading comprehension skills to read a technical paper about ecological development in Eocene Bavaria without it. It's really satisfying to reach that level of understanding. Below is a list of books that I have bought in the past six years that have been particularly impactful (excluding technical volumes).
(This is the best dinosaur book for teens) Dinosaurs: the most complete and up to date guide for dinosaur lovers of all ages by Thomas Holtz(2007).

The Princeton field guide to dinosaurs by Greg Paul (a terrific volume listing every known dinosaur genus and filed with terrific illustrations that are completely accurate as of 2010).

"Dinosaur art: the worlds greatest paleo art (2012)" is a work of art unto itself. It features the worlds top ten paleo artists work and scientific interpretations of fossils all in celebration of the unity of art and science. This is a volume that would be greatly cherished by any science class.

From Lucy to Language by Donald Johanson (2006) a very large book
(not in thickness but in height) which spends the first portion of it to explain all of the debates and discoveries in modern paleo anthropology. The next half is entirely made up of large photographs of every major Hominid find until 2006 along with a detailed yet easy to understand description of their classification and significance. A marvelous work.

Pterosaurs: natural history, evolution, anatomy by Mark Witton (2013) is a perfect book. It is stuffed with spectacular illustrations if hundreds of leathery winged beasties done by the author. It concerns itself with everything to do with Pterosaurs. It is written in an informal,occasional funny writing style. It clearly communicates all of Pterosaur research past and present. It's not huge either, it is a a pretty manageable 250 pages.

Lucy's legacy by Don Johanson (2009) is an excellent combination of an adventure story and scientific discovery. The author, the man who found Lucy in 1973 recounts his adventures in Africa from being a Phd student to going to Ethiopia annually to search for Africa's hidden treasures. Including dangerous encounters with animals, the Ethiopian media and military and the brutal criticism from the scientific community of his revolutionary ideas. The last half of the book is all about the science of human origins. I've read the book 3 times already and it gets better and better. This is one I couldn't recommend highly enough.

All of these titles are the cream of the crop in my opinion and would certainly be at home in a Biology class.

-Ethan Cowgill

Cassie said...

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre can help teach students how to intrepret falsely represented data shown by the media.

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan is also great for teaching the science behind a whole food, plant-based diet.

Good luck! :)


John Mead said...

Heather - GREAT titles -- and I like that they are marine based -- this list should have a great diversity of styles if it can serve to inspire a wide range of folks! Thanks and feel free to add other as they come to mind! Also feel free to get your fellow grad students and researchers to share their favorites!

John Mead said...

Jodie - thanks for the willingness to share your project with us here! It seems great minds think alike! -- may I ask how you found this blog post? Regardless of how you got here , I'm psyched that you did! I am looking forward to diving into your list!

John Mead said...

Ethan - THANKS so much for sharing your amazing passion for science -- for those who do not know Ethan - he is a 14 year old high school student who puts most of us adults to shame with his passion for science in general and paleontology in specific! You are a true role model for other young aspiring scientists!

John Mead said...

Thanks Cassie - both great books that can truly open eyes -- especially young eyes before they get too jaded !

Heather Olins said...

I'd like to add "Your Inner Fish" by Neil Schubin - a great tale about the long term evolution from fish to humans.

Also, "Reading the Rocks: The Autobiography of the Earth" by Marcia Bjornerud. This is one of the most compelling reads about the wonders of geology that I've come across.

John Mead said...

Thanks again Heather! I agree 100% with Inner Fish - I see it as a new classic of biological story telling. I"ll have to check out "Autobio of the Earth as I have not read it. I like that this list will give me a wealth of new books to read. I really appreciate your cheerleading for this project!

Amanda Meyer said...

"Genome" by Matt Ridley
"The Reluctant Mr. Darwin" by David Quammen
"Gulp" by Mary Roach
"The Disappearing Spoon" by Sam Kean

Erika said...

A book that I remember reading as a young person was Niels Bohr: The Man, His Science, and the World They Changed, by Ruth Moore; ISBN 0-262-63101-6. Although I got a physics degree, I've spent my professional life as a technical librarian working with scientists and engineers to find information to help them in their jobs. Also throughout my career I've been actively involved in science encouragement with school visits, science nights/fairs, career days, etc. Regardless of whether one pursues science as a career , it is very important to learn and understand to be able to be a good citizen and elect people who value and use science to make life better for everyone.

John Mead said...

Great choices, Amanda! I am currently reading GULP and loving it ! I wish we had more writers like Mary Roach who make science so much more accessible! Thanks for adding your thoughts here!

John Mead said...

Thanks for adding to the list, Erika - I agree that regardless of your "final" focus in life, a functional understanding of the sciences is critical to a well rounded life in modern times. I feel so much of today's science denial is rooted in the fact that these people never got the exposure to how basic science works that they see it as another form of "magic" and easily discard scientific findings when they dislike the implications of such facts.

Fay Stout said...

I have recently been reading some books by Marc Bekoff ("The Emotional Lives of Animals" and "Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed"). What is so sad to read is the fact that children are spending less and less time out in nature and children's books now have less emphasis on natural environments and wild animals than they did years ago. Fortunately my grandchildren are fascinated by nature and my grandson is developing a great fondness for wildlife as I am helping him to learn photography!