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Using literature to encourage gifted students to ask questions

Written by: Christina Barber

So much of learning derives from students asking questions. It is important for children to ask lots of questions and for them to be comfortable with not always being able to find the answers to their questions. Learning how to reframe unanswered questions helps them to develop their questioning ability over time allowing for greater complexity, depth, connection, and reflection. As we have entered the back-to-school period, I have selected three books that pose excellent questions and provide wonderfully creative and knowledge-filled answers to get your own children and students excited about questions and answers. My first selection is a timely one. In North America we have been facing challenging times with large and devastating wildfires, the mass evacuations from many parts of Canada and the US and the loss of Lahaina on Maui have been a tragic reminder of the power of climate change. I know that many of our children and students are keen observers of the world around them and often worry about the well-being of other people, animals, and the environment in general. Space on Earth: How Thinking Like an Astronaut Can Help Save the Planet by astronaut Dr. Dave Williams and Linda Pruessen is an empowering read that compares the challenges of living on the International Space Station with those we are facing here on Earth. With clear explanations and comparisons, explorations of current technologies and those in development, and suggestions for daily life, this book makes for an informative and practical read.


The Set-up:

This non-fiction book is organised in sections that address and link the challenges that astronauts face in living onboard the International Space Station: air pollution, water pollution and amounts, food production, waste management, and energy creation and management, Space on Earth establishes and compares the situations both on Earth and in the ISS. Referencing real-world solutions and technology employed on the ISS and sometimes on Earth, kids can easily see how we are making progress in the areas that count and also how we can easily apply conservation techniques in our own lives. The added segments of Dr. Dave’s life as an astronaut on the ISS are engaging and informative. At the end of each chapter, Dr. Dave sets up a manageable experiment that kids can do at home to better understand situations and technologies.

What I love:

The balance of information between information about the ISS, what’s happening on Earth, what it’s like to be an astronaut, and practical and applicable solutions and experiments that kids can do at home. This is a fantastic read for upper intermediate students in Grades 5-8, however, in the case of gifted kids with a higher reading level and/or particular interest in the areas of Space and the Environment, I could easily see it being used by students in grades 1-4, maybe with a little support from a helpful adult. Sho Uehara’s illustrations are informative and well-suited to the content, providing context to ideas, technological and scientific explanations.

In the classroom:

* A fantastic complement to a Space or Environment unit. Many of the experiments could easily be done in the classroom. * Analysis: What do we learn from Dr. Dave William’s experiences aboard the ISS?

* Research: discuss the technologies introduced in the book, like the waterless toilet) and then research other technologies that are being developed for space. How could they be used on Earth?

* Reflection: What can we do as individuals, as a class, as a school, and at home with our families to reduce our carbon footprints?


Dr. Dave Williams is a renowned and highly respected space expert and speaker in Canada, a former astronaut who completed two space walks during two trips to space. He has published four books with Annick Press. He lives in Oakville, Ontario.

Linda Pruessen is an experienced editor and author who has worked in children’s publishing for more than twenty years. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.

Sho Uehara is a cartoonist and freelance illustrator and the author of the comic book Repose. He’s done illustrative work for magazines and various graphic novel anthologies. He lives in Calgary, Alberta.

Publisher: Annick Press Publishing date: May 2023

Language: English

Softcover: 120 pages

ISBN-13: 978-1773217673


Christina Barber is a writer and educator who lives in Vancouver, Canada. She teaches a full-time gifted program for students in Grades 5-7. An avid reader, she shares her passion for Canadian literature and history through her reviews at The Miramichi Reader and on Instagram @cb_reads_reviews. She has most recently been committed to writing and staging formally innovative single and multi-act plays for her students.


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