Did You Get My Message?

Curiosity and non-conformity are two traits that have served science educator and eBooks+ Kids author Martha Harney very well throughout her professional life.

Harney, an elementary science specialist for the Northeast Elementary School in Waltham, Mass., grew up among people who instilled in her a lifelong love for learning new things.

“For me, the curiosity was always there,” she said.

Harney’s path to the teaching profession followed a circuitous journey. In college she majored in French. She operated her own DJ business while her children were young, giving her more time to spend with them during the day because she worked nights. Upon completing a teacher certification program, she first taught English to adults. Then she became a “roaming scientist” offering educational programming across many schools.

Approximately five years ago, while being well-established into her elementary science career, Harney applied for and was accepted into the Boston-based Museum of Science Teacher-in-Residence Program. There she met a fellow teacher-in-residence who introduced her to the NGSS@NSTA Curator program. She entered the competitive application process and was accepted into nationwide cadre of educators tasked with establishing a library of NGSS-aligned and vetted resources that teachers could use to help make the necessary instructional shifts to align their teaching with the new standards.

“The NGSS encourage curiosity rather than the memorization of facts,” said Harney. “The ‘correct’ answer doesn’t matter as much as the process required to conduct the type of investigation which leads students to the answer,” she explained.

The expertise Harney gained from becoming an NSTA Curator helped her realize that many teaching and learning resources are “stamped with the NGSS label, but do not necessarily align with the standards and/or do what they are intended to do.” She knew that science educators needed richer resources, and Harney found a great way to bring them one—by writing an NSTA eBook+ Kids.

“I’ve had a lot of books in my head for years,” Harney said, so when she received an email for NSTA seeking book ideas, she jumped at the idea.

Her eBook, Did You Get My Message? allows first graders to explore communication systems, and learn how each has both benefits and drawbacks. Specifically, the content focuses on how sights and sounds help us to send and receive messages. By exploring this eBook, students discover that usage is determined by the method that works best for the situation, and will be able to design their own communication devices after reading it.

Given that she’d taught her own first grade students how to design communications devices, the topic was also a natural one for her to explore in an eBook.

“I started with fire trucks—kids love fire trucks!—because I wanted students to design communications devices that featured light and sound,” she explained. “My students and I watched lots of videos about firetrucks and talked about how they were sending out information via their flashing lights and honking horns. And then I gave them the opportunity to design and build their own communications devices, ones that would give directions across the room.”

The eBook includes messages that students can encode or decode as well as send. Additional  opportunities are provided, via the accompanying teacher’s guide, for educators to extend learning beyond the eBook and into the classroom.

Harney credited NSTA’s creative publishing team as well as her own students for making her eBook a truly collaborative effort.

“I was writing the book last year, and during the school day, I would talk to my students  about my content as it was progressing. They helped me write it and provided feedback when they thought that the content was confusing,” she said.

“It’s always a good sign if kids can ask if they take the material home with them to work on it more!”

Never one to stop learning and exploring new topics of interest, Harney shared that she’s already at work on a new eBook about waves for fourth graders.

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