Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Decision Making in Action: Beetle Busters by Loree Griffin Burns

        This is one fabulous book! I admit that I am partial to books that highlight decision making and problem solving—books that I call the “literature of inquiry.” Beetle Busters by Loree Griffin Burns highlights inquiry by showing how a community in Massachusetts responded to an infestation of Asian longhorned beetles (ALB), nonnative species that attack and destroy trees. It brings us very close to this situation and shows us the difficult decisions made by scientists and concerned citizens.

            There are a number features that make this book so successful as a page-turner and an excellent source of information. Here are some things the author does for us:
·      Raises questions that don’t have simple answers. Both at the beginning and at the end of the book, the author raises these important questions about cutting down some trees in an attempt to save others:

                                    Was cutting those trees the right thing to do?
                                    If cutting trees in one community today would save the trees in
                        your backyard tomorrow, would it be worth it?
                                    Would you feel the same way if you lived in that community and
                        the trees being cut down were the only ones in your entire                                                 neighborhood? (p. 57)

            These questions bring this problem close to all of us. What would we do if we
            had to made a decision about cutting down trees?
·      Provides a variety of graphics to help us understand the problem. There are all sorts of graphics included: maps, graph, photographs, captions, sidebars and page inserts, and photographs showing a sequence of steps or stages. As we endeavor to promote graphical literacy, this book is extraordinarily useful for discussing how a particular kind of graphic  makes information understandable.
·      Shows how and why scientists collect data. Among the many items we learn about is how scientists collect core samples from the inside of the trees, enabling them to study the impact of the infestation. We see the actual scientists and volunteers working in the field.
·      Shares the interpretation of the data. A chapter is dedicated to sharing the interpretation of the data. This shows how scientists move from collecting data to making statements about what this data suggests. It’s a great look at scientific thinking.
·      Leaves us with unanswered questions. Here is just one of several questions that scientists  continue to work on: “If left unchecked in the forest, would the Asian longhorn beetle eventually kill all the members of the wide variety of trees it can inhabit in the wild” (p. 49)? That's an important question to think about.

            When we read books like Beetle Busters with students, we can focus on the features listed above because they help us understand the nature of science. Here are some questions we can discuss: What problems are scientists and citizens facing? What do they do to understand the situation? How do they collect and analyze data? What have they found so far? What else do they want to know? By discussing science as a process—a way of thinking and learning—we move away from concentrating only on facts and towards using these facts to help us think about puzzling situations. That is why quality nonfiction is an essential part of learning.

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