A book geared toward educating gifted children has been made accessible to a group of learning-disabled students, thanks to Chugiak High School special education teacher Heather Edgren. Last summer, Edgren met with two teachers from West High School to formulate an integrative curriculum guide based on the book, Dear Future People, by Anne Nolting of Palmer.

“What caught my attention about it more than anything else is all the disciplines it pulls into one story,” said Edgren. “It’s a story that is palatable to the students, and they can see how all these different things work together in a culture.”

The book describes how mathematicians, astronomers, theologians, physicists and others shared and debated ideas at the ancient Library of Alexandria before the fall of the Roman Empire.

In December 2001, the owner of Fireside Books in Palmer told Edgren about the book. It is published by Royal Fireworks Press in New York, which exclusively markets materials for educating gifted children. In January 2002, Edgren began implementing it as an educational tool.

“I knew that I was going to have to go at a very slow pace with it,” she said. “One of the most difficult aspects of it was the sentence structure.”

Her class spent a day on one paragraph, doing background research on geography and history. She offered overhead maps as visual aids to help students examine places mentioned in the book, including Constantinople, Rome and Alexandria.

“I think teachers who are innovative are probably lifelong learners themselves,” said Nolting. “They’re just so full of this spark, this energy for learning. I think the kids find that very contagious.”

The protagonist in the novel for young adults is a woman named Hypatia, who was born during the latter half of the Roman Empire. Hypatia finds herself at the center of major political upheaval during the last days of the empire’s existence.

Women were unable to pursue careers during that era, and at that time learning was not quite as valued as it was seven centuries before, when the ancient Library of Alexandria was created. The story describes Hypatia’s attempt to save the library.

“One of the things that came out in the book is that those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it,” said Edgren. “When the library was destroyed, all the knowledge was destroyed with it.”

Edgren, who describes herself as a “romantic,” enjoys Shakespeare. She taught a class on Julius Caesar before delving into Dear Future People, which she described as a logical progression.

Nolting’s husband, Joe, is a teacher at Teeland Middle School in Wasilla. Instead of being subdivided into discreet topics and elements, he said, Edgren’s guide offers a more cohesive approach to learning.

“It provides learning in the context of real life because everything is interrelated instead of being taught in an isolated, out-of-context method that we often use in school,” he said. “Based on my experience in the classroom, I have found it to be much more engaging for students. They tend to push themselves further, and they retain a lot more.”

Joe Nolting once had his seventh-grade class examine the many facets of bridge building including history, physics of force and motion, mathematics and geometry of the bridge, and technology to construct them. Students wrote about bridges as part of the unit’s language arts component.

Anne Nolting applauds integrated learning techniques. “Measuring the acquisition of knowledge by testing and teaching to the test undermines students’ ability just to discover, to inquire. This answering to a test manipulates information. We’re clipping the wings of creativity.”

Nolting has written other children’s books as well as adult historical fiction and a nonfiction article, “The Ancient Library of Alexandria,” for the May 2000 issue of Cricket Magazine. Her article on the ancient library will be published in the 2003 Holt, Rhinehart and Winston’s Language Arts Textbook for grade six. The article also has been sold to New South Wales Department of Education in Australia. It is available on SIRS Discoverer electronic databases on-line and CD-ROM.

Another book by Nolting, Pythagoras Eagle and the Music of the Spheres, will be released this spring. The novel for middle school students “explores the mysterious nature of mathematics and the mind. Math isn’t just all facts and figures,” she said. “Math has an art to it, also.”

Edgren plans to review the book to see if she can incorporate into her curriculum. Nolting said she admires Edgren’s creative approach to teaching. “It seems obvious to me that the success in learning depends not so much on the materials used with children, but the ability of teachers to cross boundaries and present a topic in a meaningful way.”

Reporter Asta Corley can be reached at acorley@adn.com
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